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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Fibre bandwidth coming to a mast near you?

Some years ago at an event at DTI about community networks, there was an out-of-session discussion between O2, OpenReach and myself about sharing excess bandwidth from mobile masts for backhaul to rural and remote community networks.

The fact that there might even be spare capacity, or that many masts are fed by fibre seemed to come as a surprise to the O2 rep. Now, it seems that in the light of a huge ramp up in consumption of mobile bandwidth (smartphones, dongles, mobile advertising etc), over the Pond there are moves afoot to increasingly feed mobile masts with fibre.

It is likely that similar is happening or will happen soon here. The need to broker that bandwidth between the different occupiers of a mast should surely be a job for COTS? It makes sense to run one fat pipe to each mast to provide for the aggregated bandwidth requirements of each operator. However, it also adds an ideal opportunity to consider the bandwidth needs of others in the locale of that mast and to cater for that as well, thereby reducing the costs for all involved.

Whilst it would clearly trespass on the plans of mobile operators to provide broadband via dongle etc to those in the vicinity, and would require (finally) deals to be struck about the currently ludicrous costs of siting equipment on and access to masts, it could bring next generation broadband much closer to many, many people in the UK. Whether delivered by wireless (eg Wimax etc) or as a closer break out point for fibre backhaul to a community, the opportunities would seem too good to ignore from this approach.

Mobile broadband, as we have said before, has its place. But NOT as the primary mechanism for delivering next generation access. This can be delivered far more efficiently and effectively by bringing fibre as close as possible to the punters and communities, and then using wireless to cover the first mile or inch.

This is FiWi, a term we have been banging on about for ages and are still waiting to see adopted by the masses!

There is also a "FiWi Pie" side of it too i.e. there are potentially win-wins all round with this approach: Those flogging fibre backhaul stand to see more capacity required at each mast thereby generating more revenue, the mobile operators get cheaper backhaul for all their offerings, the mast owners get a cut from additional equipment sited on masts, and communities get affordable backhaul that is not being priced per inch.

Or, we can keep trying to rip each other off and go nowhere fast. I prefer the FiWi Pie approach!

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1 comment:

GuyJ said...

A great explanation of what FiWiPie really means and I see this as an integral part of the COTS process along with duct and pole sharing.