Wireless Broadband in the Windy City

By Eric Griffith

April 12, 2004

TowerStream primes the pump for eventual WiMax deployments using proprietary technologies that will power the Internet connections of metro businesses.

Last week, TowerStream of Middletown, R.I., announced that it was putting its broadband wireless solution into service in Chicago, the fourth major metro area to get it after Boston, New York, and Providence/Newport. The company trumpeted its membership in the WiMax Forum at the same time. But the Chicago service -- centered on a point of presence (POP) of the 1,100-foot Aon Center -- while referred to sometimes as "pre-standard WiMax," isn't WiMax based at all.

Jeff Thompson, COO and co-founder, admits the service is not upgradeable to WiMax, though they plan to offer a WiMax based overlay when it's available.

"If you look at the first [WiMax] gear, it won't be much different from our current performance... it has the WiMax features," says Thompson.

WiMax, or 802.16 when it's ratified, is supposed to provide up to 30 miles range and data rates up to 70Mbps.

The opportunity for 802.16 equipment is forecast to reach a value of approximately $1 billion in 2008 with growth accelerating late in the period, according to Visant Strategies.

The TowerStream Chicago POP is non-line-of-sight and point-to-multipoint; it will connect to businesses within a 10 mile radius. The company is using equipment from Aperto and Alverion running in the unlicensed 5GHz radio spectrum. Both hardware suppliers are also members of the WiMax Forum industry group.

TowerStream offers a "Rapid Installation Program" to get people up and running with broadband in less than 48 hours. Users get a 8x8x1-inch panel to hang on a building or in a window. It connects to the customer's network via 10/100 Ethernet. The subscriber unit is $750 and pricing per month starts at $500 for 1.5Mbps traffic in both directions. Thomson says the service also has what they call "five-by-five" -- the speed can reach as high as 5Mbps using "best effort traffic flow."

The company offers bandwidth in options labeled T1, T2, and 100Mbps -- the later is $5000, point-to-point only, and unlike the five-by-five offering requires line-of-sight.

"Its hard to do non-line-of-sight," says Thomson, " but we have a New York City customer that is 3.5 miles out, the customer looks at the GE Building on one side and behind it is the Empire State Building -- they're stuck in a bowl. But its been running [our service] for five months now and never dropped a packet."

TowerStream is looking to open up at least two more metropolitan area markets in the next 12 months. Chicago only has one POP right now, but TowerStream could add more there -- it has a total of 8 POPs in the Boston area.



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