A few days ago, fixed wireless service provider, TowerStream, announced that it was beta testing a VoIP service which would allow consumers to make VoIP calls using the WiFi hotspots. I was a little confused? What was the big deal – since there are a ton of hotspots which already do that. I wasn’t sure how it fit into the Tower Stream game plan as well since the company offers a T-1 replacement or back haul services.
So I called Jeff Thompson, one of the co-founders of the company. After some prodding I got to the good stuff: TowerStream has built a WiFi mesh-network in Rhode Island and wants to replicate that in New York City. By doing so, the company will turn NYC into a hot zone, and basically use its fixed wireless network to backhaul all the VoIP traffic. Given that TowerStream has used Cisco gear in the past, I won’t be surprised if that was the company selling them WiFi gear. On the other hand, Tropos is doing really well in the mesh networking business! Hmm!
Thompson told me that the key was that they are testing the service with all VoIP consumer packages – Vonage, Skype, Broadvoice and everyone else to ensure that the network can handle a lot of simultaneous calls. I am assuming Vonage handsets could come pre-configured for working with preset hotzones like the one TowerStream plans to build in NYC. Couple of notable points here:
1. The cost of mesh networks have fallen to such levels that even backhaul operators can install them and start offering services.
2. Despite the hype around WiMAX and its last mile potential, Tower Stream experiment shows that in the end it might be simply cheaper to marry Fixed Wireless/WiMAX backhaul with WiFi in the last mile.
3. The prices of wifi gear are falling so fast, and the chipsets are showing up in all sorts of devices that one doesn’t need to worry about adoption. I bet Intel won’t like that because they want to sell WiMAX last mile chipsets.