Tales from the Towers Chapter 54: Point-to-Points to Ponder

My timing hasn’t always been the greatest. I bought Google Earth Pro six weeks before they gave it away for free, I launched a data center with video streaming 10 days before 9-11, and my coupon for 1 free box of HoHo’s for every purchased box expired two days before I found it between the car seats where I dropped it. So may last article getting released about 6 weeks before some major Point-to-Point news came about simply demonstrates that my luck, and my timing hasn’t gotten much better as I get older. And this type of news is a game changer in terms of throwing DSL in the garbage where it belongs and making cable providers rethink how much longer their technology is going to be viable (I know they want to move to fiber but let’s see who really gets it and how fast).

To get out of the dark woods and into Pleasant Valley Suburbia, WISPs needed more tools in the toolbox. In most neighborhoods with the highest level of density, it’s almost impossible not to trip over copper in the form of twisted pair or cable. To get people to cut those cords, WISPs needed high-capacity backhaul options that didn’t cost more a first-class plane ticket for Bono’s hat (this really happened).

When the Ubiquiti AF24 radios came out, they were game changers. At half the price and twice the speed of anything else in an unlicensed band most WISPs didn’t’ even know existed, it put Chuck Macenski and the ex-Motorola band back on the map, albeit with a different sponsor. Some manufacturers even stopped pushing their 24GHz product in the U.S. because they were simply over-priced or not fast enough to compete. The ability to move hundreds of MBs and take Ubiquiti out of the sub-100Mbps WiFi market was huge. And the quality of the product along with an innovative design utilizing separate antennas didn’t hurt either.

As great as the product was though, our “get in the face of wireline/fiber providers Galactus toolkit” still needed more. As it turned, out, the AF24 wasn’t going to be alone. It’s at this point that I’m sure some of you are asking, what about licensed radios? I’m glad you brought it up. Licensed radios were not cheap enough in terms of WISP needs if you are talking about getting into urban areas with lots of vertical assets. A year ago, you would have been lucky to get fully deployed for less than $10K or more. Clearly that has changed with the AF24 coming and then SAF and others creating new products but it’s still a tower product, not what I believe is needed for the upcoming war.

But it was a start. At the same time, others took note and were working on the same concepts with different paths. Ubiquiti followed up the AF24 with the AF5, another clean-sheet design built in-house. It was $1000 per link less and had a higher QAM rate than 802.11ac for better spectral efficiency. Not bad for a 1-2 punch. The only problem with the AF5 is that it’s limited to 5470MHz at the low-end meaning U-NII-1 is out. But 500+Mbps, 1024 QAM, and $2000 was a pretty good second punch and a worthy younger sibling to the AF24.

In the U.S., we are limited to 5850MHz but in other countries, there are different rules. In some countries, there are no rules. In the U.S., if you are Google, need the rules changed, and have the Obama administration on speed dial, you just submit your changes to the FTC who tells Obama who tells Jeff Zients who tells Wheeler who tells us but only after playing “I’ve got a secret “with the American taxpayer. For some this sounds like a Sopranos episode but unfortunately, corruption and influence peddling in the government is the way Washington works. Tony Soprano would be proud. You knew I had to slip in something about the farce called Title II with a little OOBE backstabbing tossed in at some point.

But the counterpunch was already on its way in the form of the B5 and it was loaded with the Quantenna 4×4 chipset. At WiSPA in Vegas, Mimosa released a can of, well you know what and Ubiquiti released the AirFiber 5. What the AF24 did to the SAF 24GHz product line, Mimosa and Ubiquiti just did to the Cambium 650 product line (although Cambium got a reprieve for a couple of years in the form of OOBE since the B5 was originally slated for a 30dBm output and the 650 was already certified for higher power). Even worse though, Mimosa gave ahem, “slight hints” in the form of built products in the booth at WISPA which based on the “deer in the headlights look” on the faces of the Cambium guys, pretty much caught them off guard. It reminded me of the look that Seattle fans had when Russell Wilson dropped back for a pass and threw the interception on the 1-yard line at the Super Bowl (this is significant since they had one of the most dominant runners in the game twiddling his thumbs in the backfield). No longer was this a 2-man race, but a 3-man marathon and only two companies were stocking up on the electrolytes needed to be there at the end. Ubiquiti wasn’t sweating much since they already 802.11ac products in the pipeline, a wildly diverse product line, and the Chicago based (okay, technically south of but since Chicago was well-known for its “La Famiglia relationships it sounds more ominous) Macenski Gang that had more 5GHz and 24GHz stuff in their arsenal.

The B5 PTP links saw field deployments in January. Mimosa took an alternate approach by using a next-generation 802.11ac chip not only capable of keeping a 1Gbps Ethernet pipe filled to the gills, but also capable of running on 2 different frequencies simultaneously, similar to the AF24 and AF5. What Ubiquiti did with a proprietary design, Mimosa did with a standard, off-the-shelf chipset. I’m not going to get into all the details because the products are different in many way and have different applications so read the data sheets. If I start listing them here, you will be asleep before the next paragraph.

Right on cue, as soon as the B5 was shipping, the Airfiber 5’s came out at the same price. And then Ubiquiti started throwing what they thought was the knockout punch with the AirFiber 5X. Talk about a low blow, it was $500 lower than the B5 and $440 less than the B5c. Game set, and wait…. The Fat Lady kept singing, Wwwhhhaaaattttt!!! Mimosa saw the handwriting on the wall and decided that it was time to start bringing out the rest of family that had been hiding in the back room. Cousin B5-Lite was inducted into the La Famiglia in response to the AirFiber 5X and it came with pricing that would make Sam Walmart sweat, $300. But wait, there’s more. Buy it today and we will give you not one, but two B5-Lite radios and throw in these gorgeous decorative wall hangings that your wife will want you to mount on the outside of the house for all the neighbors to see. Yes, the B5-Lite was priced at $300 for two radios and mounting brackets. That’s $150 per radio which is just crazy awesome here at Rootin’ Ralphs Discount Radio Tool Shack, home of the crazy deals.

The B5-Lite isn’t the same as the A5X since one is connectorized and the other is integrated, but right now these are the lowest priced PTP products with hundreds of Mbps of capacity on the market that can hit DFS frequencies. I’m not referencing that either of these products are actually direct competitors because in reality, they are all doing something different in different ways. That’s what makes this so great.

Okay, I specifically didn’t count the Ubiquiti PowerBeam AC products which are already out for this reason, the firmware is still being debugged and DFS is still coming out “soon”. What I’m not sure of is what happens when it gets DFS and U-NII-1 cert. For example, OOBE limits 5.15 to 5.25GHz to around 40dBm instead of the previous 53dBm specs. When the PowerBeam-AC software is stable though, hopefully with 5.6 and even more hopefully, with DFS and U-NII-1 compatibility, then their pricing, which is about the same as the B5-Lite but with higher gain antennas, makes them a viable alternative between the B5-Lite and the AF5X.

But back to AF5/B5 battle. The B5-Lite is limited to about 1.5 miles at full bandwidth with integrated 20dbi antennas and about 300Mbps at 3 miles. The AirFiber 5X can use any antenna which extends the range significantly but now you could be encroaching on the AirFiber 5 and Mimosa B5 radio costs. But the AirFiber 5X can support big, bigger, and biggest antennas for massive range and still stay below $800 each side, the same as the B5c but at a few hundred dollars more. Most important to us is that our urban Galactic toolbox now has both long range and short range backhaul radios ranging in price from $150 to $3000 delivering a real 400-700+Mbps and you don’t have to pay a vig to get them. In the middle of this slugfest, Ubiquiti also quietly slipped another Howitzer into the battle, an upgraded 24GHz AirFiber 24HD that not only extends the range of the AirFiber 24 another 50%, it also increase the throughput by almost same amount (this could have been phrased many ways depending on the reference to modulation, pps, etc… so no comments correcting me please. Just know the radio is very, very cool).

Hold onto your horses though, friends, as the Point-to-Point wireless battle is about to become a Battle Royale cage match. It seems as though the fight card isn’t full and we have a new contestant, MetroLinq by IgniteNet. IgniteNet who you ask? That was pretty much my response until I did a little research. Apparently this company already has some vanilla 802.11ac products for PTP and PTMP and decided that 60GHz was a fun place to play. And assuming these radios get here with full FCC approval which is pending, not only do they know how to play, that know how to crash a party. 1Gbps in 60GHz means ¼ mile to a mile, depending on antenna in a client radio ranging from 7-14”. And you already know what’s coming next but I suggest you sit down, $550 each with built-in 5GHz backup radios. Yes, you heard that right Siklu, if or when this product hits the market, it just dropped the price of playing in the 60GHz band by 80%, and it comes with a 5GHz safety valve. A lot of 60GHz inventory still sitting on shelves just got heavily devalued and I think Bridgewave and LightPointe execs just broke out the Maalox. This line just kills me from Bridgewave’s website, “BridgeWave’s products are the highest performing and the first and only 60 GHz gigabit products below $20,000 for a full link”. Yea, I’d get that one edited very soon and start printing up coupons and rebates.

One other thing that needs to get discussed is full-duplex versus half-duplex and how it plays into an urban design. Most WISP clients have a 90/10 split of download to upload bandwidth. The argument that I’m making here is that a multi-hop PTP link can extend into urban areas without the need for fiber. Since full-duplex radios need double the bandwidth of half-duplex radios, there is an inordinate amount of wasted bandwidth in one direction, up. In that case, to maximize spectrum efficiency, half-duplex that allows an adjustment to prioritize traffic flow in one direction is the best. If you are building a loop network such as with towers, then full-duplex is the best since you don’t know the traffic flow direction of the loop, depending on which routing method you are using.

Where does that leave us, the poor, unwashed WISP? It puts us in the front of the Swat Team kicking down some wireline doors since we now have more backhaul tools than a restaurant has bowls. We can backhaul Gigabytes of data to bear anywhere in Ubania for less than Obama spends on tees. Consider this, with some careful mounting, we can use the 5GHz band to move 750Mbsp 5 miles for $1500 and have 4 taps in the middle. In high-congestion WiFi areas, we can spend $3500, have the same number of taps, and move 1Gbps in 60GHz. Or we can jump the shark and move it 10-50 miles and tell our local monopolistic based fiber companies which particular cliff they can jump of off. Who cares, we can do it all!! And not only is our Galactic Urban Toolbox full, equipment costs have nose-dived and hints of needing a bigger toolbox are starting to waft in the air.

These products coupled with more amazing PTMP equipment coming out later in the year, are game changers. In 60 days when Ignitenet and Mimosa B5-Lite products start shipping or you are already enjoying the Airfiber 5(X)s or B5’s you already have, I’m sure that many of you will start thinking about how to expand things. That’s when the real fight begins, Wireless versus cable versus DSL versus fiber versus government subsidized crony capitalistic boondoggles (my last political comment, I promise). It’s time for the gloves to come off and we all join the “Friends don’t let Friends keep monopolies alive by using wireline incumbents” club. It’s also why the government needs to simply get out of the subsidy business, capitalism, innovation, and free-market economics are about to destroy the need for big government fiber subsidy programs.

And I promise, no more really bad Point-to-Point puns.

About Rory Conaway

Rory Conaway has been in the IT and Wireless Industries for the past 25 years as an author and consultant. He currently operates a growing WISP operation in Southern Arizona. He consults with investors, manufacturers, and WISPs, and develops financial business models for startups. In addition to writing articles in industry publications such as Mission Critical Magazine, Mr. Conaway also writes the series “Tales from the Towers” that can be found on various such as www.triadwireless.net and www.muniwireless.com. He has also engineered several wireless designs such as S.P.I.R.I.T. and Guerilla Wireless as well as building integrated wireless and video surveillance for airport security, municipal and critical infrastructure, SCADA systems, and hotel/MDU deployments.

Comments

  1. I just wanted to take a moment to tell you that I LOVE these articles. Please Rory, keep them coming; I learn more in the 10 minutes it takes to read these than I do in a whole month elsewhere and they are entertaining at that!

  2. Rory,
    Hurray for all the new backhaul, middle mile and last mile radio product developments poised to disrupt the copper and fiber incumbents with eye popping low costs. What seems left to do is fend off the regulators and oh yes, get reliable signals through the trees or under them? Here’s hoping.
    Brian

  3. Thanks Joshua. My wife thinks I do these just to get out of mowing the lawn.

  4. Mike Hammett says:

    The AF24HD doesn’t do it for me. Twice the price, only 2 dB more on the antenna and only a little more capacity.

    Also, the AF line has nothing like the B5’s dual link setup.

    The Ignite guys have some promising stuff coming for urban\suburban guys.

    The AF team is in the NW suburbs.

  5. I thought the AF24HD was actually pretty cool. I agree that the price is way too much though but until they get competition, I don’t blame them.

    The recent articles on the AF versus the B5 is really interesting although I think the test really needs to be verified. I’m planning on doing that next week.

  6. Jens Jonsson says:

    AF-5X is a killer. Low latency and high bandwidth. Nothing really compares to it. Price is phenomenal. Go install some and you”l find out….

  7. Tek Bahadur Limbu says:

    Dear Mr Conaway,

    Appreciate your article as always. It gives us more insight into the latest wireless market for the WISPs.
    From your articles and forum posts, I have seen that you are deploying the Mimosa Backhauls.

    In your experience, how will the Mimosa backhauls perform in an urban environment if they are placed within a distance of 4 KM each with up to 4 hops?
    How much throughput can be achieved in this way?

    Thanks,
    Tek Bahadur Limbu