At Freedom2Connect, it was clear that attendees preferred the idea of competition from WiFi and open spectrum to any legislation as a solution to threats against the Internet's net neutrality.
This made Ron Sege, CEO of Tropos Networks, a conference sponsor, a very popular fellow. He spoke to the group on the second day of the conference.
I am often asked why the Muni Tsunami, and why now?
I’ve been blessed to be in the muni WifF movement for two years now. I wasn’t a plitical activist, and wasn’t in the carrier business until Tropos. I spent most of my life at 3Com, in the enterprise business. It has been an eye opener.
The open first mile is under threat.
I have learned three things in the last 2 years:
- 1The movement is about the desire for a competitive first mile. A lot of mayors and city councillors share our frustration about the duopoly, the high prices and lousy service.
- Muni wireless is about the means for a competitive first mile. What has changed is that new technology like wireless mesh give us the means for an open, competitive first mile.
- It’s the confluence of the desire and means that are fueling the Muni Tsunami
Three things are getting in the way of progress:
- There’s a lot of disinformation about these networks, how well they work or don’t. The incumbents will try to pervert those facts to kill this movement.
- To the extent we can do anything in DC, we should promote pro-competitive legislation
- We need to encourage new entrants and funding sources in New York, where the money comes from.
I see many hundreds of cities of demand, and only 100 cities of funding sources.
It’s the critical mass of broadband and the predatory policies of incumbents on the negative side, the open standards and cheaper, easier to install radios on the positive side, and the breadth of applications that are the answer.
Some say by 2008 there will b e 500 million WiFi radios. They’ll be in 20% of he cell phones. Brett Glass may say they don’t work, but they will manage the interference and use frequencies better than ever before.
Once we prove this works in Philadelphia it will be attacked. This is not about access on a pole. Mesh is another standard on top of WiFi. It’s managed at carrier class, it deals with interference etc. etc.
The two things we’ve learned the software needs to do is create capacity and assure reliability. WiFi clients range in quality from OK to crap. One of the most important things a mesh can do is compensate for the spotty quality of WiFi radios.
WiFi is the first carrier class technology that isn’t 100% certified by the carrier equipment manufacturers. This means they vary in quality.
We spend a lot of time working on software that routes around interference and uses the bands as effectively as possible. We’ve got 75% of our engineering going into making the software reliable.
There are 2,000 users in Moorhead, Minnesota and half were active when this was taken. It shows the packet error rates associated with those clients. The pink line is 10% packet error rates – 85% are on at less than that, and 60% at less than 2%. That’s in a suburb of Fargo. Their throughput in that network was engineered to be 1-2 Mbps
At the end of the day we can deliver 15-20 Mbps of reliable capacity per square mile. That’s not fiber or coax, but it’s a lot more than EVDO, and is enough for an entry-level broadband offering.
Three guys in Chaska Minnesota (PDF Warning). built a WiFi network without engineering degrees that has 25% penetration against Qwest and cable.
Because it’s WiFi and TCP people invent new ways to use it. There’s Wifi to every police car in Oklahoma City. There’s video patrolling of high crime areas of New Orleans, which helped with post-Katrina recovery. We’re doing mobile trauma triage in Tucson, meter reading in Corpus Christi, a free network for 28,000 residens in St. Cloud, Florida. There’s voice running on a network in Rio Chance, NM, Chris will talk about the ad-funded model in Mountain View, California.
The customers install their networks and experiment with a bunch of innovative applications they couldn’t do in EVDO or fiber.
They’re experimenting with business models as well. There are many viable business models. I don’t know what the answer is. I think it will be a cofluence of ad-sponsored, subscriber-paid, municipal sponsored, private municipal, and multi-use.
The point is the customers all came up with these models on their own.
St. Cloud has 5 Mbps free against 700 Kbps for EVDO. They calculated $400,000 per ear was the bill for broadband access to BellSouth. That was cash going to Atlanta. Their view is if we can offer it for free we can keep some of that money to spend locally. It’s more dollars in the local economy as well as the attraction of free WiFi.
In December of 2003 we had 10 customers around the country. By 12/04 there were 125 total. And by December 2005 there were over 300 customers and 50,000 homes passed. There are 190 RFPs now out or anticiapted in 2006. Our expectation is we’ll go from 50,000 homes passed to 5 million homes passed in one year. This movement is indeed underway.
Three things slowing us down:
- Uninformed naysayers. Ivan Seidenberg is spreading a lot of misinformation and disinformation, calling WiFi “one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard of.” We’ve got to be united in getting the facts out.
- Anticompetitive regulation.Rep. Boucher talked about the anti-muni movement, Michael Calabrese talked about the need for more spectrum, and the thing that isn’t talked about is it sure would be nice to have better access to pole attachments. One of the biggest problems we and cell operators have is finding places to mount base stations. We are going to need very dense mounting assets as we get more customers. Congress made it easy for cable operators in the 1970s. They can do the same thing here.
- Lack of capital. We need new entrants to fund these networks. We have interest from Google, MSN, Yahoo and AOL, even from local newspapers and credit unions.