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Ask Slashdot: Can Any Wireless Tech Challenge Fiber To the Home? 190

New submitter danielmorrison writes: In Holland, MI (birthplace of Slashdot) we're working toward fiber to the home. A handful of people have asked why not go wireless instead? I know my reasons (speed, privacy, and we have an existing fiber loop) but are any wireless technologies good enough that cities should consider them? If so, what technologies and what cities have had success stories?
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Ask Slashdot: Can Any Wireless Tech Challenge Fiber To the Home?

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  • Short answer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2015 @12:51PM (#50438017)

    No.

    Long answer?

    Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

    Sorry, but that pesky little Shannon's Law gets in the way. Fibre provides more frequency and better SNR than you'll get in the air, thus more bits. You can't get around physics.

    • by kesuki ( 321456 )

      http://www6.sfgov.org/index.aspx?page=246 [sfgov.org]
      there are other cities with public wifi too, but off hand i recall SF uses 5ghz directional to carry the 2.4ghz hotspot around the city, the internet archive also has input into the building of the network, as they did it with their own 100 mbit link prior to the city doing it. this is all from memory so if i'm wrong i'm wrong.

    • >Sorry, but that pesky little Shannon's Law gets in the way.....

      The real question to me is how good can wireless get? Can it be the last mile answer for the masses? Good enough does not have to mean better than fiber.

      • Yes and no. It can be the last mile for those areas not served by fixed infrastructure. This means it gets ignored by the big boys because the market is not big enough to matter. 95% can get cable, so just write off the 5%. Some people in the past set up point-to-point last mile internet, which had problems with lines of sight, I worked for a place that did meshed last mile internet but it never took off (the big ISPs didn't care about the remaining 5% and the small ISPs weren't enough to keep it going)

        • I cannot say what would happen if 4 different people were streaming videos at the same time, or even what 4K video would do. But Netflix runs very nicely over the Clearwire 4G wireless net for me and I pull a lot of ISOs and stuff without too much pain.

          Unfortunately, it's going away in about 2 months.

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        What you need to be asking is; What if they don't deploy wired broadband and just use wireless for every mile?

        Would you be happy with a wireless connection for broadband being your only choice?

        Because that's exactly what many people are going to get.

        More profits that way.

        • What you need to be asking is; What if they don't deploy wired broadband and just use wireless for every mile?

          Would you be happy with a wireless connection for broadband being your only choice?

          Because that's exactly what many people are going to get.

          More profits that way.

          There are plenty of people right now who don't have wired. They would certainly be happy with wireless if it were good enough, which was my question.

          As for wireless preempting the availability of much better wired connections, its a plausible theory, but I wouldn't bank on it playing out that way.

    • It all depends on how much bandwidth and how much of a data allowance each customer wants/needs.

      If they expect to suck down a dedicated 100 Mbps pipe per household 24/7, then no, wireless anything won't do that, even if you expand outside the scope of WiFi to other tech like 4G.

      If, on the other hand, either their desired bandwidth, desired data allowance, or both, are sufficiently low, or the population density is sufficiently sparse, or any combination of these factors that turns out to be "enough", then y

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        "If, on the other hand, either their desired bandwidth, desired data allowance, or both, are sufficiently low"

        That's part of the problem.

        Step 1 make a service that will not handle projected use.

        Step 2 oversell service 3000%.

        Step 3 implement usage caps to act like you are trying to fix what was broken in the first two steps.

        Step 4 PROFIT!!

        Several years ago online video services did not exist and you could get by on 20gb/mo if you had to today you have 50gb/mo limits and Youtube/Netflix/Steam in a few years w

        • I don't disagree with you. I'm one of those people suffering under Verizon's monopolistic thumb, and my only recourse is to hold on to unlimited LTE for dear life. However, this is the reality of our situation. We are powerless -- completely and utterly powerless -- to effect change in any meaningful way on these issues.

          BTW, I was promised by a high-level rep at Verizon that I'd be able to get FiOS in "weeks" in 2007. It's been a few hundred weeks, and I'm still waiting.

      • 100 Mbps is a standard pipe these days. I can get gigabit where I live, if I wanted to pay for it. The cable in the wall can already provide it.

        Wireless doesn't stand a chance against fiber.

        • A standard pipe for *whom*? The few, the lucky, the elite? People living in small countries with a high standard of living and high median income? Here in the US of A, the vast majority of the population can't get access to a 100 Mbps pipe no matter how badly they wanted it, and they can't even afford to move to a place that would offer it.

          You are either among the lucky elite in the US, or you're in one of those countries that's actually forward-looking. In backwards countries like the US, we have to actual

          • The country next to mine considers broadband a basic human right. Mine doesn't, but pretty much all urban areas have citywide LAN with 100 Mbit or gigabit.

            I'm sorry to hear your country is on par with the third world when it comes to broadband, but it has only 5% of the world population. Today 100 Mbps is a standard pipe. I sincerely hope your country catches up to that soon. Perhaps the government needs to step in to make it happen?

      • I'm going to have to disagree with the comment about rain. I had a wireless ISP with the base station a few miles from my house and there was no density of rain that change the speed at all. This included an ex-hurricane and several rain fall events that caused flooding in lower areas. I do have to admit I was at 4 Mbps.

        • Depends on exactly which type of "Wireless" you have. Not all bands are created equal. The lower the frequency, the more likely it is to not be disturbed by rain. I've been in a building that was connected to a larger network via 20 GHz, and 80 GHz frequencies are not unheard of. The 20 GHz network was easily interrupted by heavy rain (though not light rain).

    • Even if you somehow manage to get good bandwidth through air, the latency is still going to be a problem.
    • Yabutt George Orwell would be proud.

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      The only thing that can remotely attempt to "compete" is Point-To-Point parabolic dishes or some crazy awesome advancement of MIMO.
    • Just out of curiosity, would it be possible to do point-to-point laser beams through the air that could get to gigabit speed? Obviously, they would have to be pretty high powered lasers to get any kind of real distance, just curious if it is being done.

      • Sure, it is done already. Problem is that it is line-of-sight only, easily interrupted by inclement weather, and has worse data rates due to the higher noise level you get as compared to having it in an isolated fibre.

    • by ewhenn ( 647989 )
      Not only that, but you can also add more fiber as needed without the concern of interference. Wireless is limited in spectrum, physical connections are limited by our ability to produce them, which for all intents and purposes is basically limitless.
    • There are airborne optical alternatives that can beat the * out of fiber - provided the weather is clear.

      Fibre provides more frequency and better SNR than you'll get in the air, thus more bits

      But a single fiber provides ONE PATH. Optics can provide MANY paths.

      Imagine ten thousand fibers. Now imagine the ends poking out of a billboard in a 100x100 array - behind a 100x100 array of collimating lenses that beams the light toward your house. At your house imagine a telescope imaging that billboard onto a sli

  • I run a WISP. No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawkeyeMI ( 412577 ) <brock@NoSpam.brocktice.com> on Tuesday September 01, 2015 @01:07PM (#50438169) Homepage
    Wireless can do as well as fiber, but it's going to cost a LOT more and you'll have trouble scaling it. I run a small rural wireless ISP, and while wireless is cheap and fast to deploy, it's not fiber, and it's never going to be. That said, with a good high point and backhaul, you can start providing speeds up to 40Mbps for less than $5k.
    • I should have specified, over a range of up to ten miles.
    • I have a wire giving me gigabit (if I want to pay for that; right now I settle for 100 Mbit) coming out of the wall. Such a cable goes to every apartment in the whole block.

      Can wireless do that? Gigabit with low latency?

  • In rural areas unlikely to expand, there are high-speed wireless technologies that could be plausibly used. In even suburbs? No. Once you reach a certain level of density, you need to set up so many base stations that you might as well just run cable (not necessarily fiber) to every house and be done with it.

  • Seriously, the power and frequency range needed to do this will have serious warming effects upon water-based tissue.
  • There's a good reason why wired beats wireless. In wireless your common medium is the air which is common to everyone. Basically it's impossible to transmit without causing interference at some level to someone else in the common area unless you're so far away that wireless is pointless. With a wire, it's now possible to have a dedicated wire strictly for just your communication. In practice this costs too much so it is shared somewhat but it's far better than a common medium for everyone.

  • Ask them how reliable their cell phone connections are and if they would be happy having that level of reliability with their internet connection.

    "Can you ping me now?"

  • Could you do last mile over wireless? Sure.

    Now how do you get the signal from those thousands of towers back somewhere to give them network access? The most common way is via copper or fiber cabling. Push enough towers out deep into every neighborhood to have minimal contention, good enough signal strength, and 99.9% coverage over the area (including all those old houses with nice thick walls that KILL signal) and you've probably spent as much or more than hiring a trenching/construction/OSP crew for a

  • by synaptic ( 4599 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2015 @01:12PM (#50438247) Homepage

    Wireless communications may become more interesting in the future thanks to this pioneering research: http://www.nature.com/articles... [nature.com]

    See also the theoretical paper: http://journals.aps.org/prl/ab... [aps.org] (http://arxiv.org/pdf/math-ph/0703059.pdf)

    It's not clear what the implications are for signal loss or if this is more of an illusion akin to beam steering.

  • Challenge ftth for what, under what requirements? If the measure is market share, cable beats fiber-to-the-home. Quick deployment? Cable internet service can be activated today.

    In the city I recently moved from, fixed wireless was an option that made sense for some people. Fixed wireless means there is a stationary antenna on hour house, similar to satellite, but it points at a local tower rather than a satellite, so latency isn't bad. I used a similar setup in another city, where I pointed a canten

    • I typed that wrong. I meant to say it can be combined with mobile wireless. A phone will get a weak signal from an AP on a telephone pole some distance away. A stationary, directional antenna mounted on a roof and pointed at the pole will get much better signal and speed.

      Also I realized there is some justified dislike of certain cable operators here, so I should be clear:
      I'm not actually saying that coax cable is "better" than fiber.

      I'm saying that more information about the requirements is needed. _IF

  • In Holland, MI (birthplace of Slashdot) we're working toward fiber to the home. A handful of people have asked why not go wireless instead?

    Because fiber will almost certainly be faster, probably more secure and likely more reliable and less prone to interference. That said, fiber to the home is not and will not be available to most of the country any time soon so it's a hypothetical question anyway. I'm not aware of any near term likely wireless technology that would outperform fiber. Furthermore once the fiber is laid it's relatively future proof for some time to come. Wireless not so much.

    I know my reasons (speed, privacy, and we have an existing fiber loop) but are any wireless technologies good enough that cities should consider them?

    The answer currently is no. That may change some

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2015 @01:25PM (#50438359)

    When I briefly worked at Cisco's wireless division a few years ago, I learned that their ideal customer was a hospital. Medical devices on a wireless network requires a higher level of reliability and uptime than the typical corporate or home environment. If Cisco gets wireless right for the hospital environment, they get it right for everyone else.

    Although hospitals are willing replace their wireless access points (APs) with newer models every X years, they're reluctant to upgrade the closet switches that connects the APs into the network. The more bandwidth is pushed through the APs, the more bandwidth capacity is needed for the switch. Higher bandwidth switches are much more expensive. That was the problem for the new 1Gb APs in 2013. You can connect 32 1GB APs to a switch, but the fiber link for the average switch maxes out at 10Gb. If bandwidth is constrained in the closet, the benefits to upgrading to high-speed APs will be limited. A big problem for the marketing department to figure out.

    If you think a hospital scenario is bad, trying getting local government to pony up a fat pipe for everyone in the neighborhood to have high-speed wireless.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "Medical devices on a wireless network requires a higher level of reliability and uptime"

      If a hospital is putting medical devices which require life critical reliability and uptime on 802.11 wireless, or any other unlicensed band where the legal requirement is that

      (1) this device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.

      , they're doing it wrong, and it's not a hospital I'd want to be a patient in

      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        Its more like the doctor at your bed side looking at all your scans and other results and notes on a tablet with a "retina" display and pulling them off the server somewhere in the bowels of the hospital.

      • Medical devices on a hospital wireless network includes but not limited to mobile workstations, tablets, phones and/or pagers, and RFID tags. I'm not aware of any medical devices being used for patient critical care on the wireless network. But doctors and nurses expect the wireless to be available at all times, especially when pulling up data while talking to a patient.
        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          Yes. It's a convenience, as in many other enterprises. Hospitals don't require more reliability and uptime for wireless than any other business. It's just marketing which makes it sound that way.
          • You obviously have never worked in a hospital environment. Doctors and nurses expect to have access to patient data whenever they need it. If the wireless network goes down, they can't do their job and patient lives might be at risk.
            • by msauve ( 701917 )
              If they're relying on 802.11 for applications which would put a patients life at risk, they're doing it wrong.

              Please at least try to be consistent - either it's life critical or it isn't. You're trying to win an argument by arguing both side of the coin.
              • I'm not the one losing the argument.
                • by msauve ( 701917 )
                  Since you're arguing both sides, you're definitely winning. Enjoy it, it seems you've found the only way you can win.
                  • And now you're sore loser. Have a nice day. :)
                    • by msauve ( 701917 )
                      LOL. You don't know what a Pyrrhic victory is, do you? You only won because you also lost by arguing against yourself. Enjoy your self-defeat.
                    • 1. You made an incorrect assumption about medical devices, which two other posters and I corrected you on.

                      2. You made another incorrect assumption that a hospital wireless network is just a convenience and a marketing ploy, which I pointed it wasn't to the doctors and nurses who needed access to patient data.

                      3. You made yet another incorrect assumption that I'm arguing to win, which I'm not since I'm only correcting your incorrect assumptions.

  • You need to quantify what you consider "good enough" in order to answer that.

    First, in strict terms of bandwidth, no, today's best wireless just can't compete with today's best fiber. But how about tomorrow? No, tomorrow's best wireless still won't beat tomorrow's best fiber; but, with wireless, when 7G hits the scene everyone goes out and buys a new $50 modem and trucks don't need to physically roll to every end point on the network to upgrade their tubes.

    Second, in more relaxed terms of bandwidth, w
  • At my home currently, there are 6 wireless providers that offer various crappy speeds. There are zero fiber providers. There are 3 copper providers that offer decent speeds.

    Therefore in a wireless vs fiber challenge at my home, wireless wins hands down, but copper is better than either.
  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2015 @02:21PM (#50438761)

    Yes, it can be made to work, but a pipe is always better

    Need more capacity, add more fibers

    Once the spectrum is saturated, it's full

    Yeah, clever coding and compression can help, but it's still a finite spectrum

  • Uncapped 4G is pretty nifty. However... I had an uncapped 4G hotspot from one vendor, and it worked pretty great. Then Sprint bought them, and capped it. Then I had uncapped 4G from Clear. Sprint has bought them, and they start capping it, too, as of November 1st. I expect anyone who offers this service can expect to be purchased by Sprint (hey, built in exit strategy for your new startup!) so they can cap it, and charge metered rates for the inevitable overage (particularly now that Windows 10 does pe

  • It may help to start by comparing a wired connection to wireless first. The cable that comes to your home uses much the same frequencies that are used all the time over the air, but cable company can use the same frequencies that are used outside the cable inside the cable but lets them use the whole spectrum or at least most of it because you will always have a certain amount of leakage. Even in a new cable system, you will have lose connections that leak RF, the cable company knows this and the put specia

  • It's called 4G (or whatever G) and it's often already available where the cost of deploying fiber or even copper would be too high for the user density and economic means of the users (i.e. the mountains of Nepal, the plains of Africa, etc.).

    It's not faster but it's better than what they would have without it (nothing).

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