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Chapter 53: It’s time to Point-to-Point out a few things

Over the last few months, it’s become painfully evident that the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people has morphed into government gives us the business, is run by business, and is there to serve business.

The real power lies with the geriatric leaders of the House and Senate who listened to Cecil and Beanie live during the golden age of radio. They usually do what they are told by the special interest groups that keep them in office (the average age of the leadership of the House and Senate is 72 years old, so some of those relationships have been around a long, long time). These are the people who support this clueless ideologue of a President (I’ve been asked to take it easy on Obama here because after all, this is his first real job, so consider this me being nice), who has now corrupted what can only be described as a politically dysfunctional agency, the FCC. Yes, the same FCC run by T-Tommy Wheeler, who must be really proud of his accomplishments so far and who has now taken feckless to another level and allowed his agency to become as bad as the House and the Senate. There is no doubt that after T-Tommy (see previous article to understand his nickname) spent his entire tenure trying to thread the needle between special interests that own the current administration and his lobbying business clientele, he was completely undermined by the President.

Obama’s ultimate goal is control of the Internet by the government and a few large companies that have close ties to the government, plus higher taxes and the suppression of innovative technologies and ideas. Basically, every time the government imposes new taxes or new regulations, industries hunker down and then spend time trying to work around whatever damage the government has done to that industry. The only people who really know are the lobbyists that helped draft the legislation (GE is the master of this technique, they paid fewer taxes than the kid who mows my lawn). I used to be able to figure out what the government was up to by just following the money, but nowadays my head hurts just thinking about it. Although the players are now evident — Google, Amazon, NetFlix, and Apple — their purchase of influence may be unethical but it’s legal and understandable. At this point though, between a self-serving FCC Director/ex-lobbyist and a President with the economic acumen of Paul Krugman combined with the political negotiating abilities of Attila the Hun (really, I’m still being nice considering what I wrote the first time that my wife made me take out), this is just a disaster in waiting for the American taxpayer.

Obama’s latest move with Title II includes allowing cities and counties, the same entities that threw up all the regulatory road blocks and created monopolistic infrastructures though political favoritism, to install their own broadband networks. Basically they make it prohibitively expensive and even create anti-competitive environments, so they have an excuse to use taxpayer money to compete with companies to further destroy the free-market system. Of course, private companies would get millions of dollars to install it through their normal process of semi-rigged bidding systems. The FCC just had Dish Network cheat them out of $3B dollars in the most recent auction for AWS-3 spectrum, so forgive me if I’m cynical that this process is going to be ethical or efficient.

Unfortunately, the WISP industry in the US, both manufacturers and Service Providers, is now spending a boatload of money, wasting a lot of engineering talent, and getting a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do next. When the rules are changed in the middle of the game because some bureaucrat had his feelings hurt from some minor rule infraction, the industry shouldn’t be destroyed over it. Innovation in the WISP industry slowed down significantly in 2014 because of the implementation of rule changes without any feedback or what looks like any intelligent thought as to the ramifications. Further edicts in the beginning of 2015 by the POTUS have now sown even more uncertainty in the industry. That would be the same industry that has shown innovation and an ability to connect America anywhere, anytime at prices that would make fiber supporters cry like Seahawk fans.

Personally, I’m pretty tired of all of it. I haven’t been in this industry as long as many others, but I did have the experience of seeing how a disruptive concept can be successfully implemented and how it changed the landscape. Another thing I’ve seen is that even with all the roadblocks that government keeps putting in the way of new business, the idea of the American Dream hasn’t stopped the real drivers behind the economy. Although it’s important that our industry keep fighting for some semblance of common sense and integrity with the FCC and whoever is pulling Obama’s and Wheeler’s strings, it’s also not as important as losing focus on the next wave of wireless technologies and capabilities. Therefore, I’ve decided that even though I’ll watch what the FCC does in case I need to change my future plans, I’m not going to waste my breath or any more articles on ideologues, corrupt and unethical politicians (see, I didn’t even mention Obama in this sentence), and bought-and-paid-for appointed bureaucrats (slot in T-Tommy here). These people simply don’t have the right to be mentioned in the same breath as hard-working Americans, entrepreneurs, or honest taxpayers that pay for the government. And I’m pretty sure that no matter how inept they are, they aren’t going to stop the WISP industry’s efforts to compete in the broadband industry. They simply can’t conceive that there are people in this country that can do things without government intervention and have a work ethic that exceeds their political ideologies and the actual importance of the job.

Getting back to the technical stuff again, it’s time to start re-evaluating the RF environment that the FCC has created (or damaged depending on how you look at it). The first problem is that the traditional rural model has been the most affected by this change. The question is, how do rural providers get around this problem within the realm of the limits of physics and legal power issues? The answer is the same one that we have used in urban areas, but not the one the industry is jumping at as a technical solution. At the same time, rural operators are willing to either walk away from some customers or are willing to accept reduced bandwidth options due to the physics of getting signal through trees or long distances which I don’t see as an acceptable solution. I personally don’t find walking away from customers a viable alternative because if they aren’t your customers, they will be someone else’s.

I know my suggestion isn’t the most popular and clearly doesn’t work in every situation, but it’s very possible that the best answer is simply a relayed (point-to-point) PTP-PTP-PTP-PTP and so on system (we’ve done 5 hops and are planning longer). The FCC changes the rules, we have to change the way we think and although this is a repeat, I believe it’s now even more important to reconsider. We all know how to build this type of system. Moreover, equipment failures are now less frequent. Other than having to make a lot of new friends and approaching complete strangers to ask to borrow their roof for a few years, it’s a completely viable technology. Face it, users in the middle of nowhere need more capacity and this model can fill in some holes. In addition, 802.11n radios from Ubiquiti and Cambium that cost less than $100 can hit 120+Mbps with line-of-sight (LOS). The speed, distance, quality mantra applies here and if you can move radios closer, it’s much better.

I know that most rural areas are usually connected by towers, but the equipment has changed since the early days of Canopy, at least to everyone using Cambium ePMP or Ubiquiti radios. 100Mbps to 400Mbps+ PTP connections can be made for less than $200-$400. If you need a router or NEMA box, that might add $100-$150 more. That means a house that can be a relay point to get around trees or hills really only costs $100-$250 more than not needing a relay point. We always mount the NEMA box on the outer wall and put everything in there. With all the spectrum available, especially in rural areas, this model can hook up a lot of houses that don’t need to see a tower and minimize the amount of vegetation that needs to be penetrated.

The only problem with this idea is that you might have to provide the owner of the house with some type of discount. In some areas, we give them free Internet. If we are giving away free Internet, then we expect to connect to several more clients than we could before. In other locations, we simply give them a free indoor router and priority service. If it’s a rural area and we are the only game in town, then our contract states that for us to provide Internet service, that user must allow the house to be a relay point if necessary. I’m fully aware that many of you think of houses as a pain in the rear and unprofessional since they aren’t anywhere nearly as reliable as a tower. For example, what happens if a user turns off the electricity, moves, or someone disconnects the equipment? We have clauses that say that users are required to provide electricity, 24-hour access, etc., and we have all equipment outside the house. Users that are relayed through those locations are also notified that their SLA agreement is different because we may not have control of a user relay point that can take us offline.

Over the past 7 years, we have had a couple of incidents where we had to move the equipment but ended up with no downtime (except for the apparently really hungry psycho rabbit that must have mistaken the cable for a Twizzler). In most cases though, when we sign a contract, we scout multiple locations that we can relay from just in case we have to move something. I suspect in many rural areas, there may be only one path. Negotiations with homeowners should include discussions about how long they plan on being in the residence, possible credit check to establish stability even though you may not be charging them, and if they are renters or owners (yes, that should be first, we got fooled on that once). And although we haven’t done it yet, we are currently looking at using the houses to create redundant loop or pseudo mesh on the backhauls. It only adds $100 per backhaul house since routers are really cheap nowadays.

If you don’t think this is a great idea, consider this. Mimosa is still working diligently to get more spectrum up at 10GHz. If that happens, vegetation and distance are going to be twice as difficult as 5GHz. However, it’s also opens up a boatload of spectrum we greatly need and if making it work means getting closer to the clients, this is one way to do it. Yes, Ham Operators are going to be up in arms over losing some spectrum or at least be unhappy in sharing it but in reality, it’s barely being used. Considering that this country is about 3.8M square miles, many ways can be found to make it work where most people will be happy, except possibly the AARL (that should get me a lot of email).

With the reduction in power by the FCC in 5.8GHz, this may be the only way to reach many houses, or at least reach them with any level of capacity. We have great technologies coming out like LTE and White Space, but they just don’t have the spectrum to meet future needs of the video streaming community, at least not yet (another way to block WISPS from competing with the cellular companies). Then consider that the cost of tower deployments for these products may exceed $10K. Don’t get me wrong, these products are absolutely needed in many areas and may be the only choice. However, using 802.11 equipment to relay shorter distances at higher speeds, especially through vegetative environments, also looks like a pretty good option. I’ve used this technique for many years and with new low-cost 802.11ac radios from Ubiquiti and Mimosa coming to market, it means that moving hundreds of Mbps for very little cost is going to become another tool in the toolbox.

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