Small Cells and hybrid networks for WISPs: Part 1

Update. Due to some weirdness with a server move this article has been updated at http://blog.j2sw.com/2019/04/25/small-cells-and-hybrid-networks-for-wisps-part-1/

The never-ending goal of any Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) is how to get ever-increasing levels of bandwidth to clients. The always increasing demands, by customers,  on WISPs, and ISPs, in general, are becoming an everyday problem for many operators.  Building a business model on unlicensed spectrum can be a shaky foundation.  Interference and changing rules are just a few things which can influence how a WISP deploys services to a customer. Before we get into this, let’s take a step back and look at how many WISPs have been deploying services up until recently.

The “historical” WISP deployment has been to find the tallest structure around and locate some access points on it.  From there they try and reach out as far as they can to pick up customers.  This distance to the customer may be 3 miles, 5 miles, or even further depending on terrain. When an AP gets too full, you typically add a new one and make sure your antennas don’t overlap as much.   In the past installing customers at these distances has been fine for the 3, 5 and maybe even 10 meg packages which have been sold over the years.  However, the modern definition of broadband by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is 25 megabyte25 Megabits download by 3 Megabits upload. A good number of households are “getting by” with far less, but these customers need access to faster connections.

One way to meet this demand is to take a playbook from the cellular carriers. Small cells, or Micropops as many refer to them as can be a tremendous tool in your toolbox. For this series, I am going to refer to what I am talking about as a small cell and not a micro pop.  Why am I making this distinction? Small cells are something folks familiar with cellular operators understand.  This distinction may seem like such a small difference to you and me, but for the banker, or the city planner this could be a critical thing.  Many times you only have a small opening to present your case for deploying services to a neighborhood or other area.   This opening could be a twenty-minute meeting on a busy Monday or at a town hall meeting with 10 other things on the agenda.  Why not use terms which everyone is familiar with.

One way to increase data rates and modulation to clients is to decrease the distance they are from the Access Point (AP) and the number of clients on the AP.  Cleaner clients on an AP make for a better performing access point. The fewer obstructions you have to go through and even the less air you have to go through allows you to increase modulation to your clients on the AP.  If the clients are closer to the AP, they experience less interference. Imagine how many fewer things your AP hears if it is limited to a one-mile radius as opposed to a five-mile radius

So imagine your typical suburban neighborhood.  This may be a collection of houses in a subdivision within a 1-3 mile radius.

Typical single family home subdivision

Due to houses, terrain, and trees, you may not be able to service these homes with the needed 25meg downloads they are expecting from the historical setup I mentioned above. The tower is just too far awa and is going through too many things to scale to customer demand.

This problem is where the neighborhood small-cell can come in and solve.  Due to land and Home Owner Association (HOA) policies putting up the typical WISP tower is not feasible.  Many homeowners do not want industrial things cluttering up their views, even if it means delivering the high-speed internet they are wanting. Towers can bring down property value.  In our photo above, several poles or small towers ranging from 40-80 feet would be inconspicuous enough to blend in with the neighborhood.

Small Cell on a Pole

Each of these poles may service as many as 20-30 homes. This small customer count per AP keeps the customer count on the AP low, so you are not oversubscribing the Access Points, and also allows each customer to have the max signal to their nearest AP. Due to customers reliance on speed test servers, being able to provide what you sell is critical.  If you are selling 200 meg packages, then the customer should be able to run a 200 meg speed test. In an earlier article, I talk about the problems with speed test servers, but your customers want to get what they expect.

So now that we know why small cells are essential to a WISP, our next articles in this series will focus on the technical aspects of small cell, integrating them into your existing infrastructure, and showing deploying them is not really that scary, hard or expensive.

Where the is a WISP there is a way

While driving to #usmum2019 I happened to see this lone antenna sticking up on a house off of I30 near Dallas.  Being a “WISP guy” I am probably just a handful of folks who recognize such things.  If you are a wisp and think you can’t compete in urban areas remember this picture.

Now, I do not know the details. There could be zero broadband in this neighborhood, or there could be a lot of competition.  If any of my readers claim this please let me know the details as I would like to do a story on you. Wireless ISPs can compete and are competing everyday.

Flash briefing

Tower One Spring show
Tower one is kicking off its early spring road tour with the following stops to conduct tower safety and rescue training. If anyone would like to join any of these classes feel free to contact us at: sales@toweroneinc.com

March 26-27th Upland, Indiana
April 8-9th Lasara, Texas
April 10-11th Lasara, Texas
April 16-17th Mitchell, Nebraska
April 18-19th Albuquerque, New Mexico
April 22-23rd Amarillo, Texas
April 24-26th Iola, Kansas
April 29-30th Salisbury, Missouri
May 1-3rd Terre Haute, Indiana

Comcast FLEX offering
https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/21/18276040/comcast-flex-streaming-announced-features-pricing

TMOBILE LTE
https://bgr.com/2019/03/21/t-mobile-home-internet-service-details/

Microsoft says FCC overstates broadband
https://www.pcgamer.com/microsoft-says-fccs-broadband-report-overstates-high-speed-availability/

FCC resolves some WHITESPACE petitions
https://www.multichannel.com/news/fcc-resolves-white-spaces-issues

The changing WISP RF landscape

Recently, there have been some discussions on Facebook about waining support for 2.4GHZ .  KP Performance recently published a Future of 5GHZ and beyond blog post. So why all this focus on 5GHZ and why are people forgetting about 2.4?

To answer this question, we need to update our thinking on the trends in networks, not just wireless networks.  Customers are demanding more and more speed. Network backbones and delivery nodes have to be updated to keep up with this demand. For anything but 802.11 wifi,2.4GHZ can’t keep up with the bandwidth needs.

One of the significant limitations of many 2.4 radios is they use frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) and/or direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) modulation. Due to 2.4GHZ being older, the chipsets have evolved around these modulation methods because of age.  When you compare 2.4GHZ to 5GHZ radios running OFDM, you start to see a significant difference.  In a nutshell, OFDM allows for higher throughput. If you want to read all about the differences in the protocols here ya go: http://www.answers.com/Q/Difference_between_ofdm_dsss_fhss

Secondly, is the amount of spectrum available.  More spectrum means more channels to use, which translates into a high chance of mitigating interference. This interference can be self-induced or from external sources. To use an analogy, the more rooms a building has, the more simultaneous conversations can happen without noise in 2.4GHZ we only have 3 non-overlapping channels at 20mhz. Remember the part about more and more customers wanting more bandwidth? In the wireless world, one of the ways to increase capacity on your APs is to increase the channel width. Once you increase 2.4 to 30 or 40 MHz, you do not have much room to deal with noise because your available channels have shrunk.

One of the biggest arguments in support of using 2.4GHZ for a WISP environment is the physics.  Lower frequencies penetrate trees and foliage better. As with anything, there is a tradeoff.  As the signal is absorbed, so is the available “air time” for transmission of data.  As the signal travels through stuff, the radios on both sides have to reduce their modulation rates to deal with the loss of signal.  Lower modulation rates mean lower throughput for customers.  This might be fine for customers who have no other choice.  This thinking is not a long term play.

With LTE especially, the traditional thinking is being uprooted.  Multiple streams to the customer as well as various paths for the signal due to antenna stacking are allowing radios to penetrate this same foliage just as well as a 2.4 signal, but delivering more bandwidth. These systems are becoming more and more carrier class.  As the internet evolves and becomes more and more critical, ISPs are having to step up their services.  The FCC  says the definition of broadband is at least 25 meg download. A 2.4 radio just can’t keep up in a WISP environment.  I am seeing 10 meg becoming the minimum customers want. Can you get by with smaller packages? Yes, but how long can you maintain that as the customer demand grows?

So what is the answer? Cell sizes are shrinking.  This is helping 2.4 hold on.  The less expensive radios can be deployed to less dense areas and still provide decent speeds to customers.  This same trend allows 5GHZ cells to be deployed as well. With less things to go through, 5GHZ can perform in modern networks at higher modulation rates.  Antenna manufacturers are also spending R&D to get the most out of their 5GHZ antennas. More money in the pipeline means stronger products. My clients are typically deploying 3.65 and 5GHZ on their towers.  LTE is changing RF WISP design and taking the place of 2.4 and 900.

Form 477 and Mapping

Recently the FCC has put out a press release about updating the national broadband map. If you are a WISP and wondering why you aren’t on there ask your self this question: Have you been filing your form 477? If not, then that is why.  If you are an ISP you are required to file form 477.

So, where do you begin? The above link will get you started.  If you are confused by census tracts, blocks, 15 digit codes for, and the sheer amount of formatting you need to know you have come to the right place. Also, for you facebook users I will share a link to the WISPAMERICA 2018 session in Birmingham about what forms to fill out.

Option number one is your WISP billing platform may already support doing something with form 477.  Many of the billing platforms geared toward the WISP industry already support form 477 exporting.  Check with your vendor or have a conversation with one at an event such as the upcoming WISPAMERICA.

Second is an online service such as www.towercoverage.com.  While many folks know towercoverage for their RF propagation maps, they can also turn data you can use for form 477. Here are some searches from the towercoverage.com wiki to get you started on their 477 support.  If you are going to WispAmerica check them out in booth 600.

Lastly, but not least, we have firms such as wirelessmapping.com. Not only can they help you generate maps and data, but they can help you turn your data into marketing as well.   They are also able to make sure you are filing your paperwork properly and in the correct format. In my local area, I see companies that do not have a coverage listed on the national broadband map.  I can only assume this is an honest mistake due to an error in a census block mistake or improper coding.

If you don’t file your Form 477, not only are you doing yourself an injustice but not letting the government know you are there, but you are skirting the law as well.  If the government does not know you are providing broadband to an area, they may let your competitor overbuild on taxpayer money.  You are missing out on opportunities as well as potential fines.

Open Source Box Design

One of the biggest challenges WISPs and anyone deploying wireless gear is power and distribution.  I have put together a checklist for purchasing items to make a standard box MTIN would deploy. This is not designed to be a how-to, but rather a “What to buy” guide.

Link to the PDF (7Meg Download)

Throughout this documents I make notes based upon experience. As with anything, these are not hard rules. They are meant to be guidelines to follow. Please adapt to your uses. For example, if you don’t have any non-cambium radios you don’t need the POE injectors found on page 5.

If you find this document useful please feel free to send your thoughts, beer money, or other admiration. Links to http://www.mtin.net/blog are always appreciated, as well as twitter ( @j2sw ) or facebook follows (http://www.facebook.com/mtinnet )are always appreciated.   If you reproduce any parts of this Open Source document please give credit to the original source.

IMG_0563

Box in deployment. Fiber has not been dressed so don’t worry it gets better protected.

IMG_0967

Basic no frills box with 2 PacketFlux gigabit injectors

IMG_0936

News from the WEB – ISP Edition

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/NewWave-Latest-ISP-to-Promise-1-Gbps-Speeds-130228
Add NewWave Communications
 to the growing list of ISPs large and small that are promising to soon offer 1 Gbps speeds — albeit to a tiny portion of their overall subscribers. The company has announced that they’re planning to offer 1 Gbps to a handful of rural markets starting next year

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/California-Governor-Signs-Cell-Phone-Kill-Switch-Law-130207
California this week became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring that cell phones include so-called “kill switch” functionality to deter theft, enabled by default

http://venturebeat.com/2014/08/26/intel-reveals-worlds-smallest-wireless-modem-for-the-internet-of-things/
Intel is revealing what it calls the world’s smallest standalone wireless modem for connecting the Internet of things, or everyday things that are connected to the web like coffee machines that you can turn on with a mobile app.