The alternatives to fibre broadband for business

Mike Ianiri, Director Equinox
Mike Ianiri, Director Equinox

Mike Ianiri, Director Equinox looks at the pros and cons of the options that will replace fibre-optic for businesses soon, from 4 and 5G, satellite and leased lines

For a while now we have been told that as far as telecoms is concerned the age of copper is over. We are now in the age of fibre broadband. Major suppliers such as Virgin Business are marketing their fibre products heavily.

It may be a surprise to you, but fibre-optic is not the future for broadband. Let us review what we’ll be using instead.

If you have been keeping an eye on your contracts, you’ll know that data on the 4G network has been decreasing in price. Some networks are offering unlimited data plans (with admittedly some restrictions to tethering, and speed caps once you’ve used a certain quantity of data). An unlimited deal without restrictions is currently available from Smarty.

These plans are most useful for micro-business but they could be a sensible backup if there is a broadband connectivity failure. 4G routers, bought with PAYG data sims, are easy to install and instantly usable.

When 5G becomes available and the promised data speeds promised are achieved, it will be an obvious choice, provided the data costs are reasonable. We have seen 4G data costs fall so 5G should also become cheaper over time.

We have seen a glimpse of what 5G has to offer. For example, it was used to manage over 1200 drones during the last Winter Olympics. Tests conducted in Japan have achieved transmission of data at 27GB per second which is impressive. We might not get speed that are massively faster than 4G initially but the potential to increase rapidly is definitely there.

When 5G routers start being sold (late 2019) all you will need to use them is a sim and electricity – no need for fibre-optics.

Where no other options are available Satellite broadband can be a lifeline, even if a pricey one, e.g. for businesses in rural business parks and farms. Rural areas frequently have very low 4G coverage so 5G is likely to improve the situation when the low frequency 700Mhz range is released by Ofcom.

Wireless leased lines
Another alternative to fibre is wireless leased lines using radio-based microwave technology. On the plus side this can be installed quickly, and you avoid having to rely on BT.

The cons are significant. For example, to be able to install a receiver on your building’s roof you need permission as well as access. This is simple if you own the premises but may not be otherwise. There needs to be a clear line of site. In open areas that may be fine but in a city with lots of new buildings springing up there may be problems. Imagine: a new tall building goes up between your office and the transmitter!

Currently there are three alternatives to fibre-optics. With 5G there will be four. Most significantly they can be used without having to rely on underground cable so they provide greater flexibility and a different looking future.