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It Takes Wires to Make Wireless Work

September 1, 2016 —

From copper wire to coaxial cable and fiber-optic cable, physical connections proliferate as wireless communications networks expand.

By Ted Abrams




Entwined with cables, wireless infrastructure accelerates the economic flywheels that launch nations into rising prosperity. Magical as it is, wireless works because core services and the most remote parts of the radio access network are correctly wired and cabled, and properly connected. Cables are essential to profitability in the wireless business.

Richard Byrne, CEO of the prolific developer TowerCo, accurately observed that Americans formerly embraced the utility infrastructure necessary to deliver critical communications services. To illustrate Byrne’s point, you need only a brief Web search.

Critical Infrastructure

Year by year, engineers and tradesmen put technology to work to create critical infrastructure. That effort benefits society and contributes to the profits necessary for companies to sustain service delivery to consumers. Since Roman times, humankind understood how to create the infrastructure necessary to transport water great distances. Remnants of Roman aqueducts still adorn hills and span valley areas. More recently, technology development permitted water transport through piping infrastructure hidden beneath streets and inside walls. In fact, most utility infrastructure is hidden. We have not figured out a way to make traffic control signals invisible, and for good reason: It’s unsafe when drivers are unable see the light turn red. In addition, we have not figured out a way to make wireless infrastructure invisible, because if your cellphone is unable to see the signal from the critical infrastructure necessary for wireless connections, there is no communication.

Making wireless infrastructure even more unobtrusive stretches available technology to the limit. Utility infrastructure development teams at companies such as TowerCo do the best that can be done to satisfy authorities in various jurisdictions while providing what mobile network operators need at pricing that permits sustainable business models.

Wires for Wireless

Dale Carey, CEO at Eco-Site, in prior service coined the statement, “It takes wires to go wireless.” Fifteen years ago, Dale recognized the effect that phrase had with financiers and used it in the right way in front of the right people to build support for the fledgling wireless communications business. Now, when the industry needs to create critical infrastructure to support ever-faster, always better mobile connections, too many cities are reluctant to tolerate the cables that are inexorably part of the critical infrastructure that powers wireless communications.


Cabling for communication in New York, circa 1903. Source: IEEE Washington, DC, section archives

Conversations with communities about the need for a practical balance between function and invisibility must continue. While we all wait for the conversations to mature, towers and small cells with today’s technologies keep developers fully engaged.

Is It a Wire, or Is It a cable?

Tradesmen are aware of the many differences that distinguish wire from cable. Dictionary definitions for wire mention one or more threads of metal involved with conducting electricity. Looking at an image of a rope-like thing supported pole to pole, the interpretation could be a wire, a cable or a combination of both. In the fixed infrastructure side of telecommunications, semantics are more often satisfied with reference to those rope-like things as cable.

Important Details

For cable and connectors, project managers can find tower techs who know how to do it right. Dozens of details are important. Two important ones for tower technicians are: leave no flecks in the foam, and don’t bend the cable too tightly.

“No flecks in the foam” relates to on-site connector installation on custom-length, foam dielectric coaxial cable. MetroPCS engineers are credited with being the first to place a high priority on the RF transparency of coaxial cable installed between transceivers and tower-mounted antennas. Shortly thereafter, Verizon specifications challenged line and antenna crews to deliver assemblies with lower passive intermodulation (PIM) interference. Techs who knew that a loose nut at the antenna would help to deliver a clean sweep on the spectrum analyzer soon learned that same loose nut, bad for transparency, sore-thumbed a PIM test. With those experiences to draw upon, today’s top tower techs learn how to install a 7/16 DIN or type N connector on the coax without leaving any little flecks of metal on the surface of the cut foam.

Bend Radius

“Don’t bend it too tight” is good advice for coax, even more so for fiber-optic cable. Fiber-optic cables bundle together slender filaments of glass. Each filament is coated with multiple layers of reflective, protective material similar to dried superglue. These filaments or strands of glass fiber are most efficient in conducting light when the strand is so slender and so skinny that light rays can travel along the strand in only one path. That path is named the “mode.” One path is single-mode — straight through the fiber without being so wide a strand that the rays of light zigzag across the diameter of the glass. Thus, single-mode fiber is the common denominator for cabling LTE and the soon-to-be 5G cellular networks. Cables containing fiber-optic strands can deliver highly reliable results for a long time when handled and installed with a bend radius no tighter than two inches. Think about the bend around a softball or a medium-sized grapefruit — that is about as tight as the cable should be bent. When expert techs are working with single strands in fiber patch panels, different rules apply, but for outside plant construction, only gentle bends should be applied. If the cable is bent too tightly, constricted by wire ties, compressed by U-clamps or stapled to a piece of wood, the strands inside the cable suffer microfractures. Light leaks out of the microfractures, signal transparency suffers, and systems do not perform as designed.




Google Public Wi-Fi Trial Goes Live

If you want to know where Wi-Fi is going next, follow the fiber. Or the Google Fiber so it would seem. Google, which has famously rolled out fiber to three U.S. cities with plans for nine more, began testing outdoor public hotspots with free Wi-Fi service in the Crown Center shopping district in Kansas City, Missouri, last week

Visionary Google May become Public Wi-Fi player

There are multiple signs of Wi-Fi interest at Google. In the middle of last year, Google committed to spending $600,000 to provide Wi-Fi to dozens of parks in San Francisco. Also, in mid-2013, Google knocked AT&T out and took over the Wi-Fi service at the nationwide Starbucks chain of coffee shops. Now, it has been reported that Google is approaching residents of 34 cities building interest in a plan to provide public Wi-Fi.

It has long been rumored that Google fancied getting into wireless. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google and DISH Network were discussing a partnership. Beyond partnering with DISH or LightSquared, the big ticket — and getting bigger as the FCC allocates more spectrum — for getting into wireless is Wi-Fi. And Google appears to be heading in that direction.



Ted Abrams, CTO, WiFi Wireless, said that public spectrum is the key to meeting the growing wireless communications demands of users. Currently, the big four carriers have access to less than 600 megahertz of spectrum, while we have more than 700 megahertz of public spectrum in the United States.

“We cannot continue to limit wireless networks to private spectrum,” Abrams said. “The only way to solve the problem is to incorporate public spectrum in combination with private spectrum.”

Both Google, with Google Hangout group video calls, and Facebook, which purchased WhatsApp, the cross-platform mobile messaging app, are providing the platforms for Wi-Fi First wireless networks.

“Google is building the ecosystem that represents a very solid foundation for long and positive growth in Wi-Fi First services,” Abrams said. 

Keys to Sparking a Muni Wi-Fi Revival

In an interview with AGL Small Cell Link, Ted Abrams, chief technology officer for Wi-Fi Wireless (WFWL), explained how his company’s WiFi My City program  will be able to deploy successful municipal Wi-Fi networks, while others have failed.

AGL Small Cell Link: What would you say to critics who bring up the history of failed muni Wi-Fi projects?



Abrams: “Municipal Wi-Fi systems are mostly known for their failures. Major metro areas, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Anaheim, Calif., and Portland, Ore., set out to provide Wi-Fi service to their citizens. Within years, sometimes months, the efforts were abandoned. Was this a flawed optimistic utopian gesture? The reason for their failures is more complex.

“Equipped with the best intentions, but without the right tools, these projects didn’t develop into sustainable ventures. If you look at Philadelphia’s efforts, it was spearheaded by experts, hard-working, skillful professionals, proficient in IP routing and Internet service providing — everything to do with the legacy approach to internet access. But, not the right business model, not the right partnership.”

AGL Small Cell Link: What is different now or better than it was in the past?

Abrams: “Now, technologies and market conditions are favorable for an innovative business model in combination with a partnership between the city, organizers of the project, technology vendors and wireless professionals.”

AGL Small Cell Link: What is your approach to the municipalities?

Abrams: “WFWL is busy in several areas of the nation, teaching communities what they can do to rationalize the chaos of public spectrum and make citywide wireless internet work.  WFWL believes that Internet access is as important to modern society as any public utility.  As with any other public utility, cities must be involved.  For the benefit of their residents, the starting point for each city is a partnership agreement with the Wi-Fi provider. Founded on that principle, the WFWL business model offers free Wi-Fi for every resident of the city, without ads.”

AGL Small Cell Link: How is Wi-Fi service evolving?

Abrams: “Voice services, carrier offload, location-based services, and sponsorships combine with the right business model to define a very positive future for public spectrum. Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp reflects a strategy to launch voice service, rumored to be implemented later this year. WFWL began offering voice service in the form of voice-over-Wi-Fi several years ago.”

AGL Small Cell Link: Why is RF engineering so important?

Abrams: “Expertise that sustains Tier I licensed wireless connections sets the standard.  Engineers and equipment vendors such as Alcatel Lucent or Ericsson make the magic of wireless a daily reality.  Projects that didn’t start with RF, didn’t consider the air link and network performance the way a wireless carrier does, the way traffic moves across the physical layer.  Radio system functionality in the physical environment was either glossed over, or manufacturers’ claims were accepted at face value.

“System design must incorporate plans for continuous improvement, evolving to keep pace with spectrum availability and technology evolution. Today, a starting point might be 802.11 u, ac, n and other standardized protocols, managed and maintained with the latest revision. Passpoint-certified equipment is the smart way to go for carrier offload capability.

“Professional RF engineers can optimize multiple spatial paths with multiple frequencies and multiple protocols at every antenna location. Across public spectrum, users can experience air link data rates above 50 megabits per second.  Attaching to every antenna location, gigabit Ethernet backhaul can guarantee that high speed wireless does not hit a bottleneck.  Personal cell technology recently in the headlines and in video demonstration depicts LTE user experiences – that WFWL designs can achieve with public spectrum.”

AGL Small Cell Link: How can citywide Wi-Fi be monetized?

Abrams: “Through an innovative business model.  While it is important that no one is blocked from access, tiered plans incorporating sponsored speed zones allow the provider to get paid.  Every resident of the city would be authorized for basic service; no charge to the user, no advertising.  Users who intentionally opt-in for sponsored service get a turbo boost in trade for an ad from that sponsor.   Subscription plans integrated into the model offer users VPN, or specialized services, or higher speeds without sponsorships.  Carriers’ subscribers would have access without ads through roaming agreements between the carriers and the Wi-Fi provider.”

AGL Small Cell Link: How does Wi-Fi fit into the other trends at work in the wireless world?

Abrams: “Wi-Fi and other public spectrum are essential to the network densification going on in the cellular world. There will be a coordinated HetNet integration with LTE and LTE-Advanced.  In that mix, Wi-Fi offload is absolutely fundamental. Everything in the Wi-Fi network must be ready for carrier-grade communications, following a BYOD philosophy (friendly to all the new devices). It must become a part of the Networked Society, the Global Ecosystem, Zuckerberg’s Internet.org and the synergies that those represent.”

AGL Small Cell Link: Sum up the keys to success for municipal Wi-Fi.

Abrams: “A successful citywide public spectrum project grows from a solid relationship with the municipality, follows a professional RF engineering design, and uses state-of-the art wireless equipment. Finally, the business model must be innovative and pay off for all the stakeholders.”

AGL Interview: Ted Abrams

Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio Cube Hits the Streets

LightRadio cube

ALU’s LightRadio cube

July 30– It has been roughly a year and a half since Alcatel-Lucent turned the wireless world on its ear with the introduction of the lightRadio cube. But it was just a technology without a system. Late in June, the firm launched lightRadio Metro Cell Express, which uses the lightRadio 936x and 976x Metro Cell and Metro Radio portfolio, a small cell gateway (luh), interference mitigation techniques, and automatic configuration, as well as supporting open interfaces X2/S1 IOT.

Ted Abrams, principle, Abrams Wireless, personally experienced what he called the excellence of wireless service over the lightRadio cube in the convention facilities during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February of this year.

“It worked very well. It was invisible, elegant,” Abrams told DAS Bulletin. “The call quality and network performance were excellent.”

Alcatel-Lucent pointed out that metro cells provide a much different deployment process from macrocells, with new challenges that must be met.

“To accomplish this, operators must not only rethink how they plan, design and implement their network, but must also redefine existing business relationships and partnerships, as well as form new ones,” Alcatel-Lucent said in a press release. “Only by treating the deployment of metro cells in a holistic manner can operators fully unlock the business benefits that metro cells offer.”

The lightRadio Metro Cell Express is designed to accelerate the deployment of wireless nodes, reduce operational and technical risks, and simplify operations and maintenance. But to help ensure that outcome, Alcatel-Lucent is providing operators with deployment assistance with site selection and acquisition, power and backhaul, and regulatory regulation and zoning requirements.

“Our commitment is to shoulder the burden of metro cell deployments by designing, installing, integrating and testing metro cell networks and only transferring operations back to the MNOs when the network is performing at a pre-agreed level of technical key performance indicators,” Alcatel-Lucent said. “This de-risks metro cell deployments for operators and gets them to high-capacity networks sooner, simpler and at scale.”

With mobile data traffic expected to grow 25 times by 2016, capacity obviously must be added to urban hotspots, but the key is being able to do it cost-effectively. The Bell Labs study showed that a W-CDMA macro and metro cell solution provides a 38 percent TCO savings compared with a W-CDMA macro-only solution. When LTE macro cells are deployed with W-CDMA and LTE metro cells, the five-year TCO is reduced by 45 percent, compared with deploying W-CDMA macro cells only.

At last year’s Mobile World Congress, Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, stirred a hornets’ nest when he said, “LightRadio will signal the end of the base station and the cell tower as we know it today.”

At the same conference, Wim Sweldens, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s wireless division, added that the miniaturized lightRadio technology would reduce the need for large towers with equipment shelters, which have gotten “bigger, heavier and uglier.” Probably losing him a few friends in the tower industry.

“We are quite an obstructing industry. We obstruct our views of cities and landscapes every day because we put more and more big towers up,” Sweldens said at a press conference.

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