WISP Equipment: You Can Get What You Need

By Alex Goldman

February 08, 2005

This WISP veteran has tested plenty of equipment. It has finally found an AP that can serve a large number of customers.

Founded in April of 2000, Frederick, Colo.-based Mesa Networks started providing service in October of that year. "We're 90 percent residential and about 10 percent business now," says Bill Fowler, CTO. Fowler is also the co-founder, along with CEO Todd Bergstrom.

The original intent, Fowler says, was to court business customers, but the company found an unexpected demand for residential service. "Every time we went to a business customer, they said they weren't interested but they'd like to get service at their house," he says.

Mesa originally used equipment from Adaptive Broadband, a company whose assets are now owned by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Axxcelera Broadband.

Equipment available four years ago just wasn't as good as what's around today. "We originally used Adaptive Broadband for business and various 802.11 solutions for residential, finally settling on Karlnet. We continue to use the Adaptive today in a limited deployment, and the performance is generally good except for sensitivity to interference. However, we desperately needed an upgrade for Karlnet as we scaled up in the residential market," Fowler notes.

"With 802.11, you eventually get a lot of packet loss due to 'hidden-node' collision effects and/or interference with other 802.11 networks. We tried some polling-type work-arounds to address the packet loss, but we found that the latency was so high that the cure was worse than the disease."

"By 2002, we felt we were against the wall," says Fowler. "We were running into scalability issues once we hit 20 or 30 customers on an access point (AP). [Motorola] Canopy came out, for us, just in the nick of time. First, it used time-division duplexing rather than 802.11, so performance is more consistent with higher numbers of subscribers. Second it was in the 5 GHz band instead of the increasingly overused 2.4 GHz. Third, the pricing was low enough for us to make a business case in the residential market."

Mesa was, Fowler says, one of the first customers, of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola's Canopy product, in the Spring of 2002. He says that, today, he has up to 150 customers on a single AP.

The change also provided better resistance to interference. "There was an increasing amount of ambient noise in the 2.4 GHz band due to all sorts of things, like home Wi-Fi networks, baby monitors, and cordless phones," says Fowler. Canopy, on the other hand, operates in the U-NII band, above 5 GHz.

Interference, both self interference and interference from other carriers remains a problem. Fowler says, however, that Canopy's better Carrier to Interference ratio (C/I ratio) helps.

He's also enthusiastic about Time Division Duplexing. "Time-division duplexing uses a frame that has specified time slots for sending and receiving. If you can synchronize these so all APs are sending together and then receiving together they won't be listening when another is sending and vice versa, which reduces interference. Canopy uses GPS to synchronize all cell sites in the network, not just APs within a cell site like some other vendors [but does not reduce interference with non-Canopy sites]."

Fast forward

Today, the company serves about 4,000 wireless subscribers and is adding about 150 each month, Fowler claims. The company is selling a variety of innovative services. It is partnering with a local peer to provide VoIP (in the near future). It is also reselling the DISH network and partnering with a local company that has contract installers.

For e-mail and similar services, Mesa partners with another company that's also a Mesa customer. "We focus on wireless and networking and outsource the rest," says Fowler. Steve Stroh would approve (see WISP Heresies).

With all of those customers, the backhaul is getting congested. "We're using 2.4 GHz for multipoint and 5.4 GHz for backhaul," says Fowler. He adds that the company is looking at 18 GHz, 23 GHz, and 29 GHz, and is interested in the new Orthogon gear (see Related articles, below).

The backhaul leads to buildings with metro Ethernet provided by San Francisco-based Yipes from the company's 50 tower sites. The company is looking at adding metro Ethernet sites, and also at adding new tower sites.

Fowler's got plenty to keep him occupied, but we nevertheless ask if he'll be deploying WiMAX. He replies, "it appears to be mostly hype, so we remain skeptical. And we're not sure the price/performance will be better than what's available now. Our understanding is that the initial deployments will be for licensed (i.e., MMDS) and that unlicensed won't be until 2007 or soso we aren't holding our breath."

Instead, he's focusing on building a contiguous coverage area, and examining market opportunities in nearby suburbs. Furthermore, he'd like to deploy more expensive business services at 3 Mbps to 10 Mbps speeds, and to provide T-1 backup service.

Reprinted from ISP Planet.

Originally published on .

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