Small Towns Home-Growing Broadband for Data, Net, VOIP

 
 
By Ellen Muraskin  |  Posted 2004-11-17
 
 
 

Small Towns Home-Growing Broadband for Data, Net, VOIP


The race is heating up between telcos and cable operators to wire up broadband customers, providing "triple play" service of voice, data and video on demand. This competition story, whose Nov. 16 installment features SBC and Comcast, is being played out in thickly populated residential and commercial centers.

Further from the metro hubs, rural counties and cities are looking to their own resources and government initiatives to fund broadband buildouts for data and voice. A recent "research advisory" from the Yankee Groups Lindsay Schroth, "Wireless Broadband Finds a Home in the Country," examines this trend, its success factors and issues.

Rural broadband initiatives typically start by linking up a towns own facilities: schools, police stations, hospitals, libraries, water plants and the like, says the advisory. "Often, after theyve built up the network, theyll start to act as a wholesale provider for ISPs to come into the region and bring services to businesses and consumers," said Schroth in an interview. "Theres often fiber backbone, created by utilities. They find ways to leverage that, or leverage water towers, other infrastructure."

Small-town broadband solutions are now a mixture of fiber and what Schroth calls "pre-WiMax" transport: a fixed-wireless, pre-standardized point-to-multipoint technology between base stations and outdoor-mounted transceivers.

"Typically, the municipality will have some idea of where to apply for grants for building out broadband networks. There are different initiatives in each of the states," said Schroth. ROI periods are generally longer than those required of enterprises. Information on municipalities currently building out networks is available at www.muniwireless.com.

Schroth reports that Yankee Group has seen a lot of municipalities considering Wi-Fi and mesh networking—a technology that creates coverage by routing traffic from one access point to another, instead of point-to-multipoint. "We dont think that will wind up being the technology of choice for them, because this is built as a local area net technology, not wide area," she said. "You need a lot of access points The mesh networks weve seen deployed wind up an operational nightmare, especially for a municipality, which doesnt have a lot of expertise."

Schroths advisory also recommends that rural municipalities develop coalitions among the government and business consumers before launching the service.

The Yankee Group document pays particular attention to Allegany County, Md., where its AllCoNet project created a high-capacity microwave wireless SONET ring connecting large public facilities over unlicensed spectrum. The town was able to put its own water towers, high school, bell tower and airport towers to use in mounting base stations. A second phase scaled the ring to 622M bps, over 400 T-1 lines, and was opened to commercial ISPs at a low fee.

Next Page: N.Y., Connecticut projects.

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The city of Ithaca in upstate New York is currently rolling out a broadband solution as part of a franchise agreement signed with Time Warner Cable. According to Alan Karasin, senior network administrator for Ithaca, it will be used exclusively for city departments and employees, first for data and then for videoconferencing, VOIP and e-government applications. Karasin met this reporter at a VoiceCON road show in September, listening to the pitches of IP telephony vendors.

And Manchester, Conn., across the Connecticut River from Hartford, has a fiber-optic network partly funded out of state initiatives, and partly out of the savings it realized from the elimination of T-1s connecting buildings individually. The town used the "Municipal Gain" law in Connecticut to help win the rights to string the network across utility poles back in 2000. Jack McCoy, CIO for Manchesters IS department, explained that to that point the law had never been used for telecommunications. Having connected its downtown middle school, the city was sued by then local Bell operating company SNET. "We went through public utility control hearings and won the case, and then put out a spec to do the rest of the city," said McCoy, seen at the Voice-on-the-Net exhibit hall in Boston in October.

A partnership with downtown merchants extended that fiber-optic network, with its Internet access, to a free, Main Street Wi-Fi network. "The merchants bought inexpensive access points, which we modified, and connected those back to the middle school on one end of Main Street and a library on the other."

"It was an economic development initiative," said McCoy. "Main Street in Manchester, like Main Streets across the nation, has been adversely affected by the rise of malls. This was an effort to get people to come down, have coffee and use the local restaurants."

Manchester has now published a bid spec for an IP telephony system or hosted service; McCoy reported that a surprising 30 vendors attended a bidders conference. Final responses to the RFP are due in the next two weeks. "Our specs range from the standard IP telephony dominant vendors, like Cisco, Avaya and Nortel, to the open-source world. Were looking for standards, versus a proprietary solution. The third type is either of the first two in a hosted scenario. Id like to hear from all three categories," said McCoy.

eWEEK.com VOIP & Telephony Center Editor Ellen Muraskin can be reached at Ellen_Muraskin@ziffdavis.com.

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