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Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP

DoubleRadius has been building wireless networks since 2001. Over the years, we’ve seen how our Internet Service Provider (ISP) customers have progressed from initial dial-up, DSL, and cable offerings to fiber and wireless for broadband connectivity. Although some Service Providers stick to either fiber or wireless, it’s not always a choice of one or the other. ISPs are coming to a new hybrid model from both ends of the spectrum (pun intended). Network operators that once relied exclusively on fiber or wireless are now being compelled to diversify for a combination of practical reasons.

We’ve provided an overview of this hybrid fusion of networking technologies here on this page, and in a downloadable PDF format as a free Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Quick Guide. Reading these brief chapters, including the real-world use cases towards the end, will provide a basis for deciding how your network should take shape going forward.

Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Quick Guide

Review the chapters below or download the full guide by filling out the form on this page.

  1. What Is a Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP?
  2. Comparison of Fiber & Wireless Advantages
  3. When Should ISPs Evolve to Hybrid?
  4. Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Use Case 1
  5. Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Use Case 2

Chapter 1 - What is a Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP?

First, What is a Wireless Network?
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) or Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) refers to a style of networking that involves wireless devices mounted at fixed locations, transmitting signals wirelessly from point to point and ultimately to each subscriber. Wireless access operators, or Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), offer internet service over this type of wireless network. Although these networks are typically fed with a fiber connection to the Internet backbone, they are still considered “wireless” networks because of the way they transmit signal.

The It’s a Watershed Moment for Wireless ISPs article on AGL Media Group’s web site elaborates on the definition:

A WISP is a fixed wireless access (FWA) provider that uses point-to-point microwave or millimeter-wave links between its towers for coverage extension and backhaul, and point-to-multipoint links from the towers to the customer premises. In addition to residences, they also serve businesses, municipal governments and other entities, sometimes in urban environments in addition to the more usual rural environments.

Second, What is a Wired Network?
Contrast this wireless style of networking with traditional wired networks, which utilize one or more of:

  • Copper
  • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
  • Coaxial cable
  • Fiber optics

The history of wired networks spans from the early dial-up days, to the expansion of cable coax networks, to today’s Google Fiber™, and everything in between.

Third, What is a Hybrid Fiber-Wireless Network?
Now consider another hybrid option for ISPs - one that combines vastly different networking technologies. This is where the Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP concept comes into play. Simply put:

Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISPs are those that deliver internet service over their networks using a combination of both fiber and wireless technologies.

Chapter 2 - Comparison of Fiber & Wireless Advantages

Traditional Advantages of Fiber vs. Wireless
Generally speaking, the advantages of fiber vs wireless could be considered to be the following:

Rapid deploymentWireless
Initial InvestmentWireless
Total Area that Can be CoveredWireless
Time to ROIWireless
Length of Time Before UpgradeFiber

Take the above chart as a general guide. There are always many contributing factors when building and/or upgrading a network. Each situation really does need to be considered in totality. The specifics of each network and customer scenarios may impact the advantages. Regarding the advantages listed above for fiber:

  • Stability - Areas with significant construction or growth may contribute to an increase in fiber lines accidentally being cuts by third parties, which quickly could turn this advantage into a disadvantage.
  • Length of Time Before Upgrade - In additional to accidental line cuts, a requirement for mutiple fiber lines in certain areas to meet higher capacity needs could eliminate or lessen the advantage.

Toss Up Areas of Fiber and Wireless
Other considerations that are harder to generalize as being an advantage of either fiber or wireless include:

  • Capacity (Bandwidth) - Although historically an advantage of fiber, multi-gigabit wireless (especially in E-Band with up to 10 Gbps), now offers fiber-like speeds.
  • Long Term Profitability - Fiber appears to have the advantage, but time and many outside factors will ultimately determine the answer.
  • Multimedia / Triple Play - Massive Multi-user Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MuMIMO) technology, where “massive” denotes more than 8×8 antennas, can now wirelessly deliver 100 Mbps to the customer. This challenges fiber’s former advantage in supporting streaming video and VoIP on top of broadband internet.
  • Additional Expenses - Whereas wireless deployments can involve rental space on towers/structures and possible licensing fees, fiber deployments can involve franchises, right of ways, and permitting.
  • Support- Related to stability: Although wireless networks deal with interference and are more prone to weather issues causing service interruptions and/or truck rolls, deploying fiber can involve maintaining a fiber network plant, and the aforementioned replacement of accidentally cut lines.

Chapter 3 - When Should ISPs Evolve to Hybrid?

When Fiber ISPs Need Wireless
A Fiber ISP may find certain locations to be impractical for deploying fiber, due to either excessive construction costs or path or right of way obstructions. In these situations, a viable option is to backhaul with a high capacity wireless signal and distribute it locally to each customer using fiber-to-the-x (FTTx). The “x” here refers to just about anything:

  • Fiber-to-the-Building (FTTB)
  • Fiber-to-the-Curb (FTTC)
  • Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH)
  • Fiber-to-the-Node (FTTN)
  • Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP)

Or a Fiber ISP may realize that certain neighborhood obstructions or HOA restrictions make it impossible to connect that last 20% of residents with fiber. Offering wireless to connect subscribers on certain streets, while otherwise using FTTH throughout the neighborhood, can solve their problem quickly and efficiently.

Fiber ISPs may also come to the conclusion that utilizing wireless will generally solve a number of financial issues and cash flow solvency. Wireless enables them to move more quickly and acquire more customers before their competition, all while reducing initial cost of deployment and achieving a quicker time to ROI.

In each case, a Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP would take a flexible approach to extend their network to customers that are otherwise out of reach. ISPs that connect customers in these types of scenarios will enjoy growth that will prove impossible for their less versatile competitors.

When WISPs Need Fiber
WISPs may likewise realize that fiber will prove more practical or convenient for certain applications within their networks. Some customers may simply demand highly reliable top tier speeds for residential or business use, and fiber is found to be the better play based on the wireless throughput attainable in those specific scenarios. Contributing factors include line-of-sight, interference, and tower access.

Or for certain locations where customers are connected wirelessly, greater bandwidth may be required at the tower as density increases. Utilizing fiber versus wireless to backhaul in greater bandwidth to the Access Points on the tower may be the better solution for those applications. Once installed, new fiber customers should generally require minimal support and upgrading, and should generate strong long term ROI. And as in the case of Fiber ISPs utilizing wireless, WISPs diversifying with fiber offerings open the doors for more opportunities, especially in commercial or urban scenarios.

Pairing Up for Redundancy
A last consideration is more of a two-way street. Whether a primary link is wireless or fiber, a redundant link of the other type provides a diverse fail-over strategy. Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISPs can have the additional confidence of not only having redundancy in place, but also having a well rounded setup that one type of weather event or accident is highly unlikely to completely unravel. If one link goes off line, the diversification of technology improves the odds that the other link will remain operational.

Chapter 4 - Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Use Case 1

Q & A with Kevin, Owner & CEO

What can you tell us about your company and your role there?
“Originally focused on software research and development, the company also started giving away dial up in rural Idaho in the mid 90s to test the waters. I was brought onboard in ‘95 to provide tech support to these dial up customers. Within a couple of years, I purchased the company and refocused all of our efforts on providing internet.”

What were your initial offerings?
"After starting with dial up, we quickly began offering internet via DSL, direct ethernet, and cable as well. Our approach has always been “technology agnostic,” utilizing whatever works best for each situation."

When did you start using wireless, and how has it helped your business grow?
"In 1996 we began using wireless backhaul and WiFi to provide hotspots for MDUs. Then we began replacing our expensive T1 leased lines to remote communities with wireless links. This allowed us compete with other DSL providers in those areas at a fraction of our previous cost. We then connected additional communities wirelessly in order to increase our customer base.

"Today we have over 4,000 wireless internet subscribers. Our current wireless offerings include packages of 4/2, 8/4, and 10/1 (LTE), with 25/3 coming up next (Mbps up/down). We’ll soon phase out our 4/2 and increase our entry level service to 6/3."

When did you start using fiber, and how has it helped your business grow?
"We began offering fiber service around the same time that we started using fixed wireless. For MDU applications, we found that combining FTTB (backhaul to the property) and FTTP (connectivity to the units) allowed us to deliver much higher speeds and reliability.

"We also helped to create a fiber ring around one of the cities in our network. Feeding off of this ring, we provide true FTTH residential deployments. We now have over 1,000 total fiber customers, connected at an average speed of 100 Mbps!"

Describe solutions in which you are combining fiber and wireless.
"We use fiber and wireless together all the time. We may bring fiber to a building to provide the bandwidth and then distribute the signal wirelessly inside the building. Or we may bring bandwidth to a location via wireless backhaul, then use fiber to connect the customers from there. In the later case, this is because fiber is either too expensive or not available.

"Another application of fiber is how we now create redundant links whenever we connect remote locations. We’ll deploy both fiber and microwave (fixed wireless) backhaul for rock solid reliability to these coverage areas."

What advice would you offer to ISPs regarding fiber, wireless, and the hybrid approach?
"Use what makes sense to get the job done. This takes understanding the full picture, including the finances. As service providers, we need to start thinking about our investments and ROI in a more long term way. We need to consider what our network infrastructure investments will need to be and how that fits into the overall plan. A few years ago, WISPs all said they needed a quick ROI. Now we need to think longer term. Our competitors are!"

Chapter 5 - Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP Use Case 2

Q & A with Mark, Owner

What can you tell us about your company and your role there?
"Originally an electrical contracting company in the 60s, we evolved into an electrical engineering firm in the 80s. I started with the company in 1987 working with Industrial Control Systems as an electrical engineer. Eventually, one of the owners moved to an area of Ohio that had no internet service available, and we decided to handle the connectivity ourselves. We ordered a T1, a dial up modem bank, and a couple of computers, and we were ready to go.

"We didn’t know as much as we thought we did, but we learned quickly. It wasn’t long before we expanded our service area to other cities, and business took off in 2003 when we added fixed wireless as a last mile delivery solution. In 2007 we started offering residential internet service."

What were your initial offerings?
"We started with dial up, then tried DSL for a short time before moving to fixed wireless within a couple of years. More recently we’ve been using fiber for some portions of our network."

When did you start using wireless, and how has it helped your business grow?
"When we started using wireless in 2003, we found it to be cost effective, and it gave us control of the customer experience from end to end. We were no longer at the mercy of the phone companies. All of the revenue was ours to keep, and repairs could be handled in a timely manner. Prior to using wireless, we would be waiting on the telephone company’s service techs to make the repairs, and they usually tried to steal customers from us while on the service calls!

"Since the beginning, our goal has been to provide high quality broadband Internet service to areas that the larger providers were neglecting. Today, we use fixed wireless to provide affordable, reliable broadband Internet access to thousands of households and businesses throughout northwest Ohio, and have started competing head-on with the major carriers. Our standard residential plans range from 2/1 to 25/3 (up/down Mbps) on wireless plans, and high capacity wireless plans are available to business customers who have special requirements."

When did you start using fiber, and how has it helped your business grow?
"We started using fiber about five years ago when we realized it was a more practical way to get the required bandwidth to our tower sites, as opposed to Part 101 licensed fixed microwave. Many of our tower sites are in small villages where it’s difficult to compete with cable due to line-of-site issues. Since we were building fiber to our tower sites, we were able to add Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service in the villages for little additional cost. It proved to be a double win, allowing us to compete effectively with cable in the villages, while increasing speed and capacity for our wireless customers further out.

"Our fiber packages today include both 100 Mbps/100 Mbps and 1 Gbps/1 Gbps. The interesting thing is that even customers connected at gig fiber speed rarely use more bandwidth than our wireless customers."

Describe solutions in which you are combining fiber and wireless.
"Like most WISPs, we have a fiber connection to the backbone that feeds bandwidth to our wireless network. Since we still focus on our wireless offerings, and are relatively new to fiber, we haven’t combined the usage of fiber and wireless in the same solutions just yet. However, as I mentioned above, we have begun offering FTTH for some subscribers. In that sense, we are diversifying our offerings and adopting a hybrid strategy."

What advice would you offer to ISPs regarding fiber, wireless, and the hybrid approach?
"Cash is king, and don’t run out! Our wireless business is built on cash flow, whereas our fiber business is financed. We’ve needed to educate investors, because they don’t initially understand the subscription model and the value proposition of fiber networks. Fiber also has a four to five year ROI versus roughly 8 months for wireless. However, fiber is a 20+ year asset, compared to the wireless equipment which we consider to have less than a five year useful life. Each ISP must remain agile and figure out what it takes to connect more subscribers, according to their demands, in ways that are financially solvent."

Want More Information on Becoming a Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP?

The use cases above provide real world examples of how ISPs are utilizing both Fiber and Wireless in their networks. Another great resource with Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISP use cases is the Fiber Joins Fixed Wireless/BWA: The Future of Hybrid Networks webinar hosted by the Federation of Internet Solution Providers of the Americas (FISPA).

After reviewing these examples, whether you are a WISP considering fiber or a Fiber ISP considering wireless, contact DoubleRadius by calling 866-891-3602 or click to Schedule a Free Consultation. We are here to help you build a better network!