Inc. magazine writes about entrepreneurship, and they give Tropos kudos in this article: Most revealing is revenue: $15m in 2005, $45m projected for 2006. With nodes costing $3,500 (retail, mind you), the numbers noted by EarthLink and others for Tropos-based deployment are pretty easy to use to project additional revenue. What EarthLink pays, of course, isn't retail, when they're buying 3,000 at a go. It also means that EarthLink will conceivably form an enormous portion of their current revenue, and relying on a single customer is always problematic for businesses, which try to diversify suppliers and customers.
The story as a whole is really about Narasimha Chari and Devabhaktuni "Sri" Srikrishna, the company's founding engineers, and the guys behind Tropos's mesh protocols. It's a charming profile of how they went from an idea into garage-scale implementation, and then into funding the company. (Tropos was founded as FHP Wireless, and focused initially on enterprise-scale campuses; I talked to them about four years ago when I was researching tools for managing large numbers of APs at corporations.) The narrative picks up on CEO Ron Sege's entrance into the company about halfway through.
There are a few telecom and technical problems with this business article that do affect the business case that's made. The writer notes in regards to what would keep Wi-Fi from working outside that there's no bar: "Install 30 of them [nodes] per square mile (which isn't hard, since an installer using a single tool can put up a unit in 15 minutes) and they immediately begin communicating with one another via radio waves." Of course, 15 minutes doesn't include the permitting time to obtain pole access, the RF simulation to sort out where nodes should go, nor the time nor expense in putting power at the pole, not always an easy situation.
"In the United States, most towns already own the infrastructure for suspending 14-pound boxes in the sky: lampposts, traffic lights, telephone poles, city buildings." That's really not true. Utility poles are the main hanger for most metro-scale nodes, and only some cities own some poles. There are places in which a city runs all the utilities. But from my reading, most towns and cities have more complicated stories, including a mix of two or more public and private entities that control the pole rights. While the Telecom Act of 1996 requires non-discriminatory access to poles at reasonable prices, the parameters are broad enough that pole access can be a gating item for deploying any kind of telecom or cable service.
"The Wi-Fi cards that early adopters were sliding into their laptops in 1999 went for about $2,000 apiece.": Apple and Lucent were selling cards for about $100, and even enterprise cards were under $300 in 1999.
While the account of the Pennsylvania law that almost scotched the Wireless Philadelphia network is mostly accurate, the conclusion is not: "In late November 2004, just as the bill was approved, Philly's Wi-Fi enthusiasts got a break. 'It was almost like diving to get the catch in the end zone,' says Sege. The state agreed to exempt Philadelphia from the requirements. (All other Pennsylvania municipalities remain bound by it.)" Actually, Gov. Rendell was able to get Verizon to sign a waiver that conformed to the terms of the bill before the bill was signed; he then signed the bill. And it turns out that other municipalities in Pennsylvania are apparently able to have private firms build them metro-scale networks; they just can't do it themselves without petitioning the incumbent telecom.
The outcome, however, the reporter gets exactly right: "The way Sege sees it, Verizon's in-your-face tactics were the best thing that had ever happened to the start-up. The giant telecom's reaction made dozens of other cities take notice. If Verizon was so ruffled, people seemed to think, then Philadelphia must have been on to something interesting; the technology's potential must be real." There's a nice bit that follows about how EarthLink was recruited into the muni Wi-Fi business, something I haven't heard before.
The writer doesn't know who pays for this networks, unfortunately, nor that customers aren't going to come from incumbent telcos and cable firms: "After a city government invests $20 million, no users will be happy if their connections go down or their webpages load slowly. The last thing Tropos needs is for annoyed customers to head back to Verizon." In Phila., EarthLink is investing the cash.
Overall, a nice article, only slightly on the puffy side, emphasizing entrepreneurialism without discounting the technical challenges, covered in depth at the end.