Could 60 GHz Wireless Indoor Backhaul Consign Cables to History?

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Andrew Spivey | 4Q 2022 | IN-6736

The innovative new 60 GHz backhaul WaveTunnel technology from Airvine carries great potential, but without a solid go-to-market strategy, it may struggle to meet success.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


Series A Funding Sets Wave Tunnel on Path to Commercial Availability


In early October 2022, Silicon Valley-based Airvine secured a US$10 million Series A funding round for its WaveTunnel technology, a first-of-its-kind solution that leverages 60 Gigahertz (GHz) with beamforming to deliver a wireless replacement for cable and ethernet backhaul. The raised capital will enable the company to ramp up sales, marketing, engineering, and manufacturing of its innovative product, and with commercial availability imminent, the question now becomes what prospects does this technology have for transforming enterprise backhaul and making cabling redundant.

A Novel Use of 60 GHz with the Potential to Upend Enterprise Backhaul


Airvine’s WaveTunnel technology is based off WiGig, a 60 GHz Wi-Fi standard first introduced with 802.11ad in 2012, followed by a recent revision in 2021 with 802.11ay. To date, WiGig has predominantly been applied to outdoor applications, such as delivering outdoor backhaul to remote enterprise networks or as point-to-point wireless bridges for network extensions. While the technology has not been a runaway success, the hype around its potential and the numerous vendors active in the market have led to a robust ecosystem of available components. Chipset vendors include Movandi, Peraso, Pharrowtech, and Qualcomm, while equipment vendors include Cambium Networks, RADWIN, and Siklu (all of which produce hardware for Meta’s outdoor backhaul Terragraph project). Airvine’s unique proposition is to leverage the 802.11ay standard and the existing mature ecosystem toward a new environment—indoor backhaul.

The company has positioned its innovative solution as a wireless alternative to traditional copper and fiber backhaul, with a host of advantages, including faster and simpler deployments, greater flexibility and scalability, installation cost savings, and reduced downtime. The backhaul network will be formed from Airvine’s proprietary dual-radio 60 GHz 802.11ay WaveTunnel units spaced 100 meters apart, which can be deployed either in a point-to-point configuration or for fault tolerance and increased speed, as a dual wireless counter rotating wireless ring. Airvine also claims that automatic band steering will enable teams with no Radio Frequency (RF) experience to install the network with ease.

The solution promises speeds in excess of 10 Gbps and superior penetration abilities with the help of beamforming, one of WaveTunnel’s key technological underpinnings. Put simply, beamforming is an RF management technique in which multiple antennas will broadcast the same signal at marginally different times, and the overlapping waves will reinforce the signal toward the target client. Within the Wi-Fi family, the technology was first adopted in Wi-Fi 4, enhanced in subsequent iterations, and will again form a key component of Wi-Fi 7’s multi-Access Point (AP) Coordinated Beamforming (CBF) feature, in which the coordinated transmission of multiple APs at the same time and frequency will greatly enhance the possible throughput to each individual client. While beamforming can deliver significant benefits in the 5 GHz and 6 GHz spectrum, the much higher wave frequency of 60 GHz will mean more overlapping waves, and thus greater signal reinforcing. WaveTunnel will use very high-gain beamforming arrays (~30 decibels relative to isotope, or dBi) to enable the penetration of typical office walls.

The versatility of WaveTunnel means that it could prove valuable in a diverse variety of environments. In office buildings, the technology could be used to get a network up quickly and effortlessly, which could then be easily scaled up or down as demand evolves. This might be for a project that needs to be launched As Soon as Possible (ASAP), or if the building is leased and the temporary tenant wishes to avoid a large sunk cost. Another strong use case is for heritage buildings, where WaveTunnel may prove invaluable if installing cabling is not permitted. And for Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs), which were originally built without copper or fiber through every hallway, the building could be seamlessly retrofitted using WaveTunnel with minimal disruption to tenants. Other verticals with strong potential include hospitality, higher education, warehouses, and large public venues.

How Receptive Will Enterprises Be to WaveTunnel?


Airvine is a relatively young company, with its seed financing of US$7 million being finalized less than 2 years ago, in December 2020. The company has progressed rapidly since then, with field trials of WaveTunnel conducted by over 40 prospective partners and end users between 1Q and 3Q 2022, the finalizing of Series A funding in 4Q 2022, and a commercial launch planned for the near future. While WaveTunnel undoubtedly carries great potential, one monolithic obstacle stands between it and success—that enterprises lack sufficient incentives to migrate from wired to wireless. Outdoor 60 GHz helped deliver backhaul to remote locations that were otherwise unserved, so the spaces that Airvine is targeting are already being serviced by existing copper and fiber. Many organizations subscribing to the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will be unlikely to transition to WaveTunnel, unless they are faced with a problem that only it can solve. Therefore, Airvine will need to finely tune its go-to-market strategy if it is to make an impact on the market. Airvine should prioritize two core aspects—improving consumer education and choosing the correct business model.

There are currently no available case studies or public trials of WaveTunnel that potential consumers can refer to, leaving them with a dearth of knowledge on how WaveTunnel might perform in practice. Therefore, the company should make it a priority to collaborate with industry associations and ecosystem partners to conduct trials in a variety of environments, showcasing the capabilities of the technology for multiple different verticals. Airvine should also work to get trial participants, or early adopters, to serve as deployment case studies. This will bolster potential consumers’ confidence in the new technology, ensuring that the launch of the new commercial product isn’t squandered due to lack of awareness or understanding. As for the business model, Airvine should note that enterprises are increasingly showing a preference for Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) models, a trend that will only accelerate as finances become constrained due to lower profits and reduced access to financing. The company should either explore NaaS models directly or pursue partnerships with integrators that can. This will help lower the financial risk for end users, enable rapid deployments, and importantly, give the organizations the option to scale up (or down) as necessary.

Even if the go-to-market strategy is executed without flaws, there are still several other technical issues that may hinder broad adoption. First, although the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released a broad 14 GHz of spectrum for unlicensed use with the V-Band (57 – 71 GHz), many other regions have only allocated the lower 7 GHz, or have yet to decide whether the band should be unlicensed at all. This will limit the global reach of the solution. Second, while indoor use of the 60 GHz band won’t encounter the same oxygen absorption and environmental interference challenges that outdoor use faces, the interior dividing walls are likely to pose a serious obstacle in some deployments. The high-gain beamforming arrays on 60 GHz may allow penetration through the drywalls (plasterboard) that are commonplace in many modern office spaces in the United States, but older buildings with concrete/brick walls, which are still typical in Europe, may not be so amiable. Exactly which materials WaveTunnel will be able to penetrate are not yet clear, as there are not many public trials/deployments available for reference, but it might mean that in challenging environments, additional WaveTunnel nodes are required to circumnavigate impenetrable objects, adding to the cost and complexity of deployments. And finally, the fact that the band is unlicensed opens it up to potential interference from neighboring networks. This applies also to condensed office blocks where multiple levels could be using WaveTunnel simultaneously. While the limited propagation and wide spectrum availability of 60 GHz will likely mean interference is unlikely in practice, the mere potential may lead organizations to err on the side of caution and decide to stick with tried and tested cable for its reliability.