A case for Cambodia’s digital leap

Kurian Manjakkal No Comments Share:
A tangled mess with aerial fibre internet connections. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Kurian Manjakkal argues that the time is right for Cambodia to ditch aerial fiber and unlicenced wireless connections and embrace point-to-multipoint microwave technology, which connects multiple end-customers with carrier-grade broadband services from a single hub site.
With a 7.7 percent growth rate annually over the past two decades, Cambodia’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. This growth has been predominantly driven by small to medium enterprises and micro businesses, which represent almost 99 percent of the nation’s enterprises.
To achieve continued economic development, these businesses demand access to the carrier-grade broadband infrastructure that can revolutionise business operations and growth, enabling value added support services, e-commerce and a range of cloud applications.
Historically, operators have attempted to meet broadband demand by deploying wireless solutions in unlicenced spectrum or aerial fiber, which can be seen hanging above streets in major cities. Although aerial fiber offers low initial costs and is not subject to planning restrictions, it doesn’t offer a sustainable solution.
Aerial fiber is subject to multiple points of failure, including:
• Weather damage – adverse weather can easily bring down a pole, along with the many fiber connections it holds;
• Human interference – damage from passing vehicles or theft can leave connections down for days on end;
• Ownership – overcrowded poles can lead to challenges over cable ownership, resulting in damage if the wrong cable is cut or repaired;
• Aesthetics – an unruly display of cables can create a negative perception of the reliability of the service;
• Regulatory challenges – with Cambodia’s Minister for Posts and Telecoms stating in 2011 that aerial fiber “is fragile, improper cabling and messy as if it is a spider’s web”, the threat of more regulation must be considered.
The concept that an entire business could be put on hold for many days by a storm or passing vehicle is untenable for end customers. With communication outages proven to have severe financial repercussions, reliable networks are vital for business continuity and economic growth.
Furthermore, aerial fiber brings risks to consumers due to its use for mobile backhaul. With a report from Budde Comm stating that mobile penetration in Cambodia reached 167 percent in 2015, an aerial fiber outage would cause significant disruption to mobile services. This increases the need for operators to invest in more reliable connectivity, helping them establish a competitive advantage and bringing to market the fast and reliable connectivity their customers demand.
The recent award of licenses to lay underground fiber will soon provide a more robust solution, however the costs of leasing these fiber lines will restrict the business case for many operators. For Cambodia’s economy to fully reach its potential, these new underground fiber networks must be complemented with more affordable carrier-grade wireless solutions.
As an alternative to aerial fiber, some operators have historically opted to deploy wireless solutions in the unlicenced frequency bands (under 6GHz).
These offer similar low costs – which are important to offset a low average revenue per user – however, the congested and unregulated spectrum they operate in severely constrains the speed and reliability of performance. Business-critical activities, such as order processing, communications and e-commerce can be dramatically hindered by these issues, highlighting the importance of a more reliable connection.
While underground fiber or point-to-point microwave improve reliability, they are time-consuming and very costly to deploy. These constraints have hindered operator investment in more modern communications services as the business case does not meet the market dynamics.
However, Cambodia has recently seen increased investment from multinational technology companies who are making more advanced and economically attractive wireless solutions available. Forward-thinking operators are now turning to these next generation wireless solutions to provide a much-needed boost to their services. Operators no longer have to compromise quality of service in order to achieve a business case that can result in wide-scale expansion of transformational services for their customers.
One of the latest technologies to gather momentum in Cambodia is point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave, which connects multiple end-customers with carrier-grade services from a single hub site.
Unlike aerial fiber and unlicenced wireless, PMP microwave enables operators to offer robust service level agreements and guaranteed high capacity broadband. As a result, operators can be confident that there will be no risk to the connectivity they offer, providing businesses with a wealth of new digital services.
As PMP microwave operates in the licensed spectrum bands of 10.5, 26 and 28GHz, bandwidth is free from congestion and highly reliable.
This drives huge benefits for operators as well as end-customers, as it reduces dramatically the time spent dealing with service disruptions. This in turn reduces customer service costs and churn, further helping improve cost efficiency and profitability.
PMP microwave can either complement existing fiber, or be used as a cost-effective alternative. When compared to the other licensed wireless technologies, PMP microwave achieves a faster time to market and saves equipment costs by reducing the amount of hardware needed.
For example, analyst firm Real Wireless recently found that PMP microwave can save up to 50 percent total cost of ownership savings compared to PTP. As a result, PMP microwave provides a more attractive business case to access licensed spectrum, helping operators significantly scale the capacity and coverage of their networks.  
So where has PMP microwave proven to be the most effective? One of the strongest use cases for the technology has been in densely populated urban locations.
Due to the concentration of customers, the business case of a multipoint architecture is highly profitable in environments where many customers can be served from a single hub. In such cases, the advantages of PMP microwave versus other solutions have enabled operators to quickly roll out faster and more reliable broadband than has previously been possible.
Over the past year, some of the world’s leading technology vendors have launched new infrastructure solutions in Cambodia, bringing a wealth of new opportunities for the country.
For example, Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd has launched its own market leading PMP microwave platform in Cambodia in 2016, offering operators access to technology that is field-proven across 47 global markets. This has created the opportunity for operators to leverage more robust and efficient technology, and deploy the same solutions that support the most modern networks in cities prized for innovation, including New York and London.
Thanks to next generation wireless technology such as this, operators have new opportunities to scale the scope and performance of their services, gaining a competitive advantage and introducing new revenue streams to their business.
In order for Cambodian businesses to fully realise the benefits of the digital revolution, operators must leverage the new wireless technologies on offer and utilise the available 10.5, 26 and 28GHz bands. Through next generation solutions, such as PMP microwave, operators have a more financially viable route to unlock licensed spectrum and overcome the challenges of aerial fiber and unlicenced wireless.
Not only do these new techniques hold the key to improving broadband, but offer a more efficient path to scale backhaul infrastructure, bringing faster and more modern mobile services to the market. This will not only enable the more modern communications services that are in demand, but deliver transformational socio-economic benefits for the country.
Kurian Manjakkal is the vice-president of Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd that was established in 2000 when 10 engineers from Cambridge University secured private equity funding to develop an innovative solution to the increased demand for mobile communications.

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