While fibre might be the preferred form of internet connectivity for businesses, getting connected is easier said than done. Fibre installations can take months, or a business might be located in an area that is currently not within the coverage area of a Fibre network provider. There is an alternative, however, as fixed licensed spectrum microwave can provide them with a fibre-like connectivity experience with link speeds in excess of 1 Gbps where required.

Firstly, it is crucial to understand that not all fixed Wireless services are equal. Fixed-LTE might be a popular option, but services tend to become degraded as soon as higher stages of load-shedding hit and are also defined as a best-effort service. Then, there is fixed microwave – many people, especially those in urban areas, might be familiar with the round dishes that are fixed to masts in order to have the line-of-sight they need in order to connect.

Microwave services tend to fare much better during loadshedding as they have much better power management on the high sites as compared to cellular base stations, though users will need to ensure that they have a backup power supply for the equipment that is installed on their premises. As a further bonus, bespoke microwave solutions are especially ideal for customers who are located in more rural areas but require stable, reliable internet connectivity.

Open vs. licensed spectrum

But, there are differences even within fixed microwave: connectivity services offered by many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are aimed primarily at residential users and operate within Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio bands, or what is known as Open Spectrum. This means that there is the potential for signal interference with other devices operating within the same spectrum, which usually results in a degraded experience for the end user.

Microwave fixed services that operate in licensed bands are more expensive because the spectrum has to be allocated from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). These high-quality services use dedicated spectrum that is not allowed to be used by other users. As such there is no potential for interference, even in crowded areas, while users benefit from low latency and high throughput internet connectivity. Using licensed spectrum also allows for significantly higher speeds – between 5Mbps and and 1Gbps and special builds ranging to 10Gbps. Unlicenced bands provided much lower speeds

Fixed microwave brings with it numerous other benefits: in the case of Vox, this includes having relatively quick installation times of the customer premise equipment, offering customers the ability to have customised solutions to meet their specific business requirements. Dedicated links are far more reliable having service level agreements and Managed 24/7/365 support on all fixed microwave links. These fixed links can also include a dedicated VLAN for Voice to ensure quality of service (QoS) on all additional voice requirements and uncapped voice calling plans.

How businesses can use microwave

For South African businesses, there are currently three main ways in which they can use fixed microwave services. Firstly, they can use microwave as their primary connectivity if their premises or branches are located in areas where they know that fibre is highly unlikely to be deployed.

Secondly, in areas that have a fibre network, but not the last-mile connectivity to their premises, businesses can opt to temporarily use microwave connectivity (given the quick installation times) as a temporary service until they are connected to the fibre network, which can take months.

Thirdly is for businesses to use microwave as a redundancy (failover) for their primary form of connectivity. In the case of organisations selecting the second option, as mentioned above, the microwave service can be changed from their primary form of connectivity to redundancy once their fibre line has been installed. Beyond just internet access, voice services can also be added on the dedicated VLAN.

While licensed spectrum microwave tends to be more expensive than other fixed alternatives, this is primarily a result of operating within dedicated spectrum and the equipment required, and not the actual data costs. In fact, costs have been coming down as providers offer more aggressive pricing options. As such, fixed microwave is the most ideal form of connectivity for businesses that don’t have access to fibre (or as redundancy for those that do) as it provides premium, carrier-grade connectivity as opposed to the alternatives that are best-effort services.