GBI Last Mile Target Technologies

  • Joe Simmons
  • March 13, 2013
LMI Target Technologies

The Last Mile Initiative (LMI) is a USAID-funded global program with the mission to expand access to information and communications technology (ICT) in the developing world. The chief focus of the Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) Program is to lead a range of ICT related activities like LMI across USAID’s development portfolio.

During the conceptual stage of each connectivity project, the following nine technologies are evaluated for use:

1. WiMax

WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a telecommunications protocol that provides fixed and mobile broadband wireless access, featuring a controlling base station that connects subscriber stations not to each other but to various public networks, such as the Internet, linked to that base station.

Key Features / Advantages:

  • Performance & Cost: 3 - 5 times faster and 5 times more cost effective than existing 3G technologies.
  • Flexibility: Covers a couple of different frequency ranges (IEEE 802.16 - 10GHz to 66GHz; IEEE 802.16a - 2GHz to 11GHz).
  • Compliance: Can adapt to the available spectrum and channel widths in different countries or licensed to different service providers.
  • Service Range: Supports TDM, ATM, IPv4, IPv6, Ethernet, and VLAN services; so, it can provide a rich choice of service possibilities to voice and data network service providers.
  • Security: Robust security features.
  • Potential: Could potentially erase the suburban and rural blackout areas that currently have no broadband Internet access because phone and cable companies have not yet run the necessary wires to those remote locations.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Less mobile than GSM/HSPA.
  • Requires WiMAX-enabled devices (e.g., laptop, router, PCMCIA card, etc.).

Vendors: Cisco, Radwin, Nokia, Motorola.

2. 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE)

3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the latest standard in the mobile network technology tree that produced the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies. It is a project of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). LTE is the natural evolution of 3GPP GSM and UMTS WCDMA networks. Because LTE provides services above the original 3rd generation (3G) requirements but does not provide service levels for 4th generation (4G) requirements, it is sometimes called “Beyond 3G.”

Key Features / Advantages:

Higher Performance

  • 100 Mbps peak downlink, 50 Mbps peak uplink (1 Gbps for LTE Advanced).
  • Faster cell edge performance.
  • Reduced latency (to 10 ms) for better user experience.
  • Scalable bandwidth up to 20 MHz.
  • 10x users per cell compared to 3G.

Backwards Compatible

  • Works with GSM/EDGE/UMTS systems.
  • Utilizes existing 2G and 3G spectrum and new spectrum.
  • Supports hand-over and roaming to existing mobile networks.

Reduced Capex/Opex via Simple Architecture

  • Reuse of existing sites and multi-vendor sourcing.

Wide Application

  • Time Division Duplexing (TDD - unpaired) and Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD - paired) spectrum modes in the same platform.
  • Mobility up to 350km/h.
  • Large range of terminals (phones and PCs to cameras).

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Service delivery over “All-IP” networks.
  • Spectrum availability.
  • Aligning investment with demand.

Vendors: Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, Motorola, NEC, Nokia Siemens Networks, ZTE.

3. Radio Microwave

Digital microwave radio systems are used to transmit and receive information between two points that can be separated by up to 60 km (and sometimes farther) in a telecommunications network. The information can be voice, data, or video as long as it is in a digital format.

Key Features / Advantages:

Microwave radio offers several advantages over cable-based transmission:

  • Implementation Speed: Simpler, faster, more feasible and more flexible to implement than cable systems. Because there is no buried cable involved, microwave systems do not require right-of-way, and they are not susceptible to cable cuts.
  • Mobility: Easy to move if there is a change in a network.

Other advantages of microwave radio systems include:

  • Security: Offers businesses a low cost, high security alternative to traditional communications systems for private networks.
  • Cost: Links the end user to the long distance carrier, reducing the cost of this connection. In areas where long distance service is available but there are no local lines, microwave can provide the “last mile” connection (especially in rural communities).
  • Installation: They are light weight, compact and easy to install and maintain.
  • Reliability: Immunity of digital microwave radio transmission to noise (noise refers to unwanted electromagnetic waveforms that corrupt a message signal).

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Requires a clear line-of-site between the two locations.
  • Performance can be affected by environmental and atmospheric factors.

Vendors: Paltel, Meridian.

4. Long-Distance Wi-Fi

A long-distance Wi-Fi access point is a low-power wireless device that allows one or more locations to connect to distant Internet services in order to reach and/or share access to the Internet. Creating a network of these devices gives different locations of an organization the ability to aggregate services so they can afford a better connection by sharing costs.

Key Features / Advantages:

  • Configurability: Rugged wireless routers that can be used in multiple network configurations, for long-distance point-to-point links or to connect multiple locations. Configurable with one or two radios and choices of antennas for a variety of network configurations including patch, 24dBi dish, or omni.
  • Setup & Usability: Access points that require very little network and device setup, with integrated software that has an internal web server with easy-to-use interface accessible from any standard web browser.
  • Weatherproof: Designed for the harshest environments with waterproofed and ruggedized cases, a waterproof sealed RJ-45 connectors. Lightning protection.
  • Cost: Low-cost, unregulated point-to-point connections, as an alternative to cellular networks or satellite links.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Landscape interference.
  • Tidal fading.
  • 2.4 GHz interference.

Vendors: Ubiquiti, Motorola Canopy, Linksys, L-com, ZDA Communications US.

5. Mesh Networking

A Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) is a communications network made up of radio nodes organized in a mesh topology. Wireless mesh networks often consist of mesh clients, mesh routers, and gateways. The mesh clients are often laptops, cell phones and other wireless devices while the mesh routers forward traffic to and from the gateways which may but need not connect to the Internet. The coverage area of the radio nodes working as a single network is sometimes called a mesh cloud. Access to this mesh cloud is dependent on the radio nodes working in harmony with each other to create a radio network.

Key Features / Advantages:

  • Cost: Using fewer wires means it costs less to set up a network, particularly for large areas of coverage.
  • Standardization: They rely on the same Wi-Fi standards (802.11a, b and g) already in place for most wireless networks.
  • Convenience: They are convenient where Ethernet wall connections are lacking—for instance, in outdoor concert venues, warehouses or transportation settings.
  • Versatility: They are useful for Non-Line-of-Sight (NLoS) network configurations where wireless signals are intermittently blocked. Mesh networks are “self healing,” since the network automatically finds the fastest and most reliable paths to send data, even if nodes are blocked or lose their signal.
  • Intelligence: Mesh networks are “self configuring;” the network automatically incorporates a new node into the existing structure without needing any adjustments by a network administrator.
  • Speed: Wireless mesh configurations allow local networks to run faster, because local packets don't have to travel back to a central server.
  • Flexibility: Wireless mesh nodes are easy to install and uninstall, making the network extremely adaptable and expandable as more or less coverage is needed.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Occasional failure of nodes or addition of new nodes.

Vendors: BelAir, Cisco, Firetide, Strix, ClearMesh Networks.

6. Femtocell

In telecommunications, a femtocell is a small cellular base station, typically designed for use in a home or small business. It connects to the service provider’s network via broadband (such as DSL or cable). A femtocell allows service providers to extend service coverage indoors, especially where access would otherwise be limited or unavailable. Although much attention is focused on WCDMA, the concept is applicable to all standards, including GSM, CDMA2000, TD-SCDMA, WiMAX and LTE solutions.

Key Features / Advantages:

Benefits for operator:

  • Femtocell are improvements to both coverage and capacity, especially indoors.
  • Reduce both capital expenditure and operating expense.
  • May also be opportunity for new services.

Benefits for end user:

  • “5 bar” coverage when there is no existing signal or poor coverage.
  • Higher mobile data capacity, which is important if the end-user makes use of mobile data on their mobile phone.
  • Depending on the pricing policy of the MNO, special tariffs at home can be applied for calls placed under femtocell coverage.
  • For enterprise users, having femtos instead of DECT phones enables them to have a single phone, so a single contact list etc.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

Femtocells are a complicated technology and there have been a number of issues and concerns which need to be addressed.

  • Interference: The placement of a femtocell has a critical effect on the performance of the wider network, and this is the key issue to be addressed for successful deployment.
  • Lawful Interception: Access point base stations, in common with all other public communications systems, are, in most countries, required to comply with lawful interception requirements.
  • Equipment Location: Other regulatory issues[11] relate to the requirement in most countries for the operator of a network to be able to show exactly where each base-station is located, and for E911 requirements to provide the registered location of the equipment to the emergency services.
  • Emergency Calls: Access Point Base Stations are also required, since carrying voice calls, to provide a 911 (or 999, 112, etc..) emergency service
  • Quality of Service: In shared-bandwidth approaches, which are the majority of designs currently being developed, the effect on Quality of Service may be an issue.
  • Spectrum Accuracy: To meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) / Ofcom spectrum mask requirements, femtocells must generate the radio frequency signal with a high degree of precision. To do this over a long period of time is a major technical challenge.

Vendors: 3Way Networks, Ericsson, ip.access, RadioFrame, Ubiquisys, NEC.

7. Fiber Extension

Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber. The choice between optical fiber and electrical (or copper) transmission for a particular system is made based on a number of trade-offs. Optical fiber is generally chosen for systems requiring higher bandwidth or spanning longer distances than electrical cabling can accommodate.

Key Features / Advantages:

Benefits of fiber over copper:

  • Performance: Thousands of times the bandwidth of copper wire and can carry signals hundreds of times further before needing a repeater (at present, most copper cables operate at a capacity of 50 Mbps; contrast this with present day optical networks that are capable of speeds of 1 Tbps).
  • Reliability: Greater reliability than copper and the opportunity to offer new services, like phone service and Internet connections (fiber optic cables are susceptible to far less signal degradation due to external and internal interference as compared to copper cables).
  • Cost: Properly designed premises cabling network can be less expensive when done in fiber instead of copper (fiber is guaranteed cheaper if you go more than two links - i.e., 180 meters). Also, lower cost of transmitters and receivers.
  • Size: Fiber optic cables are not only thinner than copper cables, but they also weigh far less. A mile of fiber optic cable will weigh around 22 pounds, while a mile of copper cable will weigh 3,600 pounds; significantly affects the costs involved in handling and working with these cables.
  • Future Outlook: 'future proof' because the speed of the broadband connection is usually limited by the terminal equipment rather than the fiber itself, permitting at least some speed improvements by equipment upgrades before the fiber itself must be upgraded.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Installation Costs: Although fiber optical cables are cheaper than copper cables, the costs involved in installing these cables are far higher due to the specialized equipment and expertise that is required. This is why, although they are commercially viable for large installations, they are not very popular in the domestic sector.
  • Inability to Bend: Fiber optic cables are very good when they are out in straight lines. However, if they are bent too sharply, the signal quality is greatly affected. This makes them not very easy to use in the domestic sector where they have to be bent to fit the contours of existing building spaces.

Vendors: Blinq Networks, Rad Data Communications.

8. Satellite (FMCSA) / Spread Spectrum

Based on state of the art, patented technology owned by Satellite Broadband Holdings, Inc.:

  • Spread Spectrum (FMCSA) secure digital communications over satellite delivering low latency and exceptional loading performance.
  • Innovative use of inclined orbit satellites enabled by high technology auto acquiring and tracking motorized earth station antennas.

Key Features / Advantages:

Performance – Speed and Latency

  • With SBH’s FMCSA/CDMA modem technology over 90% of all data is received on the first try compared to TDMA’s 1-3%.
  • Retransmission: less than 10% of the time.
  • Latency: Concero Connect uses SBH’s patented broadband FMCSA/CDMA solution where, like Ethernet, access is instantaneous without limitations (with TDMA you have to wait for your timeslot before you can transmit).


  • Where the cost per transponder remains the same, our modems allow 72,000 subscribers vs.. TDMA's 7,000 – 9,000 subscribers per transponder at a much faster subscriber speed.
  • Where inclined orbit satellites can be used, the price reduction can be up to another 10x.
  • The combined reduction can make satellite broadband from Concero Connect up to 100 times less expensive than TDMA services.

Antenna size, alignment, installation and maintenance

  • Concero Connect’s spread spectrum solution uses significantly smaller, self-aligning antennas (.6 to .75 meters) so they are much easier to install and align.
  • Dramatic reduction of adjacent satellite interference.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • Remains on satellite technology (i.e., relatively low bandwidth rate).

Vendors: Concero Connect.

9. Satellite (Standard) / VSAT

A Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT), is a two-way satellite ground station or a stabilized maritime VSAT antenna with a dish antenna that is smaller than 3 meters. VSATs are most commonly used to transmit narrowband data (point of sale transactions such as credit card, polling or RFID data; or SCADA), or broadband data (for the provision of Satellite Internet access to remote locations, VoIP or video). VSATs are also used for transportable, on-the-move (utilizing phased array antennas) or mobile maritime communications.

Key Features / Advantages:

  • Ubiquitous availability.
  • Network reliability.
  • Single, nation-wide service provider.
  • Uniform nationwide service levels.
  • Timely deployment and installation.
  • Superior Economics.
  • Multicast content distribution capability.
  • Site relocation and addition.
  • Network capacity expansion.
  • Emerging application support.

Key Challenges / Disadvantages:

  • High start-up costs (hubs and basic elements must be in place before the services can be provided).
  • Lack of adequate coverage in some parts of the world (Africa is the last continent that does not have dedicated GSO satellite bandwidth available that will allow single satellite connectivity anywhere on the continent).
  • Higher than normal risk profiles.
  • Severe regulatory restrictions imposed by countries that prevent VSAT networks and solutions from reaching critical mass and therefore profitability.
  • Some service quality limitations such the high signal delays (latency).
  • Natural availability limits that cannot be mitigated against.
  • Lack of skills required in the developing world to design, install and maintain satellite communication systems adequately.

Vendors: Norsat, NEC, Sistel, Radyne ComStream.

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