Big, Sunny Side Up Wireless - Page 2

By Alex Goldman

April 13, 2004

Thayne naturally won't say how many customers have signed up so far, but will say that the growth in customer acquisition is running at about 15 percent per month, month over month.

They pay $199 for the first month of service, hardware, and installation -- though Thayne says customers could eventually do their own installations. They pay $39.95 a month after that.

For now, customers get "a T-1 connection to their home basically." But when the backbone network is complete and all customers are on 11a or 11g customer premises equipment (CPE), they will get a share of the full 45 Mbps of the nearest DS-3.

The service, Thayne says, is for anybody and everybody. "It doesn't matter if it's business or home. If they bought it at home, they could use it at work. They can basically use it for any application anywhere."

There are other WISPs in Utah and the other markets he's entering, he concedes, but none are a serious threat.

"They're all really small companies. There are only a couple of any size at all. They don't have any backbone network -- they're just buying circuits from anybody -- and they're mostly using MAC address authentication."

The only real competition, he says, is communications giant Comcast Corp., and it can't match the performance of the Heritage network or provide the kind of portability Heritage offers.

But will it work?

The blanket coverage and portability benefits are similar to what service providers implementing NextNet Wireless Inc.'s 3G-based wireless technology are touting. Those service providers, however, are using licensed spectrum and insist that licensed spectrum is essential to ensure reliability and security.

Thayne dismisses this notion. His wireless network will be one of the most secure anywhere, he claims. Heritage puts an SSL certificate on each end user device. It is using the TTLS (Tunneled Transport Layer Security) EAP-type for encryption, and also 128-bit WEP.

When we ask about the robustness of a wide area network based on Wi-Fi compared to what NextNet's technology can provide, Thayne will only say, "We're pretty solid all through, we've got our own backbone. Our technology is good."

Interviewing David Thayne generates almost as many questions as answers. We're still not clear on how you come up with $200 million in capital to complete such a large project simply by selling license rights to a largely unbuilt network and raising "a little" capital on the money markets.

Also, how many dead spots are there likely to be in a Wi-Fi network with access points placed at intervals of a mile in urban areas? How many homes and businesses in the supposed coverage area will actually be able to get a connection without mounting a roof antenna?

Time will tell if Heritage and Thayne are for real. If they are, if they have or can get the money and actually build the network, there remain a bunch of other questions.

The big one is, will enough customers be willing to buy service from a start-up using such radical technology and business strategies for Heritage to recoup its investment? Thayne clearly thinks they will. He's appealing to a particular kind of customer.

"A lot of people are tired of the telcos and being stuck with them," he says. "That's what our network is all about, about being independent, about being a little bit pulled away from the mainstream, and being able to create your own destiny in terms of telecom."

Manifest destiny? We'll wait and see.

Reprinted from ISP Planet.

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