UBB2020 – Airband Puts Its Faith in Fixed Wireless Broadband

By Elliot Richards

A rural ISP in the UK is showing how wireless broadband technology can be used to reach customers that might otherwise be left behind in the digital revolution.

Airband, which offers broadband connectivity to homes, businesses and schools across a number of counties in England and Wales, uses fixed wireless access technology to offer speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s in areas where fixed-line technologies are uneconomic to deploy and has recently won a contract to build an ultra-broadband access network as part of the publicly-funded £4.6 million (US$5.8 million) Connecting Dartmoor and Exmoor (CDE) program in south-west England.

That initiative will see Airband connect 5,800 homes, farms and other businesses using fixed wireless broadband technology, supplied by Cambium Networks Ltd. , over spectrum in the 80GHz band (licensed ‘E-band’) and 5GHz. End users will be fitted with a wireless receiver that connects via a line-of-sight link to its transmitters.

The network operates by relaying a microwave signal via small radios fixed to unobtrusive masts or telegraph-style poles that are located to work around physical barriers such as hills, trees or man-made structures. This approach makes it the ideal solution for national parks, areas of natural beauty and rural areas, but it’s not all plain sailing.

First there’s the careful and calculated consideration given when designing the network, ensuring minimal impact on the skyline of the moor, as well as to preserve the moor’s rich wealth of archaeological and wildlife sites.

Transmitter sites are chosen for their ability to gain as wide as coverage as possible, often at the peak of steep hills, or in very isolated locations, making the simplest of tasks such as driving to them very difficult. Add to this extreme weather conditions and having to draft in specialized drilling equipment to deal with the granite bedrock, and you can see an already challenging environment throws up more natural obstacles.

Bill Hitchins, chairman of Dartmoor National Park, said: “National parks are assets that we are very proud to look after. However they are living, working landscapes that still need good connectivity to ensure our businesses and communities thrive.”

With more of the government’s processes and registrations moving online, a fast and reliable broadband connection is a must and will help local businesses, such as farmers, with tasks such as animal monitoring and compliance.

The tourism trade too is a key part of investment for better broadband with Internet accessibility now one of the key requirements for holidaymakers. Having reliable websites, better booking systems and allowing visitors to plan and roam the moors is increasingly important.

Airband told us that it’s also “in discussion with Dartmoor and Exmoor Rescue teams to work together to increase network coverage and make the moors safer and accessible. In line with this we are also talking to mobile phone networks to help increase mobile coverage across the moors, as this is still an issue for residents and visitors.”

The beautiful and iconic landscape of Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks total 1,647 square kilometers with a population of 54,600. It receives 3.8 million visitors per year contributing £196 million ($244 million) to the economy.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, member for economy and growth for Devon County Council said that this new scheme “will enrich residents’ lives by providing easier access to public services and education resources for our young people, whilst providing a major stimulus to the farming and tourism sectors which are crucial to the local economy.”

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The internet is running about 40 times faster and has made the running of my business much easier.

- Matt Williams, Guilsfield