UK set for Terragraph multi-gigabit technology

11 September 2020

UK enterprises could soon be offered 10Gbps services using Facebook’s Terragraph technology, thanks to a raft of wireless internet providers.

The project is part of Facebook Connectivity, a division of the social media corporation that is responsible for network investments, high-altitude platforms, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and other initiatives. Terragraph promises low cost broadband delivery at speeds of over one gigabit, with the potential for over 10 gigabits using license-exempt fixed wireless access (FWA) in the UK by the end of 2020. 

Members of trade association, the UK Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (UKWISPA), have met Facebook executives plus officials from equipment makers Siklu, Radwin and Cambium to discuss service launches.

They want to use this for licence-exempt fixed wireless access (FWA) in the UK from later this year, said the association. Siklu, Radwin and Cambium Networks are all set to ship products this year, UKWISPA added.

 Facebook has been developing this technology for around five years and has built pilot systems in several countries around the world using prototype equipment. Now, the Silicon Valley giant has attracted a range of global equipment manufacturers to form a whole ecosystem around the technology. One example is  global silicon manufacturer, Qualcomm, which has developed a high volume, low cost chipset (802.11AY-based) to enable the high data speeds needed to facilitate Terragraph affordably. This has enabled a range of UKWISPA members to release products in 2020, while others, such as MikroTik and IgniteNet, have been encouraged to commit to joining the community.

David Burns, chairman of UKWISPA, told Networking+ that the general rule with networking performance is to introduce the fastest speeds possible, “so 10Gbps is a very reasonable goal today” subject to affordability. 

“Enterprises invest heavily in communications systems of many types and spend surprising amounts of capital and time investing in bandwidth management methods such as quality of service (QoS),” he said. “Investing in QoS is an admission that the enterprise has insufficient capacity at the right place at the right time. For example, ensuring vital voice services operate smoothly and cleanly at all times is an obvious imperative. But what if this is at the expense of other time and bandwidth sensitive applications that support remote workers?”

Burns added that VPNs and remote desktop services “are also very sensitive to the jitter and latency” typified by over-contended networks “and most QoS techniques crudely reserve minimum data commitment rates”. 

He continued: “As more workers spend more time out of the office and as more internal and external meetings become online meetings, fast networks will become more important than having desks, chairs and an office to keep them. In the end, 10Gbps of internet connectivity will be far more valuable and cost a lot less than the empty desks abandoned by home workers.”

“Facebook recognised that new applications require high speed connectivity and, with data consumption growing at an ever-increasing rate, the demand for broadband cannot be matched by the current ability to build new high-speed networks,” added Neeraj Bhatia, product manager at Facebook Connectivity. 

“With Terragraph, Facebook is creating an ecosystem to address this gap and serve under-connected communities. We helped assemble a technology stack with a range of partners, assisted with spectrum advocacy and the specification of 802.11AY standards, and built an industry ecosystem to realise the potential for this technology.”

Terragraph networks are built on very high-speed resilient mesh equipment, where a small low power device is mounted on a building or street furniture and communicates with up to 16 other units on other buildings to form a mesh.” Burns said, “this method perfectly complements fibre build out”, where the Terragraph mesh fills gaps that would be expensive to install otherwise. 

“As a mesh, data can pass in all directions at full speed, meaning upload and download speeds are symmetric and the mesh can tolerate breaks without stopping,” he added. “Moreover, it is so fast that it can seamlessly blend with fibre to create a fully hybrid network that suits the local conditions. UKWISPA members are itching to install Terragraph services to help more customers across the country and to upgrade their existing customers to gigabit speeds and complement their fibre plans.”