ISPs Find Freedom in Fixed Wireless

One of the major promises of fixed wireless broadband is freedom - especially freedom from the phone company.

One of the major promises of fixed wireless broadband is freedom — especially freedom from the phone company.

"We want to get away from the local telephone company," says Noi Sawangsri, network administrator at ComBase Enterprises, a small, family-owned Internet service provider in the Tampa, Fla., suburb of Brandon. He says his company may go wireless within the next six months.

"Were not big enough to be a [competitive carrier] and buy our own lines. If we do wireless, we can get to where we can install it ourselves and be our own small telco, but not do telephone or voice, just data," Sawangsri says.

First, Sawangsri says, ComBase is trying to get zoning to put up a tower on property it owns. "We already have a fiber backbone. We have fiber running to our office, and we want to put a tower up behind there."

ComBase would use the wireless for its local loop for midsized and large business customers. The difficulty of getting Digital Subscriber Lines in many locations, and the cost of T1 (1.5-megabit-per-second) lines and other alternatives is driving the decision. "We have customers waiting for DSL," Sawangsri says. "They dont want to spend the money for a T1. They could afford T1 speeds on a DSL, but they cant get DSL, and a T1 would cost three times more."

Enter fixed wireless. "If we could get wireless here, we could lose the local phone company. We could do our own installation," he says. "With most of the equipment, you can send 11 Mbps up to 25 miles point-to-point, which is pretty far."

ComBase estimates that the initial costs are $10,000 to $15,000, Sawangsri says. "Were going to start small," he says. "With that, we can probably get a tower, equipment to put in a router and couple of wireless [local area networks]. We can get one or two [corporate] customers."

The urge to escape the clutches of the phone company seems to be almost universal among small and midsized Internet service providers (ISPs). Complaints about billing, service, reliability and unfair competition are rampant. With a wireless network, Sawangsri says, "we can go directly to the customer, and then to the Internet."

Today, he says, there is always the phone company between him and his customer. "We want to be able to deal directly with the customer. Now, I have to go through my stuff, then Verizon [Communications] stuff and then the customers stuff," he says. We have some customers that are down for five or six days, and we cant do anything about it."

Since many phone companies now offer their own Internet access, they can compete with independent ISPs — unfairly, some of the ISPs think.

"Since Verizon took over GTE, they changed the standards," Sawangsri says. "They offer some things only to their customers, not to our customers."

For instance, Verizons Internet customers dont have to pay for a modem, while a ComBase customer — using Verizons lines — does. A Verizon DSL customer pays a basic rate of $40 per month. But Verizon charges the ISPs $32.50 just for the line. The ISP cannot resell the service for $40 and make money in competition with Verizon, Sawangsri says.

"When we do the wireless, we want to go ahead and compete with that," Sawangsri says. "Then we can charge $40 for the same service."