Wireless Plan to Bring 1 Gbps to Homes - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

June 22, 2006

The Sandoval County project was made for him. The county takes in parts of Rio Rancho—the fastest growing city in America, according to Forbes magazine, and site of one of Intel's biggest plants—but most of its 3,700 square miles is rural. Sandoval is almost the size of Connecticut and more than twice the size of Delaware, but has a population of only 100,000. It encompasses seven native American Pueblos, three Navajo chapters and part of an Apache reservation. In fact, only about 16 percent of the land is privately owned.

This is digital divide country. One of the remote pueblos finally got T-1 service last year but the service was abominably unreliable and cost $800 a month. "So we come in there and ask them, 'How would you like 30 megabits?'" Hendricks relates. "They were struck dumb."

The broadband project was initiated by the county government, perhaps after watching the launch of Rio Rancho's pioneering city-wide Wi-Fi network. "The phone company of record there is Qwest," Hendricks says. "And it's not making any investment [in rural communities]. So the county decided that for economic development reasons, it needed to take its telecom future into its own hands."

Sandoval County first hired AQV Inc., a consulting firm from Salt Lake City, Utah, to do a feasibility study. AQV brought Hendricks in to help with the wireless side because the county had already decided its state-of-the-art, big-pipe network would have to be all wireless.

The feasibility study said a carrier-grade network could be built for a little over $9 million. It recommended the county adopt an open access model in which commercial ISPs could get access to the network and distribute service to end customers. And it recommended Sandoval form a public-private company to manage the network. The county formed Olla Grande Company last year.

Dandin won the contract to build the network, without going through a conventional RFP process. It recently completed the first pilot phase of the project, which involved extending a 100 Mbps wireless backbone from the county seat in Albuquerque to the small communities of Jemez Pueblo and Cuba to the north.

It connects to the internet via the national LambdaRail network, a national fiber network for research and—according to Hendricks—commercial applications, which will eventually have a capacity of 400 gigabits per second. Yes, that's gigabits. It touches down at the University of New Mexico, a member of the LambdaRail project thanks to special funding from the state. The availability of the LambdaRail connection is another unique and crucial aspect of the project, he says.

The wireless backbone from Albuquerque is built with point-to-point 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi links, using equipment Dandin builds itself from component parts. The key component is the CM-9 mini PCI 11a/b/g radio from Taiwan-based Wistron NeWeb Corp. The base stations also include a single-board computer, antennas, and a weather-proof enclosure.

The ability to build low-cost base stations using component parts is central to Hendricks' strategy—and to his contention that ubiquitous Wi-Fi is both possible and affordable. Costs are coming down, while capabilities continue to improve. The CM-9 was priced at $60 in quantities of one when the Sandoval project began last year; it's already down to $40, he points out. The total cost per base station is about $300. "Compare that to other options," Hendricks says.

Each point-to-point link—at least in the New Mexican terrain—can stretch up to 30 miles with a two-foot dish. This is the technology that the FCC still considers to have a range of only 300 feet, he notes.

Hendricks looked at commercially-made wide area Wi-Fi products, including those from SkyPilot Networks and Tropos Networks. "Their stuff is crap—for our purposes," he says with characteristic candor.

The first priority for the Sandoval project is to get broadband out to the native communities and schools and healthcare facilities outside Rio Rancho. Schools and hospitals get access for free. Other government departments have to pay. IsFaster Networks has signed on as the first commercial ISP on the network. It will provide service to the county government.

"The way it works is that all the native communities are sovereign land," Hendricks explains. "So we'll bring the backbone out to some agreed demarc[ation point], then say, 'You can do whatever you want with it from here.'"

The first community, Jemez Pueblo, already had a Wi-Fi distribution plan in place, but no way to implement it with only an $800-a-month T-1 backbone. Now it will distribute broadband throughout the community. Before long, residential customers in a remote corner of New Mexico will have more bandwidth coming into their homes than the average city-dweller with cable or DSL service.

That, says Hendricks, is the promise—and the threat—of the Wi-Fi revolution that is about to descend on an unsuspecting telecom industry. Don't believe him? Consider this.

"If three years ago I said all major cities [in the U.S.] would eventually be covered by a Wi-Fi cloud, you'd have put me in a nut house," he says. "But three years later, here we are. It's hard to find a major city today that doesn't have a [municipal Wi-Fi] project in play."

Believe it.

This story courtesy of ISP-Planet.

Pages: 1 2

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.