Discussion Papers

Peter Stamm, Anne Stetter with contributions of Mario Erwig

Contribution of Alternative Wireless Solutions to Rural Broadband Coverage

No. 351/February 2011

(full version only available in German)


One of the main objective of infrastructural policy is a complete coverage with broadband access for all households in Germany. There are still households and businesses without an adequate access to broadband Internet in sparsely populated rural areas. The demand for higher broadband speeds is constantly rising and in conurbations it is well served by high speed cable and VDSL access. In rural areas however, intelligent alternative solutions are needed to economically extend broadband infrastructures for higher speeds.

Within this study the significance of wireless network solutions in remote regions is analysed with regard to the coverage of remaining underserved areas at short notice as well as to further increases of broadband capacity at the medium and long run. The analysis comprises the three basic use cases of radio technology for broadband access: mobile communication networks, local wireless networks and radio in broadband feeding lines.

With regard to the short term objectives of broadband with 1 mbps and above there are mainly UMTS networks with HSPA and HSPA+ in urban areas contributing to broadband coverage. Based on long-range 800 MHz frequencies from the Digital Dividend, allocated in 2010, new LTE networks are currently installed, starting in underserved areas.

In some rural areas there are also local wireless networks with Wi-Fi and other radio technologies contributing to broadband coverage. About 150, mainly small providers have created a quite diverse landscape of local and regional networks.

The third important wireless technology for broadband access is directional radio. About 70.000 directional radio lines are installed in Germany with their majority being used as feeding lines to mobile network base stations.

In the medium and long run, local wireless networks are considered as temporary solutions which will reach their technical limit due to increasing demand for higher speeds. An important role in the broadband access is awarded in the long term, however, the LTE networks – first focusing on fixed broadband access and later more and more on mobile applications. Within the next 2-3 years a nationwide expansion of LTE mobile networks is expected. Also the importance of directional radio as broadband feeding lines will rather increase given the extension of mobile networks and the increasingly established VDSL networks in smaller villages.

Despite investments in fibre networks also in rural areas, wireless technologies will overall retain and even strengthen their importance for broadband networks.

Discussion Paper is available for download.

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