Peter Allen is the President and CEO of DragonWave Inc. Prior to joining DragonWave, Mr Allen was the Founder, President and CEO of Innovance Networks; he has extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions and business partnerships in North America, Europe and Japan. Mr Allen has also held executive positions with Optoelectronics and Nortel Networks’ Optical Networks division where he was responsible for the system and component businesses.
In much of the world, bringing broadband to the people means, first and foremost, building economically viable broadband networks. To be viable, the network architecture utilised is critically important. Wireless networks are generally cheaper and quicker to roll out, but the business model must contend with more than capital expense to work. Without careful network design, the higher cost of broadband backhaul will sink the best model. A workable business model brings more than profit; it brings economic and social development.
Despite the dominance of the World Wide Web in the thinking and operation of our modern global culture, the reality is that the vast majority of the population can, at best, get halting access to this medium which enables the rest of us to buy, sell, learn and communicate anywhere in the world. This is especially true in developing countries, which are short of basic infrastructures of all sorts, but even in the so called developed countries the penetration of broadband access is only 20 per cent on average, and outside of the major metropolitan areas is barely a fraction of that. If we wish to broaden our interaction beyond simple voice, and enable all of our populations to interact and compete on a level playing field, the networks we use to communicate will need to be dramatically overhauled. New wireless technologies that can personalize this broadband access, associating the Internet connection with an individual, rather than a place, and allowing that individual’s connections and content to follow them wherever they are can significantly expand the number of broadband users. As shown in figure 2, the number of wireless broadband connections is expected to grow to equal or exceed the number of wired broadband connections in the next five years. Creating a critical mass of users can, in turn, drive new applications and forms of interaction. This will increase the attractiveness of this medium and accelerate adoption by a broader portion of the population. There are a number of issues that must be addressed, however, if this to become a reality. The first item is to get the business model correct. While the bandwidth delivered continues to increase, the average revenue per user is flat or declining. To make matters worse as we extend services, the ability of much of the currently underserved population to pay is very limited. This makes it difficult to obtain the revenues needed to build and maintain the network. Opportunities to reduce network costs come from the appropriate technology selection and from advanced network architectures. By making the right choices, the operator has an opportunity to reduce not only his capital costs, but significantly reduce his operational costs as well. Without bridging the revenue gap, new networks cannot be built despite the availability of the technology and the demand for new services. The cost of backhaul, of connecting the access network - the radio base stations - to the core network, is much more expensive for 3G and 4 G wireless technologies than for traditional cellular networks. The bandwidth per base station will grow, over time, by a factor of 10 to 100 with the introduction of 4G technologies. In order for the business case to be acceptable this means that the cost per bit delivered by the backhaul technologies must drop by a corresponding factor, since the revenues generated per user are roughly flat. The only technologies that have the promise to deliver this cost per bit reduction are fibre and packet microwave. In the range of bandwidths required by each base station, the packet microwave can provide a lower cost per bit and a significantly faster deployment schedule than fibre. This will lead most operators to a tiered architecture that aggregates a number of base stations via microwave and then transfers the traffic to fibre. The other significant area of cost is operating the network. Here a move to a flat IP network can not only reduce capital cost and provide access to scalable network solutions, but also allows the operator to simplify his operations and enable customer managed networks to further reduce his operating costs. This move to a single IP based network, however, requires the introduction of technologies to convert traditional TDM based transport pipes to packets in order to enable the delivery of both the legacy and the future services across a single network. With the introduction and standardization of pseudowire technology, this is now possible and cost effective, removing one of the last barriers to the goal of deploying a flat IP network. The final type of cost we will discuss is the recurring costs for spectrum leasing, tower space, co-location space, power and maintenance. These factors can be significantly affected by choosing the correct technology, but even more significantly by choosing the correct network architecture. Microwave networks can move from a traditional hub and spoke architecture to a ring/mesh architecture that can better leverage new capabilities such as adaptive modulation coupled with RAN/backhaul antenna integration. A zero footprint microwave solution can reduce the total cost of ownership by a factor of two and double the base station coverage compared to a traditional hub and spoke design. This ongoing cost reduction is much more compelling than any simple capital expense reduction and requires evaluating the costs on a network basis. Without this additional; effort, however it becomes very difficult if not impossible to deliver the required network cost reduction. In order to deliver the new 4G services, whilst supporting legacy networks as well, the network needs to be engineered to deliver not only best effort data, but flexible quality of service, high quality network performance and software controlled scalability. To achieve this while reducing network costs to sustainable limits requires careful planning and the selection of appropriate technologies and network architectures. Once we have built a cost-effective network, we need to deliver content and services that make this medium attractive. Old cellular models, which provide a walled garden approach to the content and do not provide open and free interaction, will stifle the creation of new applications. It is our opinion that the only model that will prosper is an open model, where the network provides access to any legal device or content, and the user community defines the applications that are worth supporting. One of the potential drivers for content creation and wider user adoption is the delivery of online government services. By investing in e-services, governments also play a role fostering the development of personal broadband as well as providing broader access to critical government services. Online services also help governments reduce their costs by reducing the paperwork for service delivery. Access to these services increases the need to make personal broadband access ubiquitous to ensure that all citizens have equal access to government services. In order to deliver on this promise, government policies that encourage networks roll-out (i.e. spectrum licensing, shared access infrastructure, subsidies for remote locations or the lower income sectors) are required as well as the generation of online content and applications. The advent of 4G services and personal broadband can significantly alter the way we live, do business and interact with one another. In order to deliver on this vision, however, a number of factors need to be addressed. Two of the most important of these are the economics of the networks and the availability of content and services to make these networks useful. The solutions to these issues are available and understood, but require a change in the way we do things in order to maximize their potential.