Could fixed wireless broadband be the solution for connectivity?

10-01-2021 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

While COVID has accelerated the growth of remote work tremendously, remote work was always going to happen. What is fixed wireless broadband, how does it different to standard connections, and could it be the solution for connecting remote locations?

Why will remote working become dominant?

Since the dawn of time, the workplace has undergone some major changes. Our ancestors would wear functional clothes when hunting mammoth, while the ancient Romans ensured that their togas were made from the finest wool in the most brilliant white. 

Of course, it’s not just the clothes that we wear in the workplace that have changed. The development of technology has seen more efficient writing mediums, writing methods, printing, and lightning. The modern office is almost unrecognisable from yesterday's office with the mass integration of computers, printers, internet connections, mainframes, and access points. 

However, 2019 could have been the peak of the workplace, and its extinction may be coming thanks to the very technologies it helped create. The development of fast internet connections allows for live video streaming, while cloud-based systems allow for remote access to an entire companies enterprise system. 

Before 2020, remote work was a concept that was gradually taking form, but the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the adoption of remote work. The sudden increase in remote work saw large sales in computer equipment, software such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, and a strain on internet services.

When COVID-19 is over, many workers will return to the office. However, there are several reasons why some companies may be hesitant to have workers return. To start, companies can save large amounts of operational costs when the need for AC controls, building rent, and electrical power is removed. Companies who use remote workers can better protect their employees from spreading illnesses in the office, leading to time off, and the use of remote work allows companies to shift their computation to the cloud, which may provide better conveniences.

From the perspective of the employee, remote working may impede the ability to socialise more easily. Still, the ability to work from home potentially eliminates the cost of transport, fuel, unpaid time spent in traffic, and the temptation to purchase expensive food and drink products (coffee is notoriously expensive). While companies may see this as an excuse to reduce wages, the ability to live anywhere in the world allows people more freedom and flexibility to live in their ideal location. 

The Connectivity Problem

With remote work on the rise, and will most likely stay for good, there will be some major economic changes. One of these changes will be that house prices will no longer be based on time to central financial hubs; internet speed will be the key factor. 

The need for high-speed internet access will also pressure homeowners who live in remote areas as these generally have poor internet access. Some emerging technologies such as Starlink could provide decent internet speeds, but a locally formed connection will provide greater speed and lower latency. Traditional high-speed internet connections are formed using fibre-optic cables, but these are only economical in highly populated areas. Cellular technologies such as 5G also provide high-speed, low latency internet, but these are uneconomical to deploy in remote locations.

What is a fixed wireless bridge?

One solution that could help remote locations receive high-speed, low-latency internet is using a fixed wireless bridge. A fixed wireless bridge is essentially an invisible cable between two wireless transceivers pointed directly at each other. 

Unlike mainstream wireless technology, a wireless bridge forms a tight beam between both transceivers, and these points are fixed in place (i.e. cannot be moved). Many people have created their own wireless bridges without knowing it whenever they attempt to get internet from a house to the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Are fixed wireless bridges the solution to remote internet?

Such a bridge could be established between a 5G mast and a local 5G reception station which then provides wired internet access to the few homes in the area (these cables would not need to be fibre-optic). The use of such a setup not only removes the need for dedicated 5G cell towers, but it also helps to reduce the price, and only requires a line of sight to the main tower. 

The use of repeater towers can help extend the wireless bridge so that it can cross great distances. The use of repeater towers also eliminates the need for many kilometres of cabling that would require burying. Furthermore, the lack of a cable means that land permission is far easier to obtain as trenches and poles are not being installed; specialised wireless towers could be made to have many kilometres of telescopic range.

Remote working will become the dominant method for working, and the need for high-speed internet access will be essential. Projects such as High-Speed Rail 2 were designed with working in the past. If only a fraction of the money used to build HS2 was invested in such wireless bridges, the UK could easily see even the most isolated home on the most northern islands be given high-speed, low-latency internet access.

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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