Tarana's fiber-like FWA tech draws attention from BT, MTN, Wisper

Tarana Wireless has long pitched its fixed wireless access (FWA) technology as an alternative to fiber broadband and it seems the company has caught the ear of some major service providers, including BT, MTN and Wisper.

Founded in 2009, Tarana initially targeted wireless backhaul solutions and on its website boasts work on this front with AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon and Vodafone, among others. But in more recent years, the company has zeroed in on FWA, building an all-new non-line of sight product designed to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity.

Basil Alwan, the former head of Nokia’s IP and Optical unit who took over as Tarana’s CEO in April, said during a virtual event on Wednesday that its current G1 product can deliver “hundreds of megabits per customer” over a range of 3 km to 5 km in a non-line of sight instance or 10-plus km in a line of sight deployment. A forthcoming G2 model will be able to provide “gigabit rates on a per user basis” even in non-line of sight scenarios, he added.

“Tarana here is after end-game broadband. We’re not here trying to build a stopgap to fiber,” Alwan said. “We’re believers that wireless is a true alternative to fiber and is a long-term durable alternative to fiber because the technology trends are in our favor at this point.”

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The idea appears to be resonating, even with operators like the U.K.’s BT, which is investing heavily in fiber through its subsidiary Openreach.

Speaking at the event, BT’s Chief Architect Neil McRae revealed the operator is currently piloting Tarana’s technology with customers in the lab. He explained it just might be the right tool to fill in connectivity gaps left between fiber and 5G deployments.

“There’s a need for this. Having something where you’ve got a lot of reach to play with and still being able to offer what we call an ultrafast service…is hugely valuable,” he said. McRae added the economics of Tarana’s solution compared to, for instance, a 5G mmWave FWA product also makes it appealing.

“The mobile is great if you’re doing mobile stuff…But if you’re kind of attaching to something and just using it to haul bandwidth, just the way it’s designed is not efficient,” he explained. “Also, the whole mobile ecosystem is kind of a collection of different people’s IP, all of which is expensive.”

MTN also appears to have bought in to Tarana’s promise. Calvin Collett, managing director for MTN’s internet service provider arm Supersonic, said it already has about 150 Tarana-equipped towers live in South Africa and is aiming to reach 400 by the end of the year.

“Those 400 towers will match the current fiber footprint of homes passed in South Africa,” he said. He went on to note MTN operates in a total of 21 countries and “this product makes sense in all 21 of those territories.”

While Collett acknowledged there are opportunities for fiber throughout Africa, he argued “if we want to connect every single person in their country and make sure we break the digital divide, we have to look at these technologies.”

U.S.-based rural internet service provider Wisper also sang Tarana’s praises, with CEO Nathan Stooke stating it has been able to deliver upwards of 300 Mbps over a distance of 8 miles in a non-line of sight deployment.

Stooke noted one key challenge FWA faces is consumer perception. “It is something that our industry has to battle, especially here in the U.S.” where there’s a strong focus on fiber. The trick, he said, is getting customers to give it a try because “if we can get them installed they typically don’t really shift away.”