Wireless to the Rescue? 1

Where I see the broadband glass as half empty, Steve Stroh sees it as half full. He’s convinced license-exempt wireless networks will route around whatever damage the telcos and cablecos impose by blocking and metering applications.

Steve is right that wireless, in particular unlicensed wireless, is the last, best, hope for a truly competitive broadband Internet. And he’s right that technology is no longer the critical gating factor.

I’m still worried, though, because I don’t see anyone in a position to deploy unlicensed wireless broadband at a large enough scale to dent the incumbents’ efforts to bend the Net to their will.

Who is going to deploy unlicensed wireless broadband in a big way?

The independent WISPs concentrate, as they should, on the low-hanging fruit of smaller markets and business services. Earthlink will make a valiant effort, but it doesn’t have the resources to go toe-to-toe with the incumbents across the country. Clearwire is blocking VOIP ports itself. Sprint/Nextel, which has a huge block of 2.5 GHz spectrum, is partnering with cable operators to be their wireless play. As of Monday, AT&T and MCI are gone. That leaves AOL, running away from the access business as fast as a dysfunctional conglomerate can, and some intriguing yet orthoganal players (Google, Current Technologies, Level 3). Intel is throwing money into the wireless broadband space (at least, the WiMax part of it) with reckless abandon, but it has no interest in becoming a service provider.

I hope Steve is right. I fear that he’s right about the technology but wrong about the market.

One comment on “Wireless to the Rescue?

  1. DO IT 3D-Croquet Dec 9,2005 12:52 am

    Re: Who is in a position to deploy unlicensed wireless broadband at a large enough scale to dent the incumbents’ efforts to bend the Net to their will?

    Well, relative to:

    1) Doug Engelbart’s article “Dreaming of the Future” (CIRCA 1995)

    2) Alan Kay’s view point: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”, and

    3) Nov. 8, 2005 – Vint Cerf speaks out on net neutrality [to Chairman Barton and Ranking Member Dingell, Committee on Energy and Commerce]

    I believe a winning combination of inventors are Patrick Nunally at Nethercomm.com, John McCorkle at Freescale.com, Vint Cerf, Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google.com.


    * May 22, 2005 – Launches Plan to Provide Video, Phone and Data Using Broadband-in-Gas

    “Broadband-in-Gas, using radar type signals, is transmitted “through” the natural gas distribution infrastructure, not only creating a new primary pathway for broadband delivery of content and services but enabling a “previously unobtainable level of connectivity”, a delivery method and connectivity unmatched today:


    – Broadband-in-Gas, (making use of the full spectrum without FCC restrictions of power or external noise) end-users of BiG can expect to receive up to 100+ Mbps

    – Fiber-to-the-Home, end-users receive 19.2 Mbps

    – DSL, end-users receive 1.0 Mbps

    – Cable, end-user receive 1.5 Mbps”


    * Nethercomm’s proof of principle and initial reference design supporting our three part licensing business model will be based on the Freescale XS110 solution. The initial solution will be based on direct sequence ultra-wideband (DS-UWB) and the IEEE® 802.15.3 media access control (MAC) protocol. The Freescale devices as delivered will support more than 110 Mbps data transfer rate supporting applications such as streaming video, streaming audio, and high-rate data transfer.


    Download the PowerPoint presentation based on the following executive summary of the value proposition.

    “Nethercomm’s primary goal is to provide exceptional broadband services centered on the “triple play” of television, phone connectivity and high-speed Internet services. Nethercomm’s Broadband-in-Gas technology makes a market for the natural gas industry as well as enables the market for fiber network operators. Nethercomm delivers these opportunities by providing a bridge between existing fiber and network operators to deliver all of these services to consumers, as well as, enable a new class of services under an entirely new set of materially lower economics. Broadband, in a large-scale sense, has hit a roadblock. For the most part, delivery of high speed Internet using current technology is restricted to certain areas and distances in the United States and other countries. For broadband to truly immerse in the world of tomorrow, it will need to evolve into something that Nethercomm can share with all users, far and wide. When it comes down to it, the winner will be defined as the first technology that can adequately deliver speedy, cost-effective, and easily accessible broadband. The race is on – and the race will be won with Broadband-in-Gas (BiG) technology leading the way.”


    * “Broadband-in-Gas Market Trends 2005-2010; an Assessment of New Revenue Opportunities in “Last Mile” Broadband Delivery Markets” published November 2005

    * Gas pipe broadband?

    “If transmitting broadband through natural-gas pipes works as Nethercomm’s execs think it can, it could have a major impact on the broadband access market. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and changes in the Federal Communications Commission classification of DSL has made it more difficult for independent service providers to use existing cable or phone infrastructure to reach broadband customers.

    What’s more, the old copper infrastructure that is currently used to deliver DSL service doesn’t have enough capacity to support new applications like high-definition television service. While phone companies like SBC Communications and Verizon Communications have already begun spending billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to provide more capacity, technology that uses existing pipes into people’s homes could augment these new networks. Natural-gas piping could be a good solution to the problem. It already serves more than 70 percent of households and well over 35 percent of businesses in the United States, according to West Technology Research Solutions, an independent market research firm. Because the lines are underground, more powerful transmitters can be used, which ramps up bandwidth to 100mbps for every household.

    Delivering broadband through gas pipes could be much cheaper than technology available today, according to a recent study by West Technology Research Solutions. The analyst firm estimates it would cost a phone company about $500 per customer to deploy broadband in gas pipes. Deploying DSL over its existing copper infrastructure costs about $1,000 per customer. Fiber to the home is even more expensive, costing about $2,000 per customer.

    Nunally estimates a deployment for a city of a million homes would cost $2 million.”

    * Imagine accessing the Internet over the same pipe that provides you with natural gas for cooking.

    Google is also looking into citywide Wi-Fi in Moutain View and San Francisco, and it’s invested in a a broadband-over-power-line service provider called Current Communications Group.

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