The Wi-Fi Microwave Renaissance

For financial services firms, the ability to get a piece of competitive financial data a few milliseconds before you competition is worth the cost of securing a fast internet connection. Despite being in use for over half a century, the once stagnant microwave communications industry is seeing a renaissance recently.
steampunk internet

Since July 2012, Quincy Data has been broadcasting as a microwave provider between New York and Chicago, providing financial sectors with a competitive edge. When Quincy Data applied for their licensing with the FCC in 2010, there was only one other company that had submitted a similar request; now there are dozens of other carriers waiting in the wings, eager to have their requests ratified.

Microwave technology uses point-to-point networks and have been used for decades by the military and broadcast television stations. Microwave transmissions operate in the 1 to 30 GHz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Although they do need a line of site between transmission points, signals can be repeated along the way and can travel up to 300 kilometers.

microwave transmission diagram

More recently, the push has been towards fiber optics connections, which have the ability to offer greater bandwidth. Current limitations of microwave transmissions can only offer 150Mbps, but developers are currently developing gigabit microwave technologies.

Fiber optics carry data on light waves passing through glass tubes and are therefore constrained to the maximum speed of the medium through which it passes. Light travels at a scant 200,000 km per second compared to an electromagnetic wave that can travel at 300,000km per second in a vacuum.

The other distinct advantage of microwave technology is that the transmission distances tend to be much shorter than that of fiber optics, since it is much easy to transmit in a direct path between two points rather than snaking fiber optic cabling through existing infrastructure to obtain an optimal path.

Performance is still a big factor into the adoption of microwave technologies en masse. Rain can affect performance, as well as low-lying clouds and various forms of interference. This is becoming more problematic today with so many wireless communications bombarding our cities. Once latency times have been reduced, microwave vendors will sell their service based upon the robustness of their networks.

My Two Cents:

Sample PLN Network
A better application of microwave technology would be to broadcast into remote rural areas in order to provide free access to the internet. Internet access has been deemed to be a basic human right according to the UN.

Similar initiatives have been introduced in Canada in the past with the Provincial Learning Network (PLN) in an attempt to bring internet access to remote schools. However, the cost of developing modern wireless infrastructures into remote areas is far too prohibitive.

Many communities still have entrenched infrastructures that would support microwave communications proving that this is not only a feasible strategy, but that it is also a cost effective means to provide free Internet access to all.

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