Wireless v Structured Cabling Systems

February 5, 2016


Source: ncn February 2016 (Barry Silverman of R&M UK)


You would be forgiven for thinking that the latest wireless standards imply a level of performance to match structured cabling systems. The assumption is that cable will become obsolete as wireless is adopted en masse. However, fibre will remain a key enabler for wireless in the future, owing to wireless's inherent bandwidth limitations.




The fact is that there are physical limitations which will prevent wireless speeds from ever being equal to fibre - radio spectrum is a finite resource and there is simply not enough available for wireless to fully replace fixed networks. One should also remember that certain frequencies are also reserved for radio and TV, as well as many other services, which reduces the amount of spectrum that can be allocated to wireless broadband.


Driven by trends such as the rise of smartphones, cloud, SaaS and 'bring your own device' (BYOD), just about everyone owns one or more mobile devices with which they can connect to the internet on the go. This has obviously changed the way we work, communicate and entertain ourselves. As a consequence, providing wireless mobile connections has become paramount. Offices, schools, public places all require a great deal of wireless capability. Especially, now more and more devices are equipped exclusively with wireless interfaces and no way of connecting to a wired network.


Planning a Wireless Network


Not everyone is aware that available bandwidth is a shared resource. Speeds given for wireless networks are per cell and not per individual user. The total speed available has to be divided amongst all users accessing a given cell. When planning a wireless network, you therefore need to ensure that there will be ample wireless access ports in all the right places. You will also need to carefully work out exactly how much bandwidth you will need to handle peak times. In addition, cabling has to be installed up to an access point as close to the end user to provide bandwidth that won't get 'maxed out'.


Legacy Infrastructure


What applies to mobile networks also applies to wireless in-building networks. After say, a meeting, when people start to check their emails and voicemails the bandwidth can be seriously diluted, making is unusable. In a small office you might manage with just a wireless network, but larger companies and institutions will combine wireless with wired. Using wireless alone will inevitably lead to bottle necks.


Striking a Balance


A wireless network without strong structured cabling support and fibre backhauling can't meet today's needs. The FTTH Council Europe has already indicated it expects to see increasing convergence between fibre and mobile. One European network has announced it will incorporate  enough dark fibre to accommodate mobile operators' future LTE and 5G roll-outs.


Mobile networks currently require more bandwidth than the available infrastructure is providing. Optical fibre acts as a vital enabler to wireless systems, helping them keep up with mobile devices' growing data consumption. Data can rapidly be moved between mobile and fixed network.


Simply, wireless and wired networks should continue to have a symbiotic relationship in order for data to be transmitted freely and easily.






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