NBN attains 1Gbps speeds across fixed-wireless network

NBN has achieved download speeds of 1.1Gbps across its fixed-wireless network by combining 11x carrier aggregation, 2x2 MIMO, QAM, and three bonded network termination devices.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has attained speeds of 1.1Gbps download and 165.6Mbps upload across its fixed-wireless network during a series of live trials in regional Victoria in partnership with Ericsson, NetComm Wireless, and Qualcomm.

The tests were conducted in March at a Ballarat campus of Yuille Park Community College, which is situated 1km from the fixed-wireless tower used for the trial.

To attain speeds in excess of 1Gbps, Ericsson used its carrier aggregation technology, which increases bandwidth and capacity, to combine 11 time-division duplex (TDD) LTE carriers -- four in the 2.3GHz band and seven in the 3.5GHz band -- with NBN also utilising multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) technology.

NBN installed four NetComm-developed prototype fixed-wireless network termination devices (FWNTDs) onto the school's roof for the tests. As each FWNTD can only aggregate a maximum of four carriers, NBN used a Qualcomm chipset to bond three FWNTDs together in order to reach gigabit speeds, with three Ethernet connectors plugging directly into a PC running the tests.

The Mitchell Park fixed-wireless tower, which also connects a further 11 downstream towers serving more than 3,000 premises in the region, was chosen for the trial due to having available space for mounting radio equipment -- while all fixed-wireless towers have three coverage zones, this tower has only two out of the three currently providing commercial services, so NBN was able to utilise the third sector for the trial.

More importantly, the tower was selected for 1Gbps testing because its backhaul connects it to NBN's national test facility in Melbourne via high-speed fibre rather than microwave, and because it has 11 spectrum bands available to it.

According to NBN corporate public affairs manager Tony Brown, only 20 percent of NBN's fixed-wireless towers are connected by fibre, meaning the 1Gbps speeds would only be available for a fraction of fixed-wireless users -- those with fibre-connected towers, and with 11 carriers available in both the 3.4GHz and 2.3GHz spectrum bands.

NBN also used the tower to conduct three other tests with combinations of QAM, MIMO, carrier aggregation, and FWTDs: The first achieving download speeds of 100.21Mbps and upload speeds of 40.09Mbps; the second 252.28Mbps down and 50.07Mbps up; and the third 404.25Mbps down and 55.32Mbps up.

(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

For the purpose of the tests, NBN installed a speed test server where a retail service provider would normally connect.

The trials were part of testing NBN's upgrade options to "ensure that people in regional Australia can access the same kind of speeds that are available in the cities", Brown said in March.

According to NBN, the key capability for achieving next-generation speeds across fixed-wireless is carrier aggregation.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the trials demonstrate NBN's intent to launch upgrade paths across all of its network technologies, enabling faster speeds in future.

"Our ability to deliver gigabit speeds on fixed wireless demonstrates our continued focus on identifying and implementing tech advancements as and when they are needed, across all technologies," Morrow said.

"It's particularly exciting to be able to reaffirm our commitment to delivering a great experience to the 600,000 premises in regional Australia that will be served by the fixed-wireless network.

"This also underlines the importance of NBN's spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands in allowing high speed services to Australians."

NBN's 1Gbps announcement follows the company last month announcing its wholesale 100/40Mbps fixed-wireless product.

NBN will launch the new product around this time next year, with users who take up the product to be issued the new FWNTD developed by NBN with Ericsson, Qualcomm, and NetComm Wireless.

As of the end of March, fixed-wireless was available at 482,246 premises across the country, with 168,184 premises connected. It provides coverage for those living in rural and regional areas where it is not economical to roll out fibre connections, and is expected to be ready for service at 0.5 million premises by FY17 and 0.6 million by FY18, with services activated at 0.2 million premises by FY17 and 0.3 million premises by FY19.

NBN last upgraded its fixed-wireless network -- which makes use of radio signals from ground stations to transmit data to home equipment -- back in December 2015, when it doubled the speeds to 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up.

Of all fixed-wireless users, 79 percent chose the 25/5Mbps speed tier as of December 31; 17 percent were on 12/1Mbps; and just 4 percent were on the fastest speed tier of 50/20Mbps.

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