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Tarana's Air Fibre

5G has enabled many different Service Providers (SPs) to offer Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as an alternative to a fibre based connectivity. We can always discuss the pros and cons of this approach but not in this post. 

In a few cases, the operators have given fancy names to these FWA products. Saudi MNO, Mobily, calls it "5G Air Fiber" while the Philippines MNO, Globe, calls it "Globe At Home Air Fiber 5G". Then there is also satellite based "Smart Fibre From Space", as detailed by RTT here.

The reason we are talking about Air Fibre in this post is because there is an alternative as proposed by a young US company called Tarana Wireless. There was a feature on them in Bloomberg last week but this Fierce Wireless webinar is a good starting point as well.

South African ISP, Supersonic, has started offering this solution since Feb 2021:

Starting from R399 per month, customers can get fast, consistent download speeds of 5Mbps and upload of 2Mbps.

This goes all the way up to a 100Mbps/40Mbps connection at R999.

Similar to aerial fibre, Air Fibre infrastructure relies on connectivity through the air between a customer’s home and a base station connected to fibre backhaul.

However, Air Fibre operates wirelessly in an unlicensed spectrum band using new technology developed by Tarana Wireless.

This equipment supposedly has the ability to cancel out noise from other devices on the 5.8GHz band in order to optimise the signal for reliable, low-latency connectivity, with a guaranteed throughput per customer.

Bloomberg provides some insights on the company:

Tarana’s service can reach speeds of about 800 megabits per second, depending on how far customers are from the antenna and how many people are using each one. That’s much faster than satellite internet and, unlike 5G, is intended primarily for home use, where family members spend hours online and don’t want limits on data usage. Tarana’s technology can also use wireless frequencies that don’t require government spectrum licenses, allowing it to sidestep a significant cost of traditional wireless service.

Even in advanced countries such as the U.S., many suburban and rural areas have few good options for true high-speed internet. Tarana’s technology has the potential to reach those populations, as well as users in countries that lack physical broadband infrastructure.

The company grew out of research conducted by engineers at the University of California at Berkeley, who saw advances in chip technology as the key to a wireless networking breakthrough. One of the company’s founders came from a wealthy family in the Middle East, and his relatives invested $70 million in seed money.

Tarana struggled for years to make chips fast and cheap enough for its purposes. Still, it made enough progress to attract interest from investors. Along with Wyler, the company’s backers include Khosla Ventures, EchoStar, and Prime Movers Lab. It recently raised $50 million, bringing its total funding to $292 million. This year, Tarana hired Basil Alwan, a former Nokia executive who joined its board in 2020, as its chief executive officer.

One of the company’s first customers is MTN Group, a telecommunications company operating throughout Africa and Asia. It has been running a trial in South Africa, a country where about 5% of the 18 million households have fiber connections. Over the course of this year, MTN will sell the high-speed wireless service, which it calls Unlimited Air Fibre, to 25,000 customers in South Africa, and plans to expand to countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda.

MTN sees the construction of new fiber-optic networks as a logistical nightmare and says such service is often too expensive for its African customers. “People have tried with fiber throughout Africa, and it has failed abysmally,” says Calvin Collett, an MTN executive. “We need a wireless product.”

Wisper Internet has also piloted the Tarana systems for rural Midwestern customers in the U.S. and expects to sell services ranging in speed from 100 to 500 megabits per second. Wisper sells other wireless service, but Tarana has impressed it the most because it doesn’t stop working when there are physical objects between the antenna and the customer, according to Nathan Stooke, Wisper’s CEO. “We have a hard time going through trees,” he says.

A slightly old video (doesn't have sound) is embedded as follows:

The current product Gigabit 1 (G1) is expected to be improved in 2023 as Gigabit 2 (G2). It is expected to provide a much better rate to the users. What remains to be seen is if these Wireless Fiber products can provide a better/cheaper alternative as compared to 5G and Satellite based connectivity. Also, would they continue to deliver when more users and more competing products are added in the deployment mix. Time will tell.

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