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Broadband via point-to-point radio signals

Last Edit: 03/06/19

In 2018, the Financial Times published an article titled "Broadband speed map reveals Britain’s new digital divide" which highlighted the postcode divide in the United Kingdom, when it came to receiving 1GBit/s (gigabit speed broadband -- the future benchmark for broadband). As you would expect, many rural areas struggled to match urban areas, but surprisingly, central urban areas typically lagged behind suburban areas -- due to fibre installers focusing on suburbia. Interesting to note, one of the fastest areas was rural Lancashire, due to B4RN building a 1,000Mbps FTTH broadband network in Wray and the surrounding area. Small pockets of rural postcodes have achieved superfast-gigafast broadband by setting up community fibre networks, but, this movement is in its infancy, and many rural postcodes are still not connected to fibre. In the past, the sole solution to poor download speeds has been satellite broadband, but it is letdown by high latency (response time) and download speeds that fail to match fibre networks. More recently, the likes of airfibrenet.com, have launched "wireless fibre", that uses point-to-point radio signals to achieve fibre level speeds.

Ubiquiti airFiber 5Ghz Dish 34dBi Slant 45 - AF-5G34-S45 Ubiquiti airFiber 11 GHz 35 dBi Dish Antenna
(Pictured: Ubiquiti airFiber dishes -- second image is a US version, that is intended for use in the U.S. and Canada)

Its not only rural parts of the UK which are underserved by fibre networks, in the United States of America, DISH and nTelos were amongst the first to launch a fixed wireless broadband pilot in 2013; Tom Cullen of DISH had this to say about the pilot: “With nearly a fifth of American households underserved by broadband, a fixed wireless solution delivering true broadband speeds will bring improved broadband options to potentially millions of consumers,”

So, how does a UK consumer go about connecting to a "air fibre" network? Firstly they'll need to find a provider of "air fibre" and hope that the provider will have coverage for their postcode. Providers of "air fibre" in the United Kingdom include: airfibrenet.com, airbroadband.co.uk and 6ginternet.com. If a customer has signed up with a provider, then the provider should install the equipment required to receive the radio signal. The equipment will vary, but Ubiquiti (its equipment is shown above) is a popular provider of dishes (antenna), links, and PoE adapters. The dish is installed on a rooftop (such as chimney) and is pointed to a local access point tower (high powered wireless transmitters installed on a mast/tower, and usually is 802.11N, running at 5Ghz). The high powered wireless transmitters can typically cover a a range of around 15-20 miles; depending on terrain. The dish is typically smaller than those used by BSKYB; airbroadband.co.uk state that their "round dish is about 20 cm across". An 'outdoor ethernet cable' is then threaded from the dish into the home, which is then connected to a PoE adapter and router. The setup will differ from provider to provider, and as equipment is updated by providers each year. Connection and site survey fees may apply, but providers usually do not charge a line rental fee (unlike fibre providers who use the BT copper/fibre network). Air Fibre providers state that their networks provide superior latency -- under 10 milliseconds -- and their service is sometimes targetted at gamers, alongside rural communities.