Is the future fibre-Optic? This is what many ISPs want us to believe. You may have seen the advertising from Virgin Business which is spending heavily to promote its Voom 350Mb fibre connection to businesses. In addition, Hyperoptic has raised £500m to help them roll out their 1Gps connections to two million premises by 2021. At the time of writing, they are limited to approximately 50 cities and towns the UK.
However, this creates a picture that does not reflect the reality that fibre-optic broadband is not the future. Let us look at what you need to know, why you shouldn’t bother getting fibre installed (if you have already got that is fine) and what will shortly replace it.
Data is getting cheaper and cheaper on the 4G network, with networks such as EE and Lycamobile offering unlimited data plans (albeit with significant speed caps after a certain amount and some restrictions to tethering). Smarty is even offering an unlimited deal, with no speed restrictions and no tethering ban.
Although not likely to be a suitable everyday solution for anyone above a micro-business, these could easily become a sensible backup solution in the event of a broadband connectivity failure. 4G routers, bought with PAYG data sims, are easy to install and instantly on. BT is even supplying them to you if your home broadband fails.
For a business of fewer than five people, this could easily be a sensible option and is already available wherever you have 4G coverage.
Satellite broadband is not the cheapest option and so is only likely to be considered by people and businesses where alternatives are not available. Rural areas suffer from very low 4G coverage and 5G will only improve matters when the low frequency 700Mhz range is released by Ofcom. Satellite broadband is the only option for many in this situation, particularly for rural business parks and farms. Companies such as bigblu are offering unlimited data packages, with speeds averaging around 21Mbps from about £55 per month.
Wireless leased lines
Utilising radio-based microwave technology, wireless leased lines are another alternative to fibre. There are a number of pros, and cons, to this option.
- The lines can be provisioned much faster. Assuming you can install a receiver on your roof, you can be connected in a matter of days. Standard leased lines have lead times that start at 30 days and go up from there. Six weeks is not unusual.
- Speeds of up to 1Gbps are common and can go as high as 2Gbps
- There is no reliance on BT
- You have to have access, and permission, to be able to install a receiver on your building’s roof. Unless you own the building, that may not be that simple. You then need to run a connection from the roof to your network.
- There has to be clear line of site. In some areas, that may not be an issue, but in metropolitan areas with ambitious building programmes, what seems like a great solution at the time can quickly disappear as a new building goes up in between you and the transmitter.
At the point 5G is rolled out across the country and devices are available, the data speeds promised by the 5G providers could make this a no-brainer. The only thing that could stop this is data costs, but with 4G data costs plummeting, there is no reason why 5G shouldn’t be even cheaper.
5G was used to control 1218 drones in the Winter Olympics and tests in Japan have seen data transmitted at 27Gbps, so the potential is definitely there. Whilst most opinions suggest that first generation 5G will be only slightly faster than 4G, most also expect this to ramp up rapidly.
5G routers and 5G phones are now starting to appear. EE has launched its 5G service in six cities around the UK, with another 10 expected during 2019. It will be fascinating to see the actual performance figures, compared to those touted.
Three viable alternatives to fibre-optic broadband and three are available today, with 5G now rolling out in limited areas. In general installation is quick and importantly, none of them are reliant on underground cables.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Ianiri is Director of independent telecoms brokerage Equinox. Mike works with companies, charities and other organisations to help them choose the right telecoms packages for their needs and thereby reduce their costs. He is particularly knowledgeable on the integration of IT and telecoms in business. www.equinoxcomms.co.uk