Beating Wired Psychology with 4G/3G Fixed Wireless Broadband Access

B. Washburn

B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • Mix 4G, 3G, CPE, and processes: wireless broadband can be drop-in T1 competition.
  • For enterprises having a tough time accepting wireless, a trial should be simple.

With carriers’ 4G build-outs progressing, will wireless data finally become an eligible alternative to traditional T1 access sales?  Fixed wireless as an alternative to copper or fiber has been around practically forever: see microwave.  Widespread 3G rollouts sparked wireless carriers’ interest in adapting mobile wireless broadband for fixed applications, a cheap and easily deployed alternative to microwave systems.  In 2007, carrier support of Cisco Systems’ 3G high-speed WAN interface card (HWIC) for its Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) helped legitimize the practice.  Besides direct sales by major providers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, CLECs, network aggregators, and international carriers doing business in the U.S. have jumped on board with the major wireless providers.  Among businesses, fixed access for 3G wireless broadband has been a smashing success – sort of.  The “sort of” is because most of the time, 3G fixed wireless broadband is in the back seat.  The technology wins jobs such as backing up primary (wired) access; fast-in, temporary connectivity until wired service is in place; or as a primary connection, as a last resort.

4G makes it possible for fixed wireless broadband to get more serious as a primary circuit replacement.  Its enabler, oddly enough, would be 3G.  Here at Current Analysis, we have seen enterprises get sold on broadband with redundancy as a flexible, cheap alternative to T1 leased-line access: cable modems that fail over to DSL, DSL that fails over to 3G, and DSL that fails over to satellite.  Sprint’s 4G Enterprise WAN service, launched in mid-2011, pairs 4G with failover to 3G, for example, to offer a T1-like 99.95% availability SLA.  The big wireless providers can start with this type of service combination and add enterprise-like processes such as professional installation with acceptance testing, average performance guarantees, network management, and proactive troubleshooting.  By the numbers, the whole package starts to look favorable enough to square off against wireline.  A missing piece is Cisco Systems’ implicit endorsement with out-of-the-box 4G/3G wireless router CPE.  In fact, Cisco already has a 4G Enhanced HWIC option for its ISRs; carriers that know their all-wireless solution stands up as a leased-line alternative (e.g., there is not a single point of failure even if 3G/4G network infrastructure is shared) should add such an option and promote it widely.

For buyers, though, it may be tough to break the psychological barrier of wireless.  Enterprises have been hardwired over many decades to expect wireless to be impermanent, or less trustworthy than service delivered through a cable.  However, if a carrier submits a bid that includes fixed wireless access, and all the metrics look right for the contract, it is probably worth throwing up a couple test sites to check it out; after all, one of the technology’s edges involves being fast and easy to set up and tear down. 

About Brian Washburn
Brian Washburn is Research Director for Network Services at Current Analysis. Brian tracks the technology and initiatives surrounding carrier Ethernet, IP-VPNs, optical networking and applications closely tied to high-performance networking.

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