Tarana Wireless, Inc.

Technology Neutral vs. Technology Equitable

It’s time to shift the conversation from being technology neutral in deploying broadband funding to instead being technology equitable to ensure all customers have the same quality of experience when accessing the internet.

When the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was enacted by Congress to help close the digital divide in the United States, the intent of the legislation was to be technology neutral. Technology neutrality refers to the view that any technology can be used to provide digital equity in the form of broadband service. However, not all technologies are equal. The desire is to ensure every American family gets the same online experience; otherwise we will end up with a new digital divide where some will have inferior service versus others. In order to achieve our mutual goals, we need to shift the conversation from technology neutral solutions to technology equitable ones. 

By now, most have heard the term “digital equity,” which refers to giving all people the same access to online resources and opportunities at an affordable price. But not many are familiar with the term “technology equity.” Technology equity, like digital equity, focuses on ensuring everyone gets equitable online experiences, but it does so through the lens of how to accomplish this goal. 

Broadband is an excellent example of where technology equity comes into play. Some people associate broadband entirely with a single technology, such as fiber. But broadband is about internet access and connectivity. There are many technologies in addition to fiber that can and do provide reliable high speed broadband access. Others include fixed wireless, cable, and DSL. 

The next question that arises is which technology to choose. There are many different ways to physically deliver broadband and each has unique characteristics. Selecting a technology will have significant implications for how long it takes to deploy, how easy it is to install in challenging terrain, cost, and so on. 

Selecting a technology has profound impacts on the customer experience, and it is vital to be technology equitable when making that choice.

Next-Generation Fixed Wireless

  • Requires a radio at the home which connects to another radio on a tower that can be located miles away. From there, traffic is typically backhauled via fiber or wireless.
  • Easy and economical to install, even in the toughest terrain such as mountains, valleys, etc. Handles near- and non-line-of-sight, which is important as four out of five American families do not have the luxury of being “line of sight” to a radio tower.
  • Interference cancellation eliminates the impact of interference.
  • Can be deployed in months, rather than years.
  • No digging or laying of cables required.
  • Offers hundreds of megabits to gigabit speeds.

Legacy Fixed Wireless

  • Requires a radio at the home which connects to another radio on a tower that can be located miles away. From there traffic is typically backhauled via fiber or wireless.
  • Easy and economical to install, but typically restricted to line of sight (no obstacles).
  • No interference immunity.
  • No digging or laying of cables required.
  • Typically offers < 100 Mbps

Fiber

  • Requires an inexpensive CPE at the home which connects to an aggregation point that then connects to the backhaul.
  • Requires extensive digging to bury the fiber both from the home to the aggregation point and backhaul.
  • Inexpensive CPEs but deploying fiber will cost tens of thousands of dollars per mile.
  • Time consuming to deploy, often requiring years with extensive permitting and specialized tools.
  • Offers hundreds of megabits to gigabit speeds.

Cable (coax)

  • Requires a CPE at the home which connects to a nearby aggregation point (headend) from which traffic is backhauled via fiber.
  • Requires extensive digging to bury cables.
  • Requires expensive headend equipment and devices in the provider’s operations center to deploy.
  • Offers speeds of a few hundred Mbps although upload speed (from the home to the aggregation point) is significantly slower. (New versions of cable using DOCSIS 4.0 will support higher speeds)
  • Slower speeds during peak usage.

DSL

  • Similar to cable, DSL uses copper wires to transfer data from the home to an aggregation point.
  • Requires extensive digging to bury cables.
  • Requires expensive headend equipment and devices in the provider’s main operations center to deploy.
  • Offers speeds of a few Mbps although upload speed (from the home to the aggregation point) is significantly slower.

In general, service providers tend to prefer fiber and wireless as their technology of choice to provide high quality broadband. The exception to this are cable operators looking to enhance their existing cable infrastructure, although even cable operators can, and do, make use of fiber and wireless technologies. 

It is crucial to only select technologies that can deliver an equitable broadband experience. Many technologies, wireless included, are compared to fiber. However, traditional fixed wireless access is typically not considered comparable in terms of the quality of delivered broadband. This was true of previous, legacy FWA systems, but next-generation fixed wireless (ngFWA) changes this calculus with wireless that goes beyond your “father’s wireless access” (FWA) to deliver fiber-class speeds and quality.

In many cases, savvy service providers will opt for a combination that provides the complementary benefits of both next-generation wireless and fiber. This gives the provider the ultimate in flexibility, affordability, and performance which brings technology equitable access to everyone faster.