Cambium meshes Wi-Fi 6, 60 GHz for fiber-like speeds

Cambium Networks likes to say that wireless is the new fiber. And with the introduction of new 60 GHz products featuring multi-gigabit meshing capabilities, the company is looking to make it easier to deploy cost-effective, high-speed networks.

It’s an extension of Cambium’s expertise in fixed wireless broadband, which the company has been doing for more than a decade, and combines with Wi-Fi 6 products that debuted over the summer. The solution uses Facebook Connectivity’s Terragraph technology and Qualcomm’s latest 802.11ay-compliant chips and software.

While licensed high-band millimeter wave spectrum gets attention as carriers like Verizon use it to roll out 5G fixed services, Cambium’s wireless network products support the unlicensed 60 GHz band to extend Wi-Fi throughput or serve as wireless backhaul in place of wired networks.  

The fact that 60 GHz is unlicensed is good news, says Dino Bekis, VP and general manager of Qualcomm’s Mobile & Compute Connectivity business, because it enables more competition and there are already mechanisms in place for effective sharing. Another benefit Bekis called out is that 60 GHz is largely available continuously throughout much of the world, without other applications already consuming the frequencies. 

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Qualcomm debuted a family of 60 GHz Wi-Fi chipsets in 2018 and was involved earlier this year in advocating, alongside Facebook and others, improved regulatory framework for unlicensed use in the band.

The .11 ay-compliant Qualcomm technology in Cambium’s network products supports a greater number of channels.

Compared to its work in lower frequencies like 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz for fixed wireless – 60 GHz is “a very different beast,” Cambium CEO Atul Bhatnagar told Fierce Wireless. The short range of high mmWave frequencies can make it more challenging, but that’s where Cambium brings in features like meshing.

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“[60 GHz] is a phenomenal spectrum and as a result we can do multi-gigabit networks and for the first time we have fiber-like speeds wirelessly,” he noted.

Operators can deploy a wireless fabric using different frequencies, with simplified management happening together from the cloud. For example, Cambium’s Wi-Fi 6 architecture serves the last 300-400 meters, and then a 60 GHz-type architecture a kilometer or two out.

“This combination of Wi-Fi 6 plus 60 GHz gives us a wireless fabric that starts to bridge LAN and WAN,” Bhatnagar said. “As we provide meshing capability in this product, that then stretches into a few more kilometers.”

The ability to deploy a mesh network is key and something Bekis said Cambium is on the forefront of.

A mesh network enables scalability, dense deployments and cost-effective implementation to bring broadband to more people, he noted. In addition to less specialized infrastructure and advanced training needed for rollouts, the new .11 ay-compliant products can fit into existing networks and ensure interoperability with future network elements. Bekis said it lowers the risk for operators to take on deployments and adds confidence in the ability to scale up.

Ultimately it could open up high-speed access to people who might not otherwise have the option because of cost barriers for both operators and consumers.

“This really opens up the door for this more ubiquitous ability for people to take advantage of high-speed connectivity and internet access,” Bekis said. 

Deployments for urban, rural communities

Cambium has largely focused on connecting suburban and rural areas, but the new 60 GHz system is its first to target the urban environment.

Compared to digging trenches for fiber or requiring additional truck rolls, Cambium says 60 GHz for last-kilometer connectivity or backhaul can mean lower cost of ownership, lower cost of deployment and easier implementation.

In dense urban settings, Bhatnagar said 60 GHz can provide enough throughput, for example, to connect numerous cameras in a video surveillance network and backhaul properly. Similarly, 60 GHz can help an operator that’s deploying small cells in an urban setting and has to navigate structures, with meshing capabilities or sufficient backhaul.

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When it comes to wireless internet service providers (WISPs) in more suburban or rural settings, “they can offer 100s of megabits per second throughput, matching wired networks in developing communities,” Bhatnagar said.