Murray Steyn
Murray Steyn Executive Head: Wholesale

It will be a mistake to approach today’s connectivity options as a purely binary choice between wireless and fibre-optic fixed-line networks.

Both technologies are champions of ICT but contrary to how they are sometimes advertised, wireless and fibre are hardly in competition with each other. They cater to different markets and serve different needs, but they truly come into their own when they converge.

Two ways to connect

Wireless connectivity in the form of 4G LTE is a powerful force in the connectivity mix and its popularity continues to rise. It has already been successful in connecting consumers and businesses in far-flung locations, serving mobile workforces and providing businesses with a solid failover network. Quick installations and flexible and convenient deployment options make it an excellent last mile solution and add to its long list of inherent strengths. As wireless technology improves and speeds increase, its market share is sure to keep growing.

On the other hand, fibre networks deliver unrivalled speeds that allow a new level of performance for businesses, allowing them to embrace apps and services that were previously off-limits to them. The drawback is the expense and complexity of fibre installations. It means that buy-in is needed from as many consumers and businesses in an area as possible, limiting deployment to relatively high-density, high-income areas.

Plugging fibre coverage gaps with 4G

This results in large coverage gaps that fibre networks cannot feasibly service. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future for outlying areas. However, wireless connectivity is plugging these gaps and meeting high-speed broadband needs in outlying areas with affordable solutions.

The problem for wireless networks occurs when bandwidth demands increase because it causes the area covered by an individual cell to shrink. This means that more masts are required for speeds to remain optimal in the area, driving up costs for providers with additional installations and ongoing maintenance.

The perfect match – fibre to support wireless

The answer is in the merger of the two. Using fibre as a backbone network to connect cellphone towers directly is known as fibre backhauling. Traditionally, this load was carried by long-range microwave radio links, but fibre is now taking over and driving significantly greater performance. Wireless backhaul may be easier to deploy, but it’s inherently slower, less efficient, and occupies spectrum that can be used for other purposes. However, it might still play a role as a temporary measure.

With the increased speeds afforded by a fibre backbone or core network, wireless connectivity becomes far more viable as a business connectivity solution without the heavier price tag of a direct fibre link. Larger businesses that opt for fibre are advised to have a wireless backup system to cover any possible downtime.

Partner with IS to offer the best of both

Fibre backhauling to support wireless networks will be increasingly indispensable as the number of mobile-first consumers and businesses in South Africa and the rest of the continent continue to multiply and the demands for bandwidth increases.

IS’s carrier-grade infrastructure, with peering partnerships, ensures that we can deliver fast and reliable Internet access anywhere. Partnerships will be vital to meet future demands in South Africa and beyond, and there are myriad opportunities to offer wholesale connectivity solutions that perfectly match customers’ needs – be they wireless or fibre.

Find out more about what IS can offer you in our blog, Highlighting our capabilities around the world .

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