WATPA: FW: Broadband competition might still be possible

From: Norm Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Fri Mar 21 2003 - 18:02:12 EST

Interesting article ...


-----Original Message-----

Broadband competition might still be possible
By Dan Gillmor
Mercury News Technology Columnist

When anyone asks how to find innovation in technology today, I answer,
where you don't find monopoly control or crushing regulation.'' One such
is in wireless communications, specifically in the open-to-all part of the
airwaves, and lately I'm seeing some things that give me hope for the
future America so desperately needs to create.

Regulatory missteps and marketplace misbehavior are creating a dangerous
duopoly in the ``last mile'' of data access to our homes and small
Unless wireless can compete, the regional telephone and cable monopolies
control communications well into the 21st century.

I'm beginning to think that wireless can compete, because of enormous recent
innovation in what's called the ``unlicensed spectrum.'' That's the part of
airwaves not controlled by government or specific industries and companies.

The rise of the 802.11 ``Wi-Fi'' wireless standard, from a tiny blip to a
and more essential part of everyday communications, shows how progress
in a truly open marketplace. But Wi-Fi isn't the only interesting story.

Tom Freeburg and his colleagues at Canopy Wireless Broadband Products, a
of electronics giant Motorola, are telling one of the most intriguing
of all. They've come up with a system that could bypass, at least for the
term, the wire-line duopoly in urban and suburban areas. The technology may
also turn out to be nearly ideal for deployment in rural areas.

The radio-based Canopy system uses unlicensed spectrum, so no one has to ask
for regulatory approval. The price is low enough -- a company or Internet
service provider can serve hundreds of customers for about $20,000 in
equipment costs -- and it looks easy to deploy. Best of all, it offers
excellent data-transfer rates, in the range of 6 to 7 megabits a second,
is much faster than the cable and phone-based alternatives today, though
offering Canopy-based services commonly ratchet down individual customers'
capacity to some extent.

A Canopy ``access point'' -- the base station serving end users -- has six
radios, each of which covers 60 degrees of a circle, so the six can radiate
receive signals in all directions. It's sensitive to barriers such as groves
trees and most modern buildings, especially as the range -- which can be as
as 10 miles from the access point -- increases. An Internet service provider
can set up as many access points as needed to serve an area if the
density and customer demand are too high for one access point to serve

Motorola is creating an international distribution network for Canopy, and
there are ``tens of thousands'' of these radios in use around the United
so far, and several hundred customers that have set up at least one access

One of Motorola's customers is start-up Neopolitan Networks in Palo Alto.
company sells extremely high-speed data connections and associated services.
has business customers in south Florida and Silicon Valley, including the
Peninsula, San Jose and the East Bay, and uses Canopy for some

Frank R. Robles, Neopolitan's founder and chief executive, says the Canopy
system offers superior technical quality -- including customer radios that
much lighter than competitive models -- and flexibility in configuration.
bottom line, he says, is the ability to offer a serious alternative to the
dominant data carriers.

Neopolitan plans to offer the service to residential customers, first in
dwelling buildings such as high-rise apartments and condominiums, and later
single-family homes. Robles says the price will be about $50 a month, but fo
that money the customer will get a faster, more reliable connection -- in
directions -- than cable or DSL service now offers.

Making the connection fast in both directions, uploading and downloading, is
essential for things like Net-based video conferencing, among other things.
Even more important, from his perspective (and I emphatically agree), is
helping the Internet achieve its original promise.

Robles says, ``I'm trying to open it up so people can be producers, not just
consumers,'' of broadband information.

Serious bandwidth like this could bring another benefit. Voice traffic takes
very little space on a fat data pipe. ``Voice over Internet Protocol''
bypassing local phone companies, is starting to make serious inroads as more
people get fast connections.

Robles says the Canopy system's architecture makes VoIP a snap to add to a
customer's account. That has a nice ring.

For his part, Freeburg avoids talk of bypassing the local phone monopolies
voice traffic. He does say, however, that his goal ``is to get rid of all
wires in the local loop.'' Same difference. May he succeed.cities

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