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October 29, 2005

More on Cable Advantages over Metro-Fi from Scratch

I wrote a few days ago about BelAir's introduction of mesh Wi-Fi designed to plug into existing cable television wiring systems: Jim Thompson has more. Jim has worked in the Wi-Fi space nearly since its introduction, building out networks for Wayport in the 90s, heading up engineering efforts at Vivato's Spokane office, and building open-source network projects. He currently runs NetGate from his hardship-duty in Hawaii.

He sent in these remarks on how cable + Wi-Fi benefits MSOs (Multiple Systems Operators), or cable companies that own a number of networks. I'll urge readers to remember that these are Thompson's opinions, but that I generally share

1. No spectrum costs. WiMax in unlicensed spectrum is a joke. (City-wide 'mesh' using 802.11 is a joke for similar reasons.)

2. No backhaul interference issues. Want to guess at the native data rates available in DOCSIS 2.0 [the current dominant cable Internet standard]? Around 30Mbps upstream, and just under 40 Mbps downstream. A nice match for 802.11g.

3. Cable MSOs could offer city-wide "hot spot" service, cleaning the clock of any incumbent ISP. They could start where this makes the most sense, and build out from there.

4. Cable companies already own rights to the poles and building entrances. MSOs don't have to re-negotiate with the municipality, they don't have to lay new cable.

As Thompson notes, cable companies already possess rights--they already have franchise agreements. They already pay cities and towns tax based on their revenue and for rights of way. The Broadband over Powerline (BPL) market hasn't taken off as predicted partly because electrical utilities aren't ISPs and the have to build out a variety of infrastructure that's not in place. By contrast, cable companies are virtually all ISPs: they can pop radios in and start offering service. No real estate issues, no back-haul spectrum issues, no startup costs in building out ISP infrastructure for account handling and bandwidth.


Jim has always had a very accurate perspective on the WiFi business. I also would trust his judgement.

Survey says - Wrong! At least on Long Island. The technological capability may be there now, but a little something called politics will enter the fray. On Long Island, half of the poles are owned by Verizon, half are owned by LIPA, one of those quasi-governmental authorities that New York State is infamous for. They are the electric utility here.

In speaking to the "third party attachment" group, LIPA permits fiber or copper to be hung from poles. When I asked them what about wireless networks, they flat out said no. So just because the MSO has it's assets in place, doesn't mean that they can automatically put up a wireless network, or that they should be allowed to automatically, if other third parties want to offer a similar service, but have been prevented from doing so in the past by less than forthright concerns.

[Editor's note: This may be atypical. In reading about installations around the country, and some closer-by ones I know about, cable franchisees have been given some pretty broad rights in exchange for their franchise fees. Sounds like this could vary from town to town -- I wonder if there's a comprehensive industry survey on this out there? If not, there will be, I'm sure--gf]

Craig is correct to challenge the "unversal" aspect of what I said, but on the whole, its true. LIPA likely *has* to allow CLECs to access the poles, and if there is a Cable MSO in Long Island (Google seems to turn up CableVision testing 100Mbps cable service with symmetric bandwidth this summer in Oyster Bay), they strung their coax somewhere, and that "somewhere" is likely to allow all "network elements" that CV wants to put in-place.

Heck, we even got that right in the contracts at Wayport, so I'm sure the lawyers at CV (and elsewhere) do as well.

And just beause LIPA won't talk to you doesn't mean that CV doesn't have the 'inside relationships" to make it happen.

It's always about relationships, and developing them. Sometimes you have to make a little noise to develop them... Sometimes you make the right noise, and other times you sound like me. I'm sure CV has all that they need, and then some. If they can stuff Bloomberg and the Jets, I'm sure they can hang wireless on poles if they should so choose. And one of their related companies was the winning bidder in a lot of the big markets last year's MVDDS auction of the 12.2 - 12.7 GHz band. They're sitting pretty whichever way you look. Props to them, OptimumOnline is a fantastic product that nobody can touch right now. But Jim, you know from your Spokane chronicles, that politicians don't *have* to do squat. The fine folks at LIPA do indeed talk to me, they just don't tell me what I want to hear yet.

The politicians in Spokane were never my target, other than the semi-obvious graft associated with the parking garage (and even this is connected to Spokane's poor attempt at a downtown wireless network.

Hell, even the current Mayor's problems are connected to the debacle that surrounds the parking garage and its financing.

But politics (at least at the government level) have little to do with what CV is (probably) doing to you. You've just run into the level of functionaries who are paid to keep the hordes at bay while the "big boys" play according to a different set of rules.