TSTT: “WTTx for the win.”

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Above: A TSTT WTTx tower in Diego Martin. Photo courtesy TSTT.

Originally published in Newsday’s BusinessDay on October 04, 2018

Everything you need to know about WTTx, TSTT’s replacement for copper lines

Are you ready to give up your wire connected home phone? TSTT is ready to take it away.

At a technology conference hosted by TSTT and Huawei at the Hyatt Regency last week the big news was fixed wireless and how TSTT plans to use the technology to shed the last vestiges of its past as a wired communications provider.

The headline news was the company’s decision to put a hard deadline on its frequently stated intention to end connections over copper lines.

Copper lines haven’t been helpful to the company for more than a decade now.

The aging technology is a prime target for thieves who are also looking at the company’s extensive battery backup systems as potential treasure.

With coverage across 95 percent of Trinidad and Tobago, the pervasiveness of the company’s thirty-year-old wired network is as embedded in the consciousness of its users as it is on the overhead lines that carry it.

The company’s solution, WTTx, is designed not so much to replace that network as to leapfrog it.

WTTx (see What’s WTTx, below) is an implementation of wireless LTE transmission technology adapted for fixed receivers that emphasises penetration and flexibility.

“In the new order, thirty-five percent [of fixed broadband customers] will be served by fiber and the rest will be served by WTTx,” said TSTT CEO Dr Ronald Walcott.

To do that, the company will have to move 187,000 customers on their copper-based network to the new service.

Working in its favour is a new coverage map that targets 95 per cent coverage of TT with a signal that’s capable of delivering not just a replacement voice line (users will have the option of keeping their phone number) but access to all of TSTT’s broadband services, including cable TV and data connections.

Hassel Bacchus, Photo by Mark Lyndersay

In his presentation, Walcott showed a peak speed for WTTx of 25Mbps, but the technology supports speeds far in excess of that, reaching up to 200Mbps in some Latin American installations.

“We are able to offer pricing that’s 30 percent less than the cost of the service the new technology will be replacing,” Walcott said.

Of the company’s 474 cell sites, TDD-LTE, the specific WTTx technology that TSTT is deploying, is today being broadcast on 357 of them. The company plans to have full deployment on the technology by March 2019.

“This is not a greenfield environment,” said Hassel Bacchus, TSTT’s Chief Network Officer, referring to the litter of transmission acronyms that the company has continued to carry over decades of upgrades.

Copper is only part of what’s being shed. The company’s 2G network is almost fully turned off. GSM customers were migrated to UTMS and then to 4G. Other technologies, like WiMax, are already gone.

Of the 357 sites broadcasting TDD-LTE signal, 27 of those sites using Massive MIMO signals to support widespread WTTx deployment. TSTT has also doubled its MIMO installations to 8×8 on 237 towers. Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) installations typically use two to four antennas on a tower to transmit a signal and the same number to receive it.

Massive MIMO installations, developed for 5G deployments, raise that number significantly to pack more signal into the same radio channel, improving energy efficiency and tracking user equipment more precisely.

They also allow network capacity to be multiplied without needing more of TSTT’s artificially scarce local wireless spectrum.

TDD-LTE is also well suited to beamforming, which uses the multiple antennas of a MIMO installation to target active users with improved signal.

TSTT plans to work with a mix of 35 percent fiber installations with 65 percent being served by WTTx.

“People have already told us,” Bacchus said, “I don’t want to give up my phone.”

“We are going to have to find ways to persuade customers to give up what they know and engage with what is available.” 

“There is the challenge of persuading customers, door by door, to switch from a copper connection to a CPE (Customer Premises Equipment), but speed to deploy and cost to deploy are a win for WTTx.”

What should copper connected customers expect?

While TSTT has been using WTTx to broadcast a broadband signal since 2014, the company has now achieved national coverage and availability of devices will begin this month.

The company should pursue early adopters first, those customers willing to surrender their copper connection for one which offers additional options for broadband, cable TV delivered over IP and security solutions along with a replacement for their wired copper service.

Switchers will also get a 5Mbps data connection as part of the standard package.

Those users, according to a presentation at the WTTx event, will have the option of signing up online for the service, collecting the connection equipment and plugging it in themselves to replace their copper line service.

Other users, who may not be ready to abandon the idea of a wired fixed line service will probably get calls, then visits from the company as it gets closer to the termination deadline for the service.

Reaching the underserved

Ari Lopes. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

One happy byproduct of the switch to WTTx as a delivery system to replace copper lines is a system can be designed to deliver a signal to customers living in areas that are difficult to reach with wired solutions.

According to Ari Lopes, Chief Analyst of Ovum, Sky Brazil used the system to identify and supply a distinct niche, the interior of Brazil, connecting users separated by daunting geography and flora.

“Trinidad and Tobago’s settlement patterns are challenging,” explained Hassel Bacchus.

“We have people living in clusters in very difficult to reach areas.”

Surprisingly, despite the National Broadband Network’s thrust to reach rural and underserved customers, TSTT is not accessing the Universal Service Fund created by the Telecommunications Authority to subsidise efforts to serve those customers.

“Further,” the company added in an emailed response to questions about the USF, “we have been denied the additional spectrum needed to make this into an even richer product offering.”

TSTT has promised 95 percent coverage for its network.

In a response to a question about which five percent would be left out, the company said in response, “Our goal is to cover all of Trinidad and Tobago.”

“That said, there is no wireless network in the world that can guarantee 100% wireless coverage because of many variables such as topography, architecture, interference, etc. We have not omitted any areas in Trinidad and Tobago, but we cannot commit to more than 95 percent.”

“Our goal is to have affordable broadband access to all 400,000 homes in T&T.”

What’s WTTx?

Mao Dun. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

At its most basic level, WTTx isn’t so much a technology as it is a way of describing a method of delivery of broadband.

It’s an acronym for Wired To The X (planned recipient), so WTTH delivers signal to the home, WTTS to ships and so on.

TSTT will be implementing a solution from infrastructure partner Huawei that uses existing cell towers for delivery and a toaster sized box to receive the signal.

Developed as a delivery system for 5G transmissions, it works with 4G LTE signals. The company is investing $70 million in the WTTx upgrade project.

TSTT is using a Time Division Duplexing (TDD) model for its delivery of signal on WTTx to make the best use of the narrow frequency allocation it’s working with.

The company uses Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD) on its mobile network to serve 650,000 customers.

Both Digicel and TSTT are deploying their upgrades to their 4G networks in an environment in which the Telecommunications Authority has not granted permission for additional frequency allocations in the optimal 700mhz band, so both must make their signal fit what they’ve got.

WTTx is finding significant uptake in regions with difficult geography or widely distributed populations worldwide.

According to Mao Dun, VP of Huawei’s Latin American Marketing and Solutions Sales Department, 40 networks have been deployed in Latin America and he characterises the technology as “booming” in the region.

In Brazil alone, one million users have been connected to broadband services, including voice.

“Operational efficiency reduces onsite service by 80 per cent,” Dun explained, “because users deploy the equipment while configuration and troubleshooting can be handled remotely.”