Wonders of the Wireless Chinese Web
Here is a challenge for any ISP: provide the Chinese population of around 1.3 billion people spread over a huge land mass, including massive cities such as Guangzhou with its population of 41 million along with vast expanses of hinterland, with high speed access to the internet.
The latest estimates indicate that currently around 540 million Chinese citizens have internet access, which means that a large majority of the population does not. However a new technology is being investigated that could offer a solution to this problem, providing a revolutionary way of distributing internet access.
The current internet infrastructure in China is much the same as anywhere else in the world. It involves a number of different components that are dedicated to providing different services. For instance there are both 3G and 4G mobile networks, copper telephone lines, and fibre optic networks.
However all this could change drastically. The plan is to integrate all of these separate technologies into a brand new approach which has been dubbed radio-over-fibre. The aim is to create a single integrated intelligent nationwide broadband network of distributed antennas and fibre optic cable.
The system converts wireless signals into light pulses and sends these over fibre optic cables. At the receiving end of the cable, the light pulses are converted back into wireless signals which are then broadcast using 3G and 4G networks and Wi-Fi.
The system is far more efficient and cheaper than the traditional one of building ever more cell stations for wireless distribution as the electronics that is needed for wireless to light pulse conversions are based at central locations. Maintenance is also much cheaper. It is also far easier to upgrade the system as hardware and software changes can be made at central points.
To date the system has been installed in industrial environments, shopping areas and hospitals. The next target is rural areas followed by high speed railway lines. The system is so efficient that just a single fibre optic cable could provide all of the wireless requirements of a whole community, and even in a large city all of the wireless and wireless services could be supplied from a single location.
Radio over fibre has also attracted the attention of other countries. In the US, the telecoms company AT&T are deploying a similar system which is targeted at providing mobile broadband to sports stadiums and shopping malls where large cell masts have problems handling the huge data demand. Perhaps China is laying a path that eventually all the world will follow; if so then Virgin broadband deals should become considerably cheaper.