In the telecommunications industry, the “Last Mile” refers to the final leg that communication must travel between its original provider and its recipient.
Consider the physical delivery of materials from origin to the final destination, the consumer’s home, or a store in a city or town. Most of the delivery truck’s journey is on major highways where the roads are wide and multi-laned, allowing a lot of traffic to move quickly.
However, getting to the individual at the end of the trip is much more complex. When the truck leaves the highway, it enters a jumble of more minor roads, involving many turns, traffic congestion, fewer lanes, one-way streets, etc. The last mile of delivery can take as long as the rest of the trip. The complex “last mile” can also increase the cost of delivering packages by as much as 50%.
The “Last Mile” in TelecomThe same issues all hold for telecommunication services. A data packet can travel around the world in milliseconds on high-speed pipelines, only to get stuck in unpredictable layers of local relays before it reaches its final destination.
Like the interstate highway system, national and international data infrastructure is widely supported. Multiple entities in the public and private sectors depend on these resources. They tend to be well-funded and, as a result, are fast, efficient, and predictable.
But local infrastructure, just like country roads, can be years out of date. Instead of potholes or detours, poorly-maintained data infrastructure causes low network latency, slow downloads, poor application performance, and quality of service issues with real-time services like voice and video. Local infrastructure is, therefore, unpredictable for a provider attempting to offer reliable services to customers.
Telephone lines are an excellent example of the inability of technology to extend fully into the last mile. While the main lines that carry calls between switching stations are usually fiber optic, the lines along the “last mile” – especially in rural areas – have yet to be converted from the traditional copper wires installed with the original telephone system.
Factors in Last Mile Telecoms
The key factors at play when determining network latency are bandwidth and throughput. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data the network can transmit, while throughput is the amount of data transmitted through the network.
Many organizations attempt to solve latency issues by simply increasing bandwidth – making a bigger “pipe” for the data. However, performance is still constrained by the distance the data must travel and the number of “hops.” The throughput will drop even with more overall bandwidth if more traffic is on the network.
An acceptable solution must also be both economical and effective.
Effective last-mile conduits must:
- Deliver signal power in adequate capacities
- Feature a low-loss model of information transfer (reduction in bandwidth often results in loss of quality, speed, or both)
- Support wide transmission bandwidth
- Deliver a high signal-to-noise ratio
- Provide connectivity outside-network (roaming)
In addition, an excellent solution to the last-mile problem must provide to each user:
- High levels of both availability and reliability
- Low network latency compared to interaction times
- Increasing capacity with an increasing user base
- Financial affordability
The last mile across telecom platforms
Although many different forms of telecommunications networks have been developed to solve the last mile telecom problem, it persists cross-platform.
Cellular networks can provide broadband connectivity in broad ranges, but cell networks can’t cover the entire population. Data from the association of network operators indicates that there are still up to 750 million people worldwide who live in “coverage gap” areas – where no signals 3G or above from any network are available.
Fiber-optic cable networks can provide an even higher connectivity speed. Still, with physical cables, the last mile problem is compounded by the added cost and complication of installing cable in rural areas.
Satellite seemed to be the most viable solution, and it may yet be developed to provide access to a much broader percentage of the world population. Satellite signals are much less restricted by geographic factors than cellular or cable options.
Possible solutions in last-mile telecom
Although a proper, globally-acceptable solution to the last-mile problem remains unclear, there have been several suggested steps that might lead in the right direction:
- Aggregation is a method in which multiple component carriers are assigned to one user. It’s also called “bonding.” When more than one line is used for communication, connections become increasingly quick and reliable, and those that occupy the “last mile” depend less on one method to maintain connectivity.
- FWA, or Fixed Wireless Access, uses older technology to solve modern problems using radio waves. Radio can connect cellular towers with rooftop antennas, which then transfer the signal to a device that converts the radio waves into wireless signals. Over 75 percent of service providers currently offer this type of access, and FWA linkups are projected to more than double by 2027. However, FWA offers a notoriously fickle connection.
- Provisioning and activation is a method that can take the best of both aggregation and FWA to identify, integrate, and quickly activate the strongest networks in an area, improving both transition and quality issues. J-curve’s proprietary provisioning and activation measures address the telecom’s last mile problem and bring us one step closer to resolution.
Final ThoughtsThere may not be a one-fits-all solution to the last mile, but understanding the problem is the first step to finding one.
Ultimately, it makes sense to take advantage of multiple strategies and choose tactics tailored to existing problems. When interventions are considered in tandem with the individual challenges of each unique area, the last mile can be solved in a flexible and ultimately successful manner.
To learn more about setting up a reliable telecommunications network, seeJ-Curve’s solutions.