Computers & Tele-Comm, Inc. (CTC), a wireless Internet service provider owned by Graeme Gibson has provided high-end network services to enterprise businesses and government clients for years in Kansas City. And now it also delivers a gigabit. So while Google Fiber is busy reaching out to consumers, Gibson’s business is bring a gigabit to the corporate class.
The potential to deliver a gig wirelessly is probably news to most people except those in the fixed wireless industry. “By having 802.11n high-gain antennas mounted at key spots transmitting back to a stationary access point, it’s common to see speeds of 30 Mbps,” states Matt Larsen in a Gigabit Nation interview, President of Vistabeam, a wireless ISP (WISP) based in Gering, Neb. Last week his company completed a point-to-point network using one of the latest antenna technologies and unlicensed spectrum to get 750 Mbps speeds.
The secret of a reaching and exceeding 1 gigabit of wireless speed is a combination of planning, creativity and wireless technology. Gibson’s formula for success requires plenty of hard work, but it can be replicated in urban and rural areas.
CTC only provides services to relatively small numbers of business and government organizations, and the company only adds customers as CTC can afford to expand infrastructure. “Almost all of the large carriers deliberately over-subscribe their networks,” says Gibson, “And small providers such as WISPs with only a handful of staff don’t have the financial resources to expand their infrastructure, so they become oversubscribed trying to meet growing demand.”
Besides tightly managing customer acquisition, CTC spends considerable time on engineering design. The trick is to narrow the wireless path over which the data travels while shortening the distance between a radio transmitter linked to CTC’s fiber backhaul and the radio connected to a customer’s site. CTC prefers one customer per transmitter, and one hop for the data to travel from customer to the backhaul, but it may go up to four customers per transmitter depending on the speeds each customer wants.
Getting from here to a gig without wires
To evaluate the value of a gigabit delivered via fixed wireless, it’s important to understand how and why CTC followed the path it did.
Understand why communities need a gig. As a previous article concludes, “who needs a gig?” is a short-sighted question often reflects a lack of understanding of current needs and future possibilities. Communities must assess how much bandwidth users collectively need and at what times during the day, not whether one person needs a gig. “We have a number of users that require 100 Mbps, but we also have a few needing as much as 2 gigs,” states Gibson. “So we’ve built 10 gigs of capacity into the network. We also schedule and prioritize data flow based on customer needs and usage patterns.” By having its finger on the pulse of businesses’ needs CTC can best manage infrastructure upgrades and tweeks, as well as new customer acquisition.
Businesses have the lead role. The broadband industry heavily emphasizes residential subscribers. For example, progress is measured by “homes passed,” and offering TV services is considered essential to selling data services. Gibson, however, has found through Kansas City businesses’ use of super highspeed broadband has enables those businesses to better prosper and contribute to the local economy. He subsequently believes communities that want broadband to impact economic development should focus heavily on meeting businesses’ broadband needs.
Location affects network design. Network capacity and technology requirements for a business community can vary based on where that community is located. A 2011 national survey revealed that 25 percent of economic development professionals in rural, urban and suburban areas collectively believe 100 Mbps is the minimum speed required to make local businesses more profitable and thus improve local economies. 22 percent believe a gig is the minimum. However, data for rural respondents alone indicate that 34 percent believe 100 Mbps is the minimum required, and only 13 percent believe they need a gig. So perhaps investing in a gig for rural American can wait.
The role of the home is changing. Whereas the “average” home user may not need access to a 100 Mbps or even 50Mbps, both telecommuting and home-based businesses are increasing. This year’s survey takes a closer look at home-based businesses and how they may affect the big picture of business and broadband. For a provider serving a community that wants home-based businesses to have a greater economic impact, a strategy such as CTC’s of linking one transmitter to one business customer may need to be modified to one transmitter (point) to many customers (multi-point) in homes and businesses.
Countering the myth of slow wireless broadband
CTC, and other WISPs believe wireless’ costs makes it possible to build infrastructure for much less than fiber covering the same area. ECFiber, a community-owned nonprofit states their costs are $25,000 a mile in rural areas for aerially connecting 6 homes, whereas incumbents quote prices that can be twice as high. Putting fiber in the ground costs considerably more.
Fiber advocates counter that wireless might be cheaper and faster initially, but ultimately wireless cannot scale in overall speed much beyond 30 Mbps, and the number of customers it can support. Fiber may cost more and take longer to deploy, but it’s future proof.
Clearly access speed is less of a factor if networks such as CTC’s can deliver 10 gigs or more of network speed. Speed of deployment appears to run in wireless’ favor. How easily and inexpensively a WISP can obtain backhaul can change the equation. And even if a wireless network is overbuilt with fiber, customers get the option to have a gig of wireless as redundant backup. Of course, how many customers CTC or any WISP can serve with enough capacity to meet their needs while adding new customers is a gating factor.
Ultimately, communities have a lot of needs assessments to do, numbers to crunch and technology evolutions to track. However, WISPs and fixed wireless could earn a seat at the planning table in a lot more communities.