Mountains of Mesh Help One Ski Town - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

November 06, 2006

It wasn’t just that the MeshDynamics equipment provided the level of performance Hall wanted. He was also impressed by the company’s commitment to customer service. It provided training at its own facilities and then sent somebody to Red River to help with the installation, all at no charge. “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says.

Red River, in the middle of a national forest and hemmed in by mountains, is about three blocks wide and a mile and a half long. Those features were all network design issues. Although the total area to cover was relatively small, the network had to be stretched out with multi-hop connections at each end. The network today provides 90% coverage of the town. Hall has put omni-directional antennas at most nodes, six-inch dish antennas at some.

The effect of snow on RF propagation was another concern. The MeshDynamics system has now been in place over one winter and proved itself, Hall says. “We had much better throughput when it was snowing than I was expecting.”

Red River attracts year-round visitors, but summer and winter are the busy seasons. Fifteen thousand will likely swell the population over Christmas (in 2000, the census put the year-round population of Red River at 484).

Two years ago, town administrators approached Hall, who also operates a computer consulting firm. They wanted to find some way of giving visitors Internet access so they could “do business as if they were in the office.” Hall immediately began to research and experiment with mesh technology.

Enchanted Circle today offers four levels of service – 256 and 512 Kbps and 1 and 1.5 Mbps, all symmetrical. Some year-round residents take the full 1.5 Mbps service. He also allows monthly customers to bump up their service one or more levels for special projects, then revert to their regular package. Most visitors buy 256 or 512 Kbps service for an hour or five hours. All transactions are by credit card.

There are 60 to 70 monthly subscribers. This summer, the service was attracting “a couple of hundred” users a day, mostly day trippers paying about $5 each. In winter, people tend to stay and buy service for longer.

Enchanted Circle even has competition now. A company from Taos, where three providers scrap over a year-round population of just 7,000, has set up in Red River. Hall isn’t too worried, though. He points out that his competitor is using Motorola’s Canopy system, which means it has a higher cost structure.

Enchanted Circle was a good story for MeshDynamics, but it’s just the first of many, Henderson says. The company has about 50 customers. Most have been at the trial stage until fairly recently, but a few, including some quite large deployments in the 500-node range, are close to going public. MeshDynamics expects to announce another muni Wi-Fi customer with a 50-node network within a few weeks. Like Enchanted Circle, it’s ripping out another vendor’s equipment because it couldn’t deliver the required performance.

And there are other applications for which MeshDynamics is finding customers, including homeland security – video surveillance for buildings and along borders, for example. The company’s equipment performs well in any network situation that calls for multi-node hops, Henderson says. It is also finding interest among customers that want to be able to set up temporary networks for events or time-limited projects, and for networking large industrial sites such as mills.

“Muni deployments get the headlines,” Henderson says, “but right now, most of our sales activity is around other applications.”

The company is so far mostly self-funded, and currently isn’t actively seeking investors – although it expects to begin again in a few months when more customers have announced commercial deployments and it has a better story to tell. “We’ve taken much, much less money than our competitors,” Henderson notes. “In the order of 10%, probably. I think we’d be a great investment for somebody.”

Pages: 1 2

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