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I Tell You, Wireless Backhaul Gets No Respect

One of my first purchase orders came in 1988 for a link between Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. I was delivering the world's first point-to-point wireless solution for Ethernet, and though it was my design, I knew very little about microwave.

After the install, I sweat bullets every time a thunderstorm rolled through, waiting for a 2 a.m. phone call to say that my link brought the hospital's network down. Instead of celebrating a sale to Boston's most preeminent institutions, I was filled with anxiety.

Want to know what happened?

Nothing. The link didn't fail once in the eight-plus years it was in service - not from rain or snow, wind or solar flares, not from the recession of 1990, cows farting or the collapse of Communism. And since then, I can tell you that the technology has only gotten better.

After that job we got some good publicity and lots of phone calls. Unfortunately most of them started like this, "Our consultant says that microwave goes down in rain... I understand that snow effects the signal... I hear that exposure to RF energy may be hazardous to our employees... I read somewhere that all the frequencies are taken up," etc., etc., etc. Okay, so I learned that the phone company - who was buying microwave by the truckload, was scaring the bejesus out of anyone else who might want it. I trusted that time would shake out all these misperceptions...

Little did I know that I was about to enter "The Twilight Zone," and that all these years later, the phone calls would sound exactly the same. Same questions, same rumors. Same apprehensions. Even the same tired joke, "Can it cook a chicken?" If you're selling this stuff, you know what I'm saying. If you're buying it, then hear me out.

"When it comes to wireless backhaul, nothing on God's earth

performs better than FCC licensed, point-to-point microwave.

If you buy it from a qualified vendor, it will never let you down."

And in case you're wondering, pretty much anyone can get an FCC license. The process is relatively quick and inexpensive. You're just linking a couple of buildings, not buying CBS.

Now, I love licensed microwave, but I'm not saying that license-exempt wireless (e.g., 5GHz) is bad. That's amazing technology too, but you have to tread carefully there and be sure that whoever is selling it to you knows where you're using it and blesses it off so you're not getting killed by interference. Bandwidth may also be an issue because with license-exempt, the longer the path, the less throughput you're getting.

And two other points; one for buyers and the other for sellers.

To buyers I say, don't listen to unqualified "experts" who bloviate with blanket statements about wireless backhaul. People will give you advice, but consider the source. If your cousin installs satellite TV dishes or Wi-Fi access points, then forget what he says about wireless backhaul. He may have dissected a frog in the sixth grade, but you wouldn't trust him to remove your spleen. So the next know-it-all who tells you that microwave is susceptible to rain, stump him by asking, "Yeah, what frequency?" because different frequencies react to the elements in different ways.

And to sellers, let's stop putting IT managers to sleep - or losing them with the same pitch you'd give to Bell Labs. Enterprise IT buyers don't gain confidence in the purchase when we rattle off terms like "256QAM," "ACM," "space diversity," "XPIC," and all that.

We know that microwave works, so sell on bandwidth, sell on payback, sell on convenience, security and independence from "the grid," sell on mixed media backup and the greater control your customer will have. Fiber guys don't have to spout about how electrons travel through glass. So let's stop killing the sale. If the customer doesn't believe, then show him that you do. Offer him a trial, give him a guarantee and put him in touch with all your happy customers.

There's no doubt that enterprise users are interested in wireless backhaul—they're buying it on Amazon, but we haven't yet convinced them that a Porsche outperforms a Pinto. If your customer wants performance, then SELL them on it, and never apologize for the price, because it will be one of the best investments they'll ever make.

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