By Peter Lo Curzio

Fiber vs wireless comparison – which way to go?

Fiber vs wireless comparison – which way to go?

New technologies tend to change attention in the market. Technological leaps often entail both new business opportunities for operators and new enhanced expectations from consumers. In such a situation, it is natural to firstly consider the latest technology as this intuitively is supposed the right direction for the future. However, when network owners have to choose between investing in fiber optics or wireless for the future, the better option is far from obvious.

Why should you compare?

Choosing either fixed solid physical fibers buried in the ground or flexible invisible radio transmission may seem like the fundamental choice. Yet, it is not as simple as that. There are numerous considerations to find the optimal solution for your specific operations over time.  First, you should decide why you compare fiber optics to wireless.

Is it the one OR the other?

If you think of investing exclusively in one of these two technologies, your comparison would typically focus:

  • Investment cost (installation)
  • ROI and TCO (total cost of ownership)
  • Network lifetime
  • Upgradability and expandability (future-proofing)
  • Level of service and maintenance need

The optimal blend

If your scope is to project and invest in an optimal network irrespective of technology, a mix of optical fiber and wireless would probably be your best choice. In this situation the comparison would rather focus which technology to use for which part of the network in order to achieve the optimal blend. Typical features to compare would be:

  • Interoperability
  • Accessibility
  • Service and maintenance
  • Cost for upgrading

Ultimately, long-time revenue will depend on the network’s life time costs and earnings. Earnings will depend on end-users’ willingness to pay, which in turn is related to technical, operational qualities. That is why a relevant comparison between a fiber optic and a wireless network must be made from both an investment and an operational point of view.

Comparing fiber optic and wireless networks should be made from both an investment and an operational point of view

What should you compare?

Your final decision should be based on thorough analysis by technical expertise. Still, a general comparison of technologies will indicate which way to go.

Installation

Fiber optic

Just like building railroads, the building of a fiber optic network is a time and effort consuming project. Typically, it takes months to install such a network and accordingly, at substantial cost. But, just like the railroad, once it is in place in the ground, the cost is taken, and it stays fixed in place with a very long lifetime.

Wireless

Installing a wireless network is a quicker project. Typically, it can be installed in a few days. Once installed, it is a flexible network with good possibilities for redesigning according to needs.

Speed

Fiber optic

In the fiber optic network data literally transmits at the speed of light, i.e., the highest possible speed according to the laws of physics. The fiber optic network transmission remains the unsurpassed paramount of speed.

Wireless

Even if radio waves as such travel at the speed of light, a wireless network will be congested when many users share the same bandwidth. The more users using the wireless network at the same time, the slower transmission speed will become.

Signal travel distance

Fiber optic

As the optic fiber conveys a clear and unaffected signal over a long distance (up to 100 km), a wired network provides an entirely clear signal irrespective of distance. Accordingly, the fiber optic network is an option also for wide-range applications and carrier networks.

Wireless

When travelling a long distance, the signal strength will weaken and become increasingly sensitive to interference. To avoid signal deterioration, additional equipment is needed to keep signal quality over distance. A wireless network is an option mainly for short distance transmission.

Reliability and security

Fiber optic

Reasonably, the optic fiber is the most reliable way of connecting to the internet. Due to using light signals, the cables are not susceptible to electromagnetic fields or signal interference. This makes the network the most reliable performer. And also, fiber cables are safely buried and not attractive to thieves. 

Wireless

The wireless radio signal travels unprotected through the air. By this, it is prone to interference from other factors distorting the signal. 

Is there a winner?

If you look for long-term solid reliability, a fiber optic network most likely is the way to go. On the other hand, if you prioritize flexibility, wireless would probably be your candidate.

But, in reality, the choice is not that simple. It is your specific plan for the network that will define the needs and the technical preferences, accordingly. Not until you really know how your network will support your business model, you can make the relevant choice of which way to go: fiber optic or wireless – or both ways!   

Learn more about FTTH technologies and business from our experts.

Peter Lo Curzio
Product Manager with 25 years’ experience in fiber optic technology. Initially starting at Ericsson R&D, he has pioneered in the field of fiber optic access networks and has a vast experience form virtually all areas related to fiber access. Peter is a specialist in passive fiber access network systems and FTTH.
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