Could this be the beginning of the end for ‘the last mile’?

Today’s 4G and wireless technology represent a landmark moment in the history of telecoms as a potential last mile replacement for wired solutions, argues Alexis Argent, founder & director of wireless distributor, 4Gon Solutions

Could this be the beginning of the end for ‘the last mile’?

The rise of 4G and wireless technology is an example of how the web has disrupted traditional or ‘legacy’ technology and communications. Whilst 3G technology performs well, 4G has up to 100 times faster connection speeds and brings new capabilities and benefits to the table.

The cost, new capabilities, flexibility and deployment speed of 4G solutions compared to DSL and cable, mean that for certain businesses and situations, 4G mobile data could actually replace the last mile.

If we look at three different, real world examples of 4G and wireless installation, we will see how overarching trends and contemporary business needs come together in a variety of situations.


Case Study 1: Sporting Index at the Cheltenham Festival
Unit: i-MO 540 OptiBond professional bonding router
Price: £3,951.00 excl. VAT

The business requirements
For businesses running hospitality and temporary outdoor events such as sporting occasions, festivals and shows, internet access is not just expected by guests, but increasingly business critical for the site’s operational requirements.

However, many locations cannot offer resilient, useable Wi-Fi, capable of servicing thousands of visitors and the interactive applications exhibitors use because conventional ADSL or leased line connections would be unacceptably slow, prohibitively expensive or just plain impossible to install.

Sporting Index (SI), world leaders in sports spread betting, were providing betting services including real-time betting odds, to race goers at the 2014 Cheltenham festival, and needed an immediate and effective data communications capability.

SI had previously tried a data satellite system, which was unreliable – the satellite signal repeatedly failed, leaving them with no internet access, or significant latency issues because of the signal distance.

The solution
The setting up of an i-MO 540 OptiBond router took less than 20 minutes and provided

100% connectivity, reliability and resilience throughout the event by maximising the available bandwidth, aggregating and balancing combined internet access with additional low cost DSL services and mobile SIMs.

The i-MO router also featured an automatic failover/back feature meaning that even if one channel did go down, internet access was always available.

This level of responsiveness, support and reliability demonstrates the advantages of 4G and wireless technology, which is why i-MO routers have been used at other events including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and by companies such as Audi and Bentley when exhibiting at temporary and outdoor locations.


Case Study 2: O2 and automotive Wi-Fi in the Czech Republic
Unit: Conel LTE router LR77 V2F
Price: £756.00 excl. VAT

The business requirements
For transport businesses, being able to offer internet access to customers is a major asset.

Of all the customer transport options, buses and coaches face unique challenges: tighter budgets, more signal congestion and less space for equipment.

Customers need secure, reliable internet connectivity and the coach company needed good cellular coverage, remote access and customer privacy options.

In Europe, O2 has been at the forefront of partnering with coach companies to provide a new level of service for customers, brand recognition and sentiment for itself.

The solution
The Conel 4G LTE router LR77 V2 provided an effective and high performance solution by combining two independent mobile data networks from O2 – CDMA and 3G/4G.

Because the Conel can use two SIMs, even foreign SIM cards can be installed and switch to 4G roaming access when needed – so when the coach is outside O2’s network, the router can provide high speed and robust internet access.

Conel’s router also provided reliable and far-reaching coverage throughout the vehicle itself and offered a variety of remote and private access options.

Thanks to O2’s tier 3 data centres and pricing capabilities, transport businesses can be confident that any customer information transmitted is secure, whilst not paying more than a fixed monthly amount.


Case Study 3: Remote construction site in Kent
Unit: Geneko GWR-HS402 4G router.
Price: £375.00 excl. VAT

The business requirements
The construction and security sector has extensive demand for mobile communications. Here, a remote construction site in Kent was in need of protection, and required a robust alternative to manned guards.

With no DSL or fibre connections available, the site owners wanted powerful video verified alarm technology, and HD image capture using IP video cameras.

Any security solution needs to be flexible, rugged, rapidly deployed, cost effective and able to cope with data intensive services such as high definition CCTV.

The solution
4G provided a fast and relatively simple way to connect the IP video surveillance systems to a high-speed cellular data network.

The Geneko GWR-HS402 4G router was used as an access point to connect the cameras on site using Wi-Fi. This provided a far lower cost and more flexible solution than was possible with DSL or cable.

Reliable performance was delivered with the use of two SIM cards with one acting as backup for the PPP connection in case of failure, although the two SIMs cannot be connected at the same time.

What do these case studies tell us about the present state of 4G and wireless?
These case studies demonstrate that in a range of sectors, 4G and wireless technology is meeting business critical requirements in ways that DSL and cable internet access cannot. Where rapid deployment, low cost and remote site installation is required, 4G and wireless is an ideal solution. At the Cheltenham Festival, real-time betting odds need near zero latency.

At the remote construction site, high throughput for HD CCTV, as well as flexible whole area coverage was needed. For O2’s automotive case study, the ability to combine multiple cellular signals to provide robust mobile internet access was essential. All of these were made possible by the advances in 4G router technology.

However, what we’ve seen here isn’t 4G replacing the last mile, but rather, taking web access beyond the last mile. In a developed country like the UK, the last mile is all about providing telco services at fixed locations. It is still the case that a wired service at a fixed location will often give better performance than 4G.

Even at permanent and easy to access business sites, people and workers are more mobile, using smartphones and tablets, performing tasks that even if they are carried out at a fixed location, aren’t necessarily tied to it. Even in urban and highly populated business areas, mobile access to data and services is driving the creation and use of new business processes and applications.

Therefore, what we are seeing at present isn’t 4G replacing the last mile, but rather overlaying and extending internet access beyond its reach and capability.

So what does the future hold, can 4G replace the last mile?
The evolving relationship between cellular and fixed line will be fascinating over the next few years, as prices continue to drop and businesses increase their reliance on cloud-based services.

There’s no question, as these case studies have clearly shown, that 4G will push businesses and markets forward.

EE has already deployed ‘double speed’ 4G offering speeds of up to 40Mbps with a peak speed of up to 150Mbps. The current 4G standards already support speeds up to 300Mbps and are expected to support speeds of up to 1Gbps.

EE is also testing multi frequency aggregation (at 1800 and 2600MHz) to further increase speed and also to reduce congestion. The lower frequency spectrum in the 800MHz band will be used to provide coverage over large areas providing the last mile link in rural locations.

This means 4G and wireless is rapidly catching up with the 1Gbps performance that, for example, Google Fiber offers now. Once we have parity of performance and reliability, why would anyone go to the expense of digging up roads to either extend or maintain the last mile network?

The answer, of course, is that you wouldn’t. Therefore, we can only conclude that while right now 4G, or rather cellular data can’t replace the last mile, in the next ten years or so, it probably will.

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