It was all quite unexpected! You see, I have become familiar with more traditional backhaul technologies such as Ethernet, xDSL, fiber and microwave, for example, but was particularly amazed to learn that cellular was a viable wireless backhaul solution.
I seriously needed someone to pinch me!
4G: A work in progress still?
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised really, since when I’m out and about, I will often use my mobile phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to allow my notebook or tablet to connect to the internet. Similarly, Wi-Fi is also quite prevalent and, as consumers, we take it for granted, routinely seeking that all-important connection. Even at 37,000ft, flying to Dubai with Emirates, I was able to connect to Wi-Fi and achieve a connection speed of 30Mbit/s over satellite – that’s quite remarkable!
Yet, what particularly surprised me, was that 4G was being offered as a wireless backhaul to a customer premises equipment (CPE) device, in turn, providing both residential and business users with internet connectivity as an alternative to the more traditional connection technologies. What’s more, my mindset was pretty much made-up since, arguably, across the UK, 4G can be quite patchy and unreliable irrespective of your mobile operator and I perceived it as still very much “a work in progress.”
Scepticism and grand expectations
So, it never occurred to me that 4G was sufficiently reliable in capacity to provide a sustainable connection across the home (or business) until I came across an unassuming CPE device in the south of France. Unfortunately, I can’t name names, since this whole telecommunications industry malarkey is a hotly tense and somewhat contentious arena.
Anyway, during my stay, I had a choice of using xDSL, which would only achieve 12Mbit/s, but I also had an offer of a 4G CPE device with purported speeds of up to 220Mbit/s. The choice was obvious! I selected the 4G option with caution and the occasional thought of “Really? No, never – impossible!” But, armed with both scepticism and such a grand expectation, the fears became a horrid reality once I set up the box!
Not as fast as I first thought!
At best, I achieved an average speed with the 4G solution of 12Mbit/s, despite placing the box in various locations around the house. Although, I dare say, it doesn’t help when the house was built circa 16th century and its walls averaging a depth of two meters or so may have lent itself to hindering the so-called blistering rate of 220Mbit/s. My makeshift office was at the top of the house on the second-floor mezzanine looking down over the first floor. I had my fingers crossed that the optional antenna, which I purchased, would help the CPE device achieve a better throughput.
The antenna would no doubt help boost reception, so I installed the antenna at the highest point over the mezzanine where I then achieved on average 25Mbit/s. Although, as you probably know, wireless technologies are regularly subject to mood swings where rugged thick walls, the sun shining on its face and the wind blowing in its hair may all affect reality. In short, I achieved, on average 25Mbit/s, which was a far cry from the touted and alluring speed of 220Mbit/s – nevertheless, it was enough for me to stream content, surf the internet and whatnot.
Leveraging connectivity for all
However, my wireless woes didn’t end there either, since the ground floor had little to no Wi-Fi coverage. So, an extender was purchased to ensure that the dining and kitchen area was adequately covered – like I said, we just can’t live without that all-important connection and Alexa can be extremely temperamental, if she doesn’t regularly receive her Wi-Fi fix. In this magical and medieval house, I still wanted all my technology and gadgets to work seamlessly and I wasn’t going to be defeated!
With ample coverage across my home where Alexa could confidently stream music on the “Everywhere Group” uninterrupted and I could sit here writing this month’s column whilst switching windows to tap into the latest news and reply to emails, I began to wonder with all that’s been said, whether this is actually a great benchmark from which we can instil new confidence in our wireless backhaul. More so, with the furore and emergence of 5G and the ongoing battle as to who will be first, we can potentially leverage connectivity for all – even in the remotest of areas.
Until next time …
This experience has made me realise that with the new 5G infrastructure, cellular can become a solid alternative to the more traditional backhaul connectivity technologies that have become so trusted. As such, I may have not achieved the “larger-than-life” promise of 220Mbit/s over cellular, but I do remain confident that with improved 4G coverage, along with the soon-to-be rollout of 5G, we can increasingly become confident with cellular as a wireless backhaul solution. Yep, we are currently witnessing the utter promise of true wireless broadband and I can’t wait!
So, this is where a “cellular-enabled” Dr. G signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.