BANC on Non-Interference - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

February 26, 2004

Then there are specific protocols that must be followed. Operators will scan spectrum first before attempting to use it. They will advise other operators by e-mail of any planned tests, and they will also send warnings when they are attempting to correct interference problems.

"I'm an operator and I see some interference, so I look around and I see another channel I could move to, so I move to that sector and move all the subscribers over -- but guess what? That now interferes with another operator," Barnes says. "You get this domino effect."

BANC, which is maintained through occasional meetings and regular communication among service provider engineers via e-mail, is working. NextWeb can't provide statistics yet, but Barnes says the anecdotal evidence is convincing.

"I'm certainly seeing a lot more confidence and a lot less panics in the engineering area," he says. "I'm seeing things being handled more quietly and more quickly. [Interference situations] aren't getting escalated to me [anymore] so I don't hear about these things."

Companies that manage the rooftops where service providers place their antennas are also pleased because they're less apt to be stuck in the middle of disputes. They often host more than one WISP on a rooftop, which naturally increases the chances for interference.

The first BANC group is for the Bay area only, but NextWeb hopes to establish similar groups in all its markets within the next six months. Orange County will be next. It is also urging service providers in markets where it isn't operating to do the same thing.

"We're saying, 'We've done this in our area and it works. Here's how to go about it -- now how about it?' It's not that they have to come to NextWeb or anything. We're just evangelizing the concept," Barnes says.

Members of the Bay area BANC group had strong motivation for solving the interference problems. Others probably have the same incentives.

"We're seeing customers who are less and less tolerant of poor performance," Barnes says. "They want to get what they paid for. We conditioned them to expect a high quality of service, now we have to keep delivering it."

Observers outside the industry might wonder at a bunch of competitors agreeing to consult on operations, but BANC members understand that other wireless service providers are not the enemy, says Barnes. Wireline service providers are the real competition in the small-medium enterprise (SME) market most are targeting.

"Ninety-nine percent of those [SME] circuits are provided now by phone [and cable] companies," Barnes notes. "If I'm fighting with other wireless providers for one percent of market share, we're all going to have problems."

The situation may not be quite the same for Wi-Fi hotspot operators, who are more likely to be competing head to head, but it will still make sense to cooperate for exactly the reasons the BANC members identified.

"Even if we do view each other as competitors sometimes," Barnes says. "The whole interference thing is so important because it can be disruptive to your revenue stream. We have to put aside our differences."

Avoiding interference is vital to delivering a predictable level of service which in turn is important for maintaining customer confidence and -- perhaps even more important to the industry as a whole -- investor confidence in wireless as a viable alternative to wireline, Barnes says.

All of this holds true -- in spades -- in the Wi-Fi world as well.

Wi-Fi operators, unless they use other frequencies as well, are not potential interferers for the BANC group -- even if they deploy 802.11a technology. 802.11a systems operate lower in the 5GHz band.

However, as NextWeb vice president of marketing and business development David Williams points out, some WISPs are now deploying Wi-Fi for wide area networks. They are sure to encounter the same kinds of problems as the 5.7GHz players.

"The same principles we've built into our frequency management protocols would definitely apply to those operators as well," Williams says.

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