World Mobile's network and backhaul explained


How World Mobile’s dynamic network connects the world

Previously, we took a deep dive into AirNodes and the way they connect customers to the World Mobile network.

Those AirNodes need to communicate with the Internet and our EarthNodes where the blockchain protocol resides. This is the job of backhaul.

Connecting users to the Internet 

For World Mobile customers, connecting to the Internet is simple: connect from your smartphone to the nearest AirNode or directly to one of our aerostats – really just a big AirNode – and you’re up and running. These AirNodes, in turn, need connection and that’s where backhaul comes in. Backhaul today is complicated because of the enormous quantities of data moving around a modern network, which means simply taking all the data back to a central point is not practical. 

In older mobile networks, users connected to phone towers which then connect to the operator’s core network through fibre cables in the ground or microwaves transmitted to other towers through the air. This is a hierarchal network with a central control point, and everything is star-wired from that control point. For redundancy there are usually two central control points and two sets of star wiring so you can lose any one piece of infrastructure and the system will continue to work. 

Connecting a large number of towers to a core network in this way is expensive and means the network can’t reach everywhere efficiently. The cost of the backhaul is often the significant factor that make deployments in rural or remote areas prohibitively expensive.

Our approach to backhaul 

Depending on which is the most cost-effective and best suited to the area we’re connecting, World Mobile uses a range of different possible backhaul technologies:

  • Fibre optic cable
  • Microwave transmission
  • Satellite internet
  • Free space optics (FSO)
  • Integrated access and backhaul (IAB), using the cellular signal as its own backhaul.
  • Backhaul over cellular (non-IAB), using a different frequency cellular signal as the backhaul.

Our dynamic network design means all the technologies above can be used in a self-organising mesh. 

Fibre is one of the best options for backhaul due to its high bandwidth but trenching and installing in remote areas can be expensive and sometimes prone to breakages.  

Our aerostat solution – a tethered balloon in the sky that delivers mobile coverage in a 70km radius – solves this problem by minimising the number of fibres we need. The large footprint means we only need to connect one fibre for a very large area of coverage. We can even mesh balloons together with microwave links so that one balloon can provide the backhaul for another.  

In isolated areas where there are not enough people to be efficiently served by an aerostat, we can use satellite Internet as the backhaul solution. By connecting AirNodes to our core network via a constellation like Starlink or other low-Earth-orbiting satellites, we can deliver high-bandwidth backhaul almost anywhere in the world. 

Free space optics (FSO) is another exciting solution for high-bandwidth backhaul. This technology transmits data between two points through the air using encoded beams of light. It has a much higher bandwidth than microwave backhaul, but it’s not as resilient to weather conditions. One advantage of this type of backhaul is that it does not require a spectrum licence to operate, significantly reducing its operational costs. 

When it comes to using cellular technology, we can leverage technologies like Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB) to use the cell itself to provide its own backhaul. This allows the cell to mesh with the other cells to reach the Internet and if done right can be very resilient.

Ready for any environment 

If we’re connecting farms in a remote area, the farmers in the area can buy an AirNode to connect themselves and their community, which backhauls through an existing satellite Internet constellation or a balloon. 

Connecting a city or urban area can be done using an aerostat and fibre backhaul in dense areas. An aerostat, tethered to our network via fibre, can provide LTE coverage in a 70km radius. This means that AirNodes in that radius can connect to the balloon using the cellular connection as backhaul. Additionally, World Mobile customers out of range of an AirNode can connect directly to the balloon’s LTE module for mobile data access. 

We can even use aerostats to extend the World Mobile network by allowing them to connect to each other using the same technology, effectively acting as range extenders for the network and routing all traffic through a reliable fibre backhaul on the ground. 

By combining and changing these technologies depending on where we are rolling out, we can offer efficient connectivity where other telcos can’t profitably deploy. We don’t need to rely solely on a single backhaul solution either – it’s common to have secondary backhaul options available to improve reliability and user experience. 

For example, in remote areas with very little precipitation, we could use FSO as backhaul, offering high-speed connectivity to areas that are unconnected, and fall back onto microwave transmission when weather interferes with the best-case solution. 

We are actively trialling these new and exciting technologies, and we’re always looking at new ways we can efficiently connect people, wherever they are in the world.

Everyone deserves the right to Internet access and digital identity, along with all the opportunities that brings. Through our dynamic mobile network and adaptable infrastructure, we aim to build a better, fairer and more accessible Internet together with the community.

Get involved 

Be sure to stay up to date with the latest news on our global deployment and join our movement to connect the unconnected through the sharing economy. 

To find out more about the World Mobile ecosystem, check out the links below:

World Mobile Staff
World Mobile Staff