Red Herring reports Tropos said it's talking to cable firms about using their gear for outdoor Wi-Fi: It's not a surprise. Comcast's investment arm injected cash into BelAir a few weeks ago, which simultaneously announced cable-plant-powered mesh access points. Comcast has been one of the most vocal firms opposing municipal broadband, but most recently offered a year-out-of-date critique of the plans based on cities building the service themselves and funding it from taxpayer dollars.
(This Red Herring article linked says that "cable companies have fought publicly backed city Wi-Fi plans in courts," but I'm unaware of any injunctions, orders, or lawsuits.)
In a recent interview, Tropos's CEO Ron Sege told me in reference to the BelAir investment, "I can give you a long list of captive venture capital arms investing in things that are never used by the operating sides of their companies." This seemed to signal that a Tropos cable deal might eventually be forthcoming. Cable settop box maker Scientific Atlanta was a Tropos partner, but the company was acquired by Cisco last year which now offers its own mesh access points while also owning consumer/SOHO/SMB networking firm Linksys.
But Sege thought that the cable plant wasn't the ideal place to pull capacity from. DOCSIS, the cable industry encoding standard for data over unused local channel spectrum, lack the "upstream capacity," Sege said. He thought there was a large mismatch between even a single 802.11g gateway--capable of at over 20 Mbps of real throughput--and the current cable base. DOCSIS 3.0 has more upstream capability, but it's highly asymmetrical.
In a world where asymmetry is reducing--"broadband is becoming more symmetrical"--Sege said, "It's not clear that the DOCSIS plant is going to be useful in this environment."
Meanwhile, I spoke to BelAir's CEO Bernard Herscovich recently as well, and he said that cable companies' "emergence as wireless players is probably going to be the most exciting news in our industry in the next 12 to 18 months." He said that cable firms have an advantage because "the architecture in the cable space is an IP-oriented approach, very close to what people call NGN or next-generation network architecture."
I had heard from some sources that franchise agreements with cities might limit cable firms deploying mesh nodes on their rights of way, such as poles. Hescovich said no. "They would be able to go and place a mesh node without requiring additional approvals," he said. With BelAir gear, that can be directly powered by the cable plant, "The strand in the cable network has power. There are no power issues, there are no site acquisition issues."
He also said that multiple system operators (MSOs), cable firms that have many operations, have a cost advantage. "Our estimation is that it would be about 30 to 40 percent cheaper by an MSO to build such a network compared to somebody who doesn't have that kind of network," Herscovich said.