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Tales From The Towers

Tales From The Towers (59)

Tales From The Towers

I’ve been harping on the importance of making sure that whatever 802.11n radio your network is based on, has to be completely compatible with the 802.11n standard. As a husband, and since I don’t often get a chance to say I’m right to my wife, I’m going to embellish on this one. If you are committed to one vendor, then it doesn’t matter even if I said HoHo’s are awesome (which is an unequivocal and absolute fact of the universe, yet still some of you are going to disagree with me). Based on what we have seen the last few years though, and again, the GALACTUS model is shorter range, higher capacity than rural markets, I wasn’t willing to commit to that. Ubiquiti and Cambium both built their products around 802.11n chipsets and then added their special sauce with either an AirMax polling protocol or in the case of Cambium, actual GPS synchronization. But they both maintained true 802.11n backward compatibility options in the firmware by allowing the user to disable proprietary features. After the debacle at the FCC concerning the rule changes in 5GHz along with firmware and hardware delays up the wazoo from manufacturers concerning 802.11ac, I wanted to make darn sure that I had options when it came to our next-generation upgrades and sure enough, it’s going to pay off.

When Ubiquiti went to 802.11ac though, they moved Airmax from software to hardware meaning there was no turning back once you made that commitment, at least as far as I know. They did make sure that their 802.11ac radios could function in AP mode and talk to the 802.11n AirMax clients. This allows a direct migration path if you have a Ubiquiti-based network. It’s a good and logical plan if you never plan to use more than 40MHz in 802.11ac. We have already replaced some of our Rocket 5Ms to Rocket 5AC-Lites. However, by the time we got stable enough firmware to make it feasible (and it’s been working solidly now for a couple months), we were already testing GALACTUS-Destroyer of Wired Worlds. So now you ask, if Ubiquiti has Rocket AC-Lites that are running 2 to 3 times faster than Rocket 5M’s, why spend 7 times more for the Mimosa A5-360 as an upgrade and is it even worth it? Then ask yourself this question, if a fully loaded Ford Edge is a great family SUV, why spend $130K on a Tesla Model X (If you are a car guy and you don’t know what Ludicrous Mode is on a Tesla, then this will go past you like a bullet train, or a Tesla in Ludicrous Mode).

To answer this question, we need to first define where and how GALACTUS is designed to operate. The original model was built to compete with cable. Since we all know cable companies are in the highest density areas, that’s our target. If you want to avoid towers and your brother-in-law isn’t a VP at the power company, then you are using houses on which to place your APs. In those cases, we used Ubiquiti omnidirectional antennas with Rocket M5’s. We also had Rocket M2’s with omnis up there as we were upgrading our original 2.4GHz system, but most of those have come down. So, faced with 2 options, upgrade Rocket 5M’s delivering about 4-8Mbps at peak times with 20MHz channels to Rocket 5AC-Lites using 40MHz for a little more than I’d spend on an Italian dinner for the family, or dip into my Titanium Exhaust for my motorcycle fund and put up the Mimosa A5-360.

No answer yet? Let’s try to stay awake and analyze further then. If we go with the Ubiquiti Rocket AC-Lite, then we will change channel size on the AP to 40MHz. That’s the maximum channel size of both the M series and AC series radios from Ubiquiti. Peak throughput at the AP on a 40MHz channel is going to jump from about 40-50Mbps to 100-120Mbps (we keep modulation levels very high) with all the M clients. We saw users with M series radios go from 4-8Mbps during peak to 10-15Mbps with 40Mhz channels and go from 10-15Mbps to 30-50+Mbps during non-peak. That is a significant jump and normally I’d be thrilled . . . a year ago. The problem is we need 80MHz channels to do battle with wireline and the Ubiquiti 802.11ac products are currently limited to 40MHz.

The reason for moving to the Mimosa A5-360 was simple, we wanted the absolute maximum speed possible which meant 802.11ac and 80Mhz channels. After doing a bunch of back-end upgrades to support this, we hit average speeds around 200Mbps and peak speeds about 340Mbps on Even our farthest users with light vegetation issues (the ones we would normally shoot to a different AP in a different direction but we just wanted more test data) were hitting 100-150+ Mbps (windy day meaning the trees were swaying more than Dancing With the Stars).

I can hear it now, 80Mhz channels!!!! Are you crazy??? In my areas we can barely use 10MHz channels and we need a shoehorn, lithium grease, and someone staring at an AirControl screen 24 hours a day to make even that work!!! And why would I trash the entire band for a few users!!!! And are you also telling me that I have to change out all my client radios to get this to work at 80MHz??? Seriously Rory, are you sniffing the white board markers again?

Chill . . .Take a deep breath, grab a Diet Coke and a HoHo, and think back to the fact that the Mimosa A5-360, like the Ubiquiti Rockets before them, were not 150 feet in the air, more like 25 feet. However, we do have at least 3000 houses with cable, DSL, and Satellite indoor APs within 1.5 miles and some of those bad boys are using 80Mhz channels in 5GHz for their indoor APs. Either way, lower height translates to less noise. And now we start getting to the secret sauce.

Ubiquiti omni’s are a clever design, incorporating both vertical and horizontal polarity antennas in one assembly. Mimosa A5-360s (or as they are now being referred to in the industry as Quamni) with their 4×4 chipset, have four 90-degree circular polarity sector antennas to cover 360 degrees or in other words, an omnidirectional pattern which is more uniform than the current dual-polarity omni’s. Instead of horizontal and vertical polarities, circular polarity has two different spins, right-handed and left-handed. There are advantages and disadvantages to both fixed polarity and circular polarity, but I’m going to save that debate for the forums. What I can tell you is that we saw significant signal gains on the Ubiquiti client radios when swapping out Quamni, not only from the Ubiquiti omni antenna, but also when replacing a sector antenna (we are planning future testing on this one as soon as we get the A5-360 18 in). That one caught us off guard a little since the sector should have had 5dbi more gain than the Mimosa A5-360 14. And with the C5’s at slant-45 polarity, there is an improvement in noise.

But wait, there’s more. Since we all now get along with 802.11 compatibility, the Ubiquiti clients will connect right up to Mimosa A5, and I’m assuming the same will be true with Cambium ePMP clients. Man, I’ve been waiting to spill this next one for weeks! The Mimosa A5-360 will talk to Ubiquiti or Cambium 802.11n clients in 20 or 40MHz channel width while simultaneously talking to the Mimosa C5 clients in 80MHz. Let that sink in for a minute. Okay, times up. You set your AP to 80Mhz and set your clients to 20/40 which is as wide as the M series can go, and the AP supports them all simultaneously while still talking to the Mimosa C5 radios in 80MHz. That is just cool no matter how you slice it. Migration problem solved, period. Now slap yourself in the forehead.

Why is the ability of the AP to talk to clients at 20/40/80MHz channel widths important? You can leave radios like a Nanostation M5 Loco, dependable and inexpensive radios that seem to last forever, on 20MHz or 40MHz, meaning you don’t have to forklift the planet to get the advantages of 802.11ac and 80Mhz channels. With the processor limits at the AP with the Rocket 5M, and the port speed at 100Mbps, going to 40Mhz didn’t make much sense. With the Rocket AC-Lite or the Mimosa A5-360, 40Mhz becomes a better option and will improve your airtime efficiency. And if 40Mhz was good, 80Mhz is even better. When you change the AP over to the Mimosa A5, you aren’t going to be thinking 20MHz any longer on your Ubiquiti radios, you will be thinking 40MHz. Keep in mind that the improved signal levels, lower noise, and faster processor mean that you don’t need to upgrade any of your clients to get faster speeds. This is also why we set all our Ubiquiti clients to 20/40 when we installed them. And if you find a single client is actually working worse at 40Mhz due to noise, then set it back to 20MHz. The A5-360 simply says, “No problem, Quamni can play that game (Homey the Clown reference from “In Living Color”).

But what about polling protocols? At peak times, 90% or more of the traffic is going one direction with UDP protocols so RTS/CTS is fine. In that environment, how important is a polling protocol? GPS isn’t needed either on a single AP since it’s . . . a single AP. Am I advocating that neither of these is unnecessary? Of course not. Just not for the migration. I keep coming back that this isn’t a tower deployment yet. But if you are upgrading a single Rocket 5M with 20-60 users with a processor that is at least 20 times faster, losing the polling protocol during your migration period is pretty much a moot point. I guarantee that not only will nobody notice, the immediate speed improvement from a stronger signal, better omnidirectional antenna pattern, higher modulation rates, improved s/n ratio, and a faster AP processor will also be dramatic. It also means less airtime per user (the dashboard on the A5 will show you your AirTime utilization so you can tweak the system to maximize it). This more than overcomes the advantage of a polling protocol in this scenario in the short term.

Do we want GPS sync and TDMA? Of course we do, eventually, for a couple of reasons. Since we can now add more customers at much higher rates on the A5-360, we want it for improved efficiency when everyone is running 200Mbps and uploading their entire life to the cloud on a daily basis. In addition, when we start having multiple A5’s per square mile and we need frequency reuse, it will be necessary to coordinate with other A5s in the same area. But do we need it for transitioning from a Rocket 5M omni antenna combo to an A5? No.

So how does that affect the C5’s which you might be running at 80MHz? Meh. Other than the slower radios using more airtime, it doesn’t. We have about a 50/50 split on one A5 and users with C5’s can still pull 130-150Mbps on Speedtest at peak times. At non-peak times, they can hit 200Mbps. Here is the reality though, nobody even notices. The reason is that none of our clients have indoor APs capable of those speeds. The vast majority of our clients are on AirGateway-LRs with the rest of them on Airrouter-HPs. Those radios are limited to about 25-35Mbps on wireless since they are in 2.4GHz. In the case of the AirGateway-LR, even connecting a device to the Ethernet port directly with the AirGateway-LR in router mode still tops out around 35Mbps. The end result is that very few of our clients even noticed the A5 being installed, except for a couple techies with their own routers.

But what if you have interference issues? Another cool feature, you don’t have to reboot the A5 to change frequencies, it will automatically find the best frequencies or you can do it manually. The Ubiquiti radios will also do that on reboot, but the A5 will do it dynamically, on the fly. Mimosa C5 radios will follow it almost immediately, but the Ubiquiti clients may have a brief outage while searching for the new frequency. If you are rural, this isn’t an issue, but in my neck of the woods, all it takes is for a satellite install next door with its 80Mhz channel and your AP might have to go hunting.

I’ve only touched on a couple of things that the Mimosa A5-360 can do to seamlessly migrate your network to Galactus status and not have to upgrade. Right now, it’s the best omnidirectional option you have and when it surpassed a sector antenna in the same environment, it opened up even more possibilities. Now we are planning a full comparison of the Mimosa A5 against a 30-foot tower (on which we have 3 Rocket 5AC-Lites with RF Armor and 120-degree 19dBi Ubiquiti antennas) with the farthest client at 2.5 miles. In this scenario, we needed more range and upgraded the omni antenna to the sectors. Unfortunately, the wind is a killer in this area, so we are looking for another option and are planning to compare the range of the A5-360 14 with the bigger brother 18 when only 30 feet off the ground. The A5-360 18 is probably better suited for higher altitude deployments, but that’s not the GALACTUS model. The GALACTUS model needs something that can deliver the goods and not bankrupt a WISP in the process. The Mimosa A5-360 does that and it’s just getting started.

Mimosa A5

Mimosa A5

A long time ago in a suburb far, far away, Guerilla Wireless was born. For too long, the masses had suffered with either poor or no internet or expensive single carrier options. Guerilla wireless was conceived to take over from the massive failure of poorly conceived mesh networks that failed under the weight of their over-priced, under-engineered equipment and designs. There was a hunger out there, a hunger that said no more do we have to eat what is put in front of us or starve. Guerilla wireless not only fed that hunger with prices that competed with cable, at speeds exceeding DSL, and spit in the general direction of wireline. A little melodramatic, maybe but at least I didn’t mention HoHo’s.

Guerilla Wireless was built on early Ubiquiti 802.11a radios. The Ubiquiti radios were a perfect combination of inexpensive chipsets cleverly packaged to brave the great outdoors with GUI based firmware even my mom could learn how to use. Time marched on and 802.11a became 802.11n and Ubiquiti kept making better, faster 802.11n along the same genre. Guerilla Wireless just kept getting better in the urban environment while keeping up with and surpassing DSL but slowly falling behind cable. In the journey, Ubiquiti broke a few hearts in the 802.11n crowd by not delivering the GPS promise that would make Motorola/Cambium WISPS happy. Cambium eventually stepped in to develop 802.11N products, the ePMP line, that would sweep GPS addicted designs off their feet but it was late in the game. They are still developing 802.11N products that deliver promises Ubiquiti made 4 years ago for the 802.11n rural crowd. For urban or suburban areas, the problem now is simply the 4 year thing, we need more now.

 Ahh, but Ubiquiti didn’t look back, they said pshaw. Forget about 802.11n GPS, what difference does it make (okay, my obligatory Hillary reference to total failure). We don’t need no stinkin’ 802.11n GPS, we got’s us here an 802.11ac chip and we un’s can make it communicate. We believe we can take that Atheros chip to great heights, including GPS. And if GPS doesn’t work, we can fall back on AirPrism which promises adjacent channel filtering that’s better than adding more CowBell. And after a rocky start with the T-Tommy Wheeler changing the FCC rules to whatever he was told to do last year, Ubiquiti is finally getting DFS mostly working in 802.11ac. AirPrism is out and as for GPS, I’m not sure yet. Check your local listing for times and channels. I don’t plan on deploying it at this point so I don’t have any experience with the products.

Okay, so what does this have to do with Guerilla Wireless, Galactus – Destroyer of Wired Worlds, or whether HoHo’s are the same formula since restarting production (I think not and definitely follow the expiration date as gospel or else you will be wishing you ate garbage dump sludge instead of an expired HoHo, don’t ask me how I know). I’ll let you in on a little secret, Galactus is simply Guerilla Wireless all grown up. Guerilla Wireless was good, Galactus will be great. The little AP that could, the A5-360, just evened up the odds against cable.

Since cable went from 5Mbps to 300Mbps, pushing copper as far as it can go (I know it can go farther but the runs have to be shorter (dang that pesky, speed, distance, quality physics thing). The reality is the next step is fiber for the cable companies and some of the DSL companies if your area is worthy of it. That means there are enough people willing to spend $80-$100 per month for that privilege. If you aren’t worthy, and probably 50% of the country or more isn’t at our income levels, then you can get 12Mbps as the CenturyLink rep at my door tried to sell me or live with cable and its notorious, consistent as clockwork, rate hikes. At minimum, a certain percentage of their customers are bailing on the bundle thing every year and watching streaming services, 1.7 Million in 2013, 1.2 Million in 204. It’s like the last guy watching NBC return the cable box to Cox or Time Warner.

Now add in the courts saying that Roku, Apple, and any streaming set top box can be a cable box, and well, you know that you don’t want to be caught in the middle of that battle between cable companies, content providers, Apple, Google, Amazon, and NetFlix. It would be like getting stuck between 2 Sumo wrestlers while dressed as a giant rice ball. I’ll take odds that the cable companies lose and you want front row seats if you are a WISP. And this is where all roads lead to; Galactus – Destroyer of Wired Worlds.

Guerilla Wireless was designed to bypass the big boys and offer a cheaper alternative. When the big boys kept arming up, poor Guerilla Wireless was hampered by a puny 98-pound weakling 802.11n chipset at the AP. And although the innovative dual-polarity omni antenna has had a good run, and we still use them, it’s evident that the future of doing battle with wireline providers is going to require not only 802.11ac, but 802.11ac with attitude, innovation, and the some heavy duty weaponry. The King is dead, long live the King means Guerilla Wireless, our Ubiquiti based 802.11n suburban based wireless network is being upgraded into Galactus, our Mimosa based network built around the A5-360 APs to start.

Don’t get me wrong, we have already started deploying Ubiquiti AC products in new areas. The combination of multiple long-range antennas and faster processor at the AP are an incremental improvement for sector based designs. That’s not what Galactus is though and for that, the dual- polarity omni needed an upgrade not only in concept but in innovation. That’s’ the platform the A5-360 stepped onto. Instead of vertical or horizontal polarity, it used four directional circular polarity sectors to improve multi-pathing in high-density environments and reduce noise. And with the C5 already using a slant-45 antenna, some quick field tests have shown not only a significant signal and s/n improvement over a standard omni, we are seeing it even surpass higher gain sectors that we have up in a NLOS environment.

So with all the announcements at WISPA America concerning Mimosa, Ubiquiti, and Cambium, where does that fit into our strategy and the industry as a whole? Keep in mind that even though I do some rural where 10Mbps is a Godsend to some people, Galactus is all about bandwidth, baby. In that context, here is what we see happening in our network. And what I’m saying isn’t based on hypothetical, it’s based on the fact we have been running almost 30 clients (and still growing) for the last 2 months in parallel to our Ubiquiti 802.11n and 802.11ac networks. Basically, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on how this is all going to shake out, at least for Galactus – Destroyer of Wired Worlds (I just never get tired of saying that).

This is the part where we get inside my head and why I have been walking around in a daze since last October. Over the last 4 months, I’ve been tyying to guess the release dates of hardware, firmware that is more stable than Astatine, (yea, you know you are going to have to look that one up but trust me when I tell you that certain beta firmware we tested didn’t even run as long as it’s half-life), and still keep up with the tremendous growth we were experiencing. Now add in the effort to upgrade everything to support that growth without investing in something that is pretty much end-of-life literally in weeks to stay competitive. I have been balancing cups and saucers in each hand while riding a unicycle with a baseball bat balancing on my nose better than I could make these decisions, and I can’t ride a unicycle.

Soooooooo, in October, we started installing Rocket 5AC-Lites with the idea we can start transitioning our clients over from the Rocket 5Ms we had on the same tower because of our growth. Yea, that didn’t work out so great, someone forget to make sure the batter was stirred enough. So we backtracked and started adding more Rocket 5Ms APs to alleviate the load our existing infrastructure was getting hit with. At one point between October and January 1, we had as many as 68 users on one Rocket 5M and not too many behind that on a few others. In my meantime, I was watching the race between getting our Mimosa test site up and firmware from Ubiquiti for the Rocket AC5-Lite radios to talk to 802.11n radios. Simultaneously, we were having some random problems in another part of the state where we deployed all Ubiquiti AC products that we never solved so that option got tabled temporarily also. We saw the problem go away with 7.2 firmware so that pretty much told us what the issue was. Either way,

Soooooooo, in October, we started installing Rocket 5AC-Lites with the idea we can start transitioning our clients over from the Rocket 5Ms we had on the same tower because of our growth. Yea, that didn’t work out so great, someone forget to make sure the batter was stirred enough. So we backtracked and started adding more Rocket 5Ms APs to alleviate the load our existing infrastructure was getting hit with. At one point between October and January 1, we had as many as 68 users on one Rocket 5M and not too many behind that on a few others. In my meantime, I was watching the race between getting our Mimosa test site up and firmware from Ubiquiti for the Rocket AC5-Lite radios to talk to 802.11n radios. Simultaneously, we were having some random problems in another part of the state where we deployed all Ubiquiti AC products that we never solved so that option got tabled temporarily also. We saw the problem go away with 7.2 firmware so that pretty much told us what the issue was. Either way,

Yea, I know that testing an 802.11n radio against an 802.11ac radio isn’t fair. Unfortunately, you can only test what you got and what was working at the time. We did do a quick test between a Rocket 5AC- Lite with a 17dBi sector through trees to a Powerbeam 400-AC and to an A5-360-14 to a C5 with the its internal 20dBi antenna with the Mimosa’s running 40MHz channels and the Rocket AC-Lite running 20MHz channels. We didn’t have the backend capacity at this location to do more than 120Mbps and we also had the issue with firmware on the Ubiquiti causing some weird anomalies so there was no way to do any side-by-side testing other than straight signal levels. And keep in mind this was early released firmware for Ubiquiti with only 5.8Ghz available and the Mimosa was on Day 1 beta firmware release. So given those limitations, we did check the signal levels between the radios and the PHY layers and we noticed this, through the trees and compensating for rated antenna gain numbers and setting the power to fixed levels on both radios, there was a was signal improvement of several dBi for the Mimosa pair. Without more testing, we can only guess one of a few things, antenna ratings aren’t matching the reality, power outputs aren’t really accurate, the combination of a circular polarity antenna connected to a slant-45 antenna works better either LOS or through vegetation, or the noise level was slightly lower for slant-45 but still leaves us with 3-6dBi difference we couldn’t account for. I can come up with a few more ideas but no time. Further testing in another location comparing a 19dBi sector with the Rocket 5M to a Nanostation 5M-Loco showed as much as a 10dBi+ difference with even more trees. In fact, the picture of this shot is on the front of our web page.

There are a lot of variables that could cause these differences so please, save your emails. I’m an engineer, I tried to minimize them the best I could to make the tests as close as possible within the limitations of time, effort, and frankly, my desire to get this beta test up as quickly as possible so take it with a grain a salt. What we did do, and again, this is the A5-360 14 against a Rocket 5M with a 19dBi AM-120 sector on the same pole, was to check signal levels as change out M radios on the roofs. In every case, the signal got much better and our results speak for themselves. Speed test comparisons have no value here since we were also testing 80MHz channels and keeping a live system operational. Those results were posted on Facebook and LinkedIn.

So you ask, where do you go from here? Well, all I can tell you is that it depends. We have been testing the A5-360 14 in areas where we replace short range M radios for higher capacity and new areas with longer ranges of up to 1.5 miles (The A5-360 14 isn’t really designed for this, that’s where the A5-360 18 comes in but just for learning the limits, it hit -64dBm and as high as 360Mbps (PHY Layer). We are also testing Ubiquiti M radios talking to the A5-360 while simultaneously testing Rocket 5AC-Lites in the same scenario (hint, the firmware not to be mentioned was released a week ago and has been running solidly for both the M and AC radios for that time). So now with Ubiquiti having a stable migration path from 802.11N M series to 802.11ac and having new Prism radios out, there are a lot of options. However, the real comparison will come when the A5cs and B5cs come out in a couple of months and a shootout happens with the multi-sector, multi-radio AirPrism sector. I’m putting in my reservation for that battle right now.

In our case, where we only have to keep delivering up to 20Mbps, we are staying with the M radios and upgrading the APs from Rocket 5M’s to Rocket 5AC-Lites. In the areas where we have to deliver up to 50Mbps, we had already started deploying Ubiquiti AC radios and will stay with those since density isn’t that high meaning we also aren’t competing against cable or fiber. The latest firmware, 7.2 seems to be working very well for AC areas only also. There is no upgrade path from Ubiquiti AC radios to Mimosa as AirMax is built into the chipset and can’t be turned off like it can in the M series so once you pull the trigger, stay with it. In cable areas and new areas where we are head-to-head with cable and DSL providers and our service offerings start at 75Mbps, we are moving to Mimosa. Since we are pushing services up to 200Mbps and we have tested as high as 340Mbps in a real-world environment, which isn’t even close to the full capacity of the AP, this will be our future against the wireline providers.

In our case, where we only have to keep delivering up to 20Mbps, we are staying with the M radios and upgrading the APs from Rocket 5M’s to Rocket 5AC-Lites. In the areas where we have to deliver up to 50Mbps, we had already started deploying Ubiquiti AC radios and will stay with those since density isn’t that high meaning we also aren’t competing against cable or fiber. The latest firmware, 7.2 seems to be working very well for AC areas only also. There is no upgrade path from Ubiquiti AC radios to Mimosa as AirMax is built into the chipset and can’t be turned off like it can in the M series so once you pull the trigger, stay with it. In cable areas and new areas where we are head-to-head with cable and DSL providers and our service offerings start at 75Mbps, we are moving to Mimosa. Since we are pushing services up to 200Mbps and we have tested as high as 340Mbps in a real-world environment, which isn’t even close to the full capacity of the AP, this will be our future against the wireline providers.

Just to add a wrinkle in all this, keep in mind that our entire Galactus model is based on the customer ROI being in 2-3 months, not 18 months or ungodly fiber ROI’s of years. It can be deployed without millions of dollars of subsidies the government so freely gives to CenturyLInk to overrun underserved areas. It’s also based on a strategy that can deal with low to medium vegetative areas (that’s all we have here in Arizona) as our NLOS testing of the Mimosa’s has shown so far. Unfortunately, until the politicians (I wanted to use a more harsh word here but my wife censored me) decide it’s cheaper and more productive to give unlicensed spectrum to the free-market and let innovation and American ingenuity find better ways to deliver services, deployments like Galactus – Destroyer of Wired Worlds, will be the exception, not the rule. However, just to be a complete jerk about the whole thing, we upgraded our system right over the area where CenturyLink got $500,000 to put in a whopping 25Mbps service with that still isn’t installed, to deliver, ahem (clearing my throat), 200Mbps IN YOUR FACE SERVICE starting at $55 for 75Mbps and going up from there (we have cheaper options coming when we can get more equipment shortly). Coincidentally, it ROI’s the customer side in 3 months depending on the mount. Wow, no taxpayer subsidies, what a concept. Some bureaucrats head must be exploding right now.

I am not sure what more you need to get started. The tools are there, Mimosa is real and has laid out the future, Ubiquiti is warming up more guys in the bullpen, Cambium is filling in NLOS holes with new equipment based on current product lines, and there are more backhaul options than I have baseballs in my garage (I’m a guy and have played for 30 years so use your imagination on how many that is). It’s time to quit watching NetFlix and start delivering it.


It’s time for the battle to begin, Galactus is entering the war. But a war isn’t fought on the battlefield alone, it’s also fought in the strategy room to decide which weapons to build and use, to train soldiers to use those weapons, deploy resources, and bring them to bear on the enemy: copper wires and over-priced, tax-subsidized fiber. Look, if we can have a War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terror, War on Soda, War on HoHos (the government crossed the line on this one, time for a Constitutional Amendment protecting HoHos) in the school lunch cafeteria room and so on, we can have a War on Incumbent monopolized over-regulated Internet (as evidenced by T-Tommy Wheeler not even acknowledging fixed wireless in his latest report). Anyone who disagrees should just read the tax and fee part of their latest telecom bill and take some Pepto Bismol to avoid hurling.

The first part of Galactus, Destroyer of Wired Worlds, was simply getting the backhaul upgraded enough to handle the speeds we expect to deliver at APs. Add to that, we can’t use 5GHz for backhaul because we are going to need all the 5Ghz spectrum available for customers. That’s harder than it sounds when you need 400Mbps or more to feed the AP and you want to stay below $5K per location per link.

Since we aren’t using a tower-based model and we have a lot of APs to deploy, the cost of backhaul to each AP is critical. To that end we looked at the Ubiquiti AF24 ($3K) per link and IgniteNet MetroLinq 60GHz ($1100) which puts us on the bleeding edge. With IgniteNet, we are still suffering like a kid with a nosebleed as they haven’t yet shipped a product (as far as I know). We are currently changing deployment strategies to give IgniteNet time to get to market since their price/performance numbers are as enticing as a GoDaddy commercial during the SuperBowl (as I’m writing this, I got an email that shipments are starting to go out). In the meantime, we installed eight AF24 links at distances up to 2 miles and moved around our Mimosa B5 units to clean up the 5GHz band to avoid the APs. Fortunately for us, we have a co-location customer who is letting us put three AF24 radios and with fourth on the way along with a sector. Santa is going to get radiation burns trying to get down the chimney. Since the AF24 isn’t as cute as our typical CPE, this is quite an achievement to get past the missus.

Licensed won’t work on the client AP links in this model due to costs and other factors, so for the moment, it’s not an option. Although the Mimosa B11 is the only one even close to financially attractive for this model, the FCC rules require a minimum two-foot antenna and putting that on a suburban house is a problem, especially if you need two or three of them on the same house. We temporarily put up a three-foot antenna with a Mimosa B5 on a house and wrapped it with Christmas lights so the neighbors think it’s a decoration. That buys us some time through Christmas anyway.

For 24Ghz radios, we looked at three different systems: Ubiquiti AF24, SAF, and Exalt. The SAF Integra and Exalt products come with higher prices and longer warranties than the AF24. The warranty was an issue with one of our clients until I discovered that you could buy an AF24 on Amazon. And here is a big secret which is going to really tick off distributors and manufacturers who haven’t figured it out yet: if you buy it off Amazon, you can get a 4-year warranty for $125 more for the AF24s. This applies to pretty much any radio purchased off Amazon. My suggestion to distributors: talk to SquareTrade or Warrantech and get with the program. These warranties even cover accidentally dropping the equipment off a tower. Although a 40-foot drop would probably turn an AF24 with its plastic case into confetti (and no we didn’t test this although there are pieces of a Powerbridge in my backroom that did a 40-foot slam test so I’m extrapolating. What’s amazing is that the PTP600 right next to it went back up on the new pole and is working great). It’s still nice to know someone else would pay to replace it. If you are going to spend $1500 for a radio, it’s probably the best $125 spent unless you think every single AF24 you put up is going to last that long.

Ahh, but the radio isn’t the only problem. We still need a switch our router to hook the AF24s and the other radios on the house/facility with PoE. At minimum, a Netonix WS-6-port mini is pretty much the smallest switch you can get with PoE that can handle the 50W load of an AF24. Netonix should have power supplies for this, but you might have to search for the bigger ones. If you go bigger though, like a WS-12 and you plan on running a couple of AF24s (we have one location with three of them) using the PoE ports on the switch, you will need 150-250W power supplies. We are going with batteries and 48V digital chargers in our NEMA box.

One problem with this model based on APs on houses or other low-level structures is that LOS for 24GHz or 60GHz backhauls is difficult to do. Picking locations for APs sometimes has to be a compromise between the best location for the AP and LOS for the backhauls. That might mean more backhauls or more APs but the benefits of short range to the clients far outweigh the extra costs. The ROI of 30 users paying $40 per month is fairly short (adjust prices accordingly), e.g. 4-5 months, and we expect to exceed that. Vivint is using this model with 28GHz licensed spectrum and using cell towers but the costs are higher and the Cambridge equipment they are using is limited today to about 300Mbps full-duplex at the AP side. Galactus is a hungry beast and devours bandwidth like I devour HoHos, and based on some testing, we will need lots of it. Since we need 400Mbps per AP minimum to kick the copper providers’ teeth in, puny 300Mbps PTMP radios aren’t going to make it. There currently isn’t any PTMP equipment out there yet that can feed Galactus so you need to plan for a lot of PTP links.

Now that we have enough bandwidth to download the Library of Congress before we even start deploying the rest of Galactus, we did some testing on the Ubiquiti APs that are getting replaced. Most of our Rocket 5Ms are original XM radios, so basically, 802.11n with underpowered processors and AirMax overhead. Even with those APs, user bandwidth jumped from about 10-15Mbps per customer up to 30 to 83Mbps, depending on time of day and overhead. We also upped the channel width from 20MHz to 40MHz so theoretically that alone would account for some improvement. However, these are APs with as many as 63 users on them so really, it’s a pretty impressive jump. Since Galactus isn’t quite ready, we thought of upgrading the Rocket Ms to Rocket AC-Lites but testing showed that particular function isn’t ready for prime time. 802.11ac to 802.11ac radios work fine with 7.14 firmware but the “firmware who must not be named” is still cooking in the pot, meaning it’s simply not ready. We did some testing with it and it looks promising. When it’s finished and you can upgrade a Rocket 5M to a Rocket AC-Lite, it will extend the life of your 802.11n client radios another year by adding 40-80Mbps at the AP side. Just have to hold your breath for a while longer.

In the meantime, Galactus waits for no firmware upgrades. It’s starting to take shape, things are looking very good, and if you aren’t hammering cable early next year, you should get coal in your stocking. I can’t stress this enough, 2016 is the year that wireless technologies need to heavily move into suburbia. Suburbia is where the users per block exceed some of the users per county in rural areas. We are working with one area where the density is about 1600 homes in half a square mile so getting 25% of those potential customers is important. And here is where the strategy changes a little bit.

If you run financial models, the best thing to do is front load as many users as possible during growth periods. Conventional wisdom is to drive the ARPU up. However, it is better to have a lower ARPU up front, even to the point of subsidizing the installation costs, to get as many users online as fast as possible. As in many Roulette strategies though, it also takes the most capital. You can run the numbers yourself but if you have 2000 users paying you $50 a month, that’s $100,000 per month. If you have 4000 users paying you $40 per month, that’s $160,000 per month. Even new math can’t screw that one up considering you are paying somewhere between 50 cents and $4.00 per MB and you only need 2-4Mbps per user if you aren’t controlling your bandwidth. Add a Barracuda box, some fancy Mikrotik programming, or a Procera box and your bandwidth gets even more efficient. There are two points here for high-density deployments and this is the first.

The second lesson here is that the more users you get off cable and DSL in these environments, the more you get to control the spectrum in the area. When your outdoor PTMP system needs 5GHz for maximum speeds, you want your customers on 2.4GHz indoor APs. If you have to deal with cable and DSL providers shipping dual-band radios, then you need to get that customer under your control so you can get them out of 5GHz inside. Since most devices now support auto 20/40MHz channels in 2.4GHz, you can get 150Mbps or more to laptops, phones and tablets without using 5GHz.

I’m telling you that the opportunity to compete with cable has never been better. Plan for it now or miss out while someone else does it for you. So, get the prices down to where you can make a deal no sane person would resist, sell some wireless speeds at value prices, and start getting users off the copper track. It may be Christmas but Santa isn’t the only big guy coming to town, Galactus, Destroyer of Wired Worlds is right behind him.

10 Mbps, 25 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, 10 Gbps, how much is enough? The world has gone bandwidth crazy. The junk science experts, lawyers, social and political activists, the media, government legislators, and pretty much any celebrity who hasn’t passed a high school biology or physics class, but gets to testify to Congress on some deep or controversial scientific topic or gets their own talk show, have invaded the bandwidth arena. I’m about to add to this list, the fiber proponents who think we need to add billions of dollars of taxpayer money to give every kid who plays Halo or every shut-in who watches NetFlix, an unlimited broadband experience.

Let’s start with legislators who give away billions of dollars to people who contribute to their re-election or to projects (also known as “pork barrel”) designed to make them popular with their constituencies. Except for Hillary (whose expertise in hiding and deleting emails remains unparalleled), many of these legislators can barely use email and the Internet. It’s pathetic when a country that wants to maintain its preeminence in high-tech, has a bunch of older people making decisions for the future — decisions that rarely serve the interests of the taxpayer or Middle America. They and the rest of the uninformed people in this country believe the rubbish fed to them — that (a) the world needs 1 Gbps fiber or more and (b) the cable companies and telecom companies have a stranglehold on broadband and are cheating taxpayers.

I’m not saying the cable and telecom operators are completely clean. If they are cheating people, they certainly aren’t doing it all by themselves. The politicians helped create these cable and telecom monopolies! I’m a realist and if some politician asks me for a few bucks in campaign contributions so they will write laws to suppress my competitors, I’ll listen to him.  Then I’ll imagine what it would be like to be CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T for about 30 seconds.  But I’ll point him to the front door and ask him not to leave any slime on the floor on the way out.

Just one example: in Arizona and other states, the powerful car dealer lobby pressured lawmakers to prevent Tesla from selling its cars directly to people. Tesla has to sell through dealerships. It’s why I won’t buy another car in Arizona from a dealer until the law is changed (and if that happens, I’ll probably get a Tesla).

Before I go off on another rant on corruption and stupidity in government, let’s just look at the facts on bandwidth usage. The vast majority of users simply surf the Web, use email, and watch online video. On my networks, NetFlix or some other video streaming service constitutes probably 60 to 70 percent of my traffic in the evening. NetFlix uses about 4 to 6 Mbps for HD video. Four to six Mbps is less than 1 percent of what 1 Gbps fiber can deliver. Let me repeat that for all the fiber fans so it can sink in, 1 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent. So basically if we only need 1 percent of the bandwidth fiber that proponents want us to have. Why are we paying for the other 99 percent? Now I can repeat this next mantra: residential fiber subsidized by the taxpayers is an  enormous waste of money today.

Okay, there are households where two or more people want to watch NetFlix, do homework, and wow, watch 4K video in the next 3 years. Fine, let’s calculate what that means in a worst case scenario. 4K video from NetFlix, 2 streams, checking to see who has the cutest dog or cat video of the day on YouTube, ordering some new mittens for the winter, and keeping up with friends on Facebook – the total is still less than 50 Mbps and I’m being very generous here (I’m not counting torrents in this because T-Tommy Wheeler apparently wants illegally copyrighted material to be quickly accessible to everyone in the country at the maximum speed possible). Grab the calculator again and voila, we find that 50 Mbps is 5 percent of 1 Gbps fiber or any 1 Gbps service. More repeats, if in 5 years we only need 5 percent of the bandwidth fiber can deliver, why are we paying for 20 times that amount now?

The argument for that is going to be, well, it takes several years to get this funded, then there are all sorts of legal and property issues that have to be addressed, then there is the design and engineering, etc. Hold on, I’m getting my violin out now. But wait, if we can deploy 50 Mbps wireless today in days, not years, at 2 to 10 percent of the cost, why are we even discussing this? Here’s why: the fiber guys know the government has big pockets, no oversight, and that they have wasted at least a $1 trillion in the last 12 years. They don’t want to be told that someone can do it in a week or less and meet everyone’s needs for up to 40 times less. If we do it that way, they don’t get a cut.

Then there is the security argument. The United States is shockingly unprepared when it comes to cyber security. China, which should be called Kleptochina instead, steals everything not nailed down, from government data to technology (they now have their own Facebook for US government employees from the OPM hack). Russia, North Korea, Iran, and the Eastern Bloc mafias are stealing edit card and financial data so easily, you would think they have a branch office inside Visa or MasterCard. And either poor management, lack of IT spending and training, or just absolute incompetence on the part of Sony, Target, Home Depot, the US Government and others, make it look like they are putting a welcome mat in front of the ATM machine. If all these entities can’t protect their systems, what chance do the millions of people who think the DVD player is a pop-out drink coaster, have in stopping their computers from being used for a coordinated DDOS attack? Do you really want to give these unprotected Windows 98 computers 1 Gbps upload access? How many of those unprotected computers with 1 Gbps connections do you need to crash CitiBank or Facebook? Ah, but I detoured in to the area of, gee, why didn’t we think of consequences before we jumped off the cliff category.

So getting back to the world of reality and cars (my favorite subject after motorcycles), just as cars designed to run on regular gas don’t run any better on premium gas (sometimes even worse, it’s a compression thing), users who average less than 10 Mbps, even in their peaks, aren’t going to run any better on a 1 Gbps service. However, they are going to pay more. The question then becomes, how much bandwidth is enough?

In my experience, 99 percent of users can’t tell the difference between 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps. If they did, I would be paying out refunds to a lot of customers who we told would never see a difference. I can’t remember one and I think we saved them somewhere between $200 and $600 per year. I’ll admit 10 Mbps isn’t going to suffice for five more years and some users need more today (sorry file-sharers, not going to happen on our network). I’ll also concede that we need to hit 50 Mbps for 99 percent of the users by the end of those five years, but that’s pretty much it.

So why the heck (I have stronger words in the vocabulary but my wife says I might offend people – I told her, too late, that ship left the port 53 articles ago), are we overspending to build something nobody but zealots and consultants want? The public doesn’t want it or Cox and Xfinity would have already built it. They know it’s a complete waste of money since they won’t see 1 Mbps more of usage on their network at the egress point but if they don’t do it, some government bureaucrat who can’t keep control of the spending in his own office, thinks they still need to dictate to others how to waste money.

So in summary, the industry and the government think the public wants capacity they don’t need and don’t use, but that they should pay for through an inefficient and clearly corrupt processes. Just look up the Texas study which showed most ARRA broadband funds were steered to Democratic states and Democratic political constituents through their Democratic representatives. Whoever is in power, controls the purse strings and Republicans have been owned by cellular and telecom companies for a long time, so neither side can get on their high horse on this one. That, my friends, is another reason why the government mucking around in private industry is a bad idea.

To take this thought further, in the United States and most other countries, economies aren’t exactly booming; they are shrinking in many cases. Real income in the United States has dropped almost 10 percent in the last few years. The official unemployment number of 5 to 6 percent in the United States is much lower than actual unemployment rate. The reality is that 94,000,000 Americans don’t work for one reason or another and a large percentage of them are not counted in the unemployment figures. Regardless of the reason, many or most of them are on some type of fixed income. That means almost 30 percent of the population, not including the undocumented immigrants who might total as much as 11,000,000 more, really aren’t going to be able to afford more expensive Internet they don’t need (and that their children are buying on credit).

This reminds me of the discussion with my wife where I said that I need a motorcycle because gas prices were going through the roof. I told her I get to use the HOV lane which saves me time, a motorcycle gets better gas mileage and at $4 per gallon it will save us money. I didn’t mention that it goes 60mph in first gear and tops out at 180mph, but hey, as far as I’m concerned, those are facts that didn’t support my premise of great gas mileage and saving oodles of money, so I didn’t bring them up. Fortunately I bought the motorcycle before gas prices dropped below subsidized milk prices or I’d be driving a Moped with a ladder rack. The fact is that government needs to stop creating hype and shoveling tax dollars to the big companies that have no incentive to save the average guy any money, but who do have an incentive to crush more efficient small businesses and innovation. The sad part is that most people in this country don’t even know what side of the issue their President is on, let alone who he is half the time, and they simply aren’t smart enough or motivated enough to pull themselves out of their own ignorance. The result is that they are led like sheep and get sheared every time they pay a telecom or data bill.

It’s time to bring some sanity back to this argument. We all know the 80/20 argument. We can get 80 percent of what we need (notice I didn’t say “what we want” because after all, I may want a Ferrari, but I really need a minivan.) for 20 percent of the cost. Is the last 20 percent of what we want worth paying 4 times more for? Sometimes it is. But if the argument is 90/10, 95/5, or even 95/3, would any logical person even think of paying 20 to 30 times more for 100 percent of what they need and they won’t use it for 5 to 6years? Of course not, hence, the nature of the insanity of subsidized bandwidth with fiber or even forcing companies to build out infrastructure they don’t need to for several years.

If Cox, Xfinity, and others, can theoretically deliver 300 Mbps over cable today, why do they need to put fiber in? They don’t, but there’s pressure on them to do it. At $3000 to $10,000 per house or more, it’s just nuts. If I’m a cable company today, I’d tell the FCC to stuff it in their ear. The cable companies aren’t the ones getting the subsidies anyway. In Arizona, Cox and Comcast wrote a joint letter telling the government to quit giving CenturyLink money. It’s simply unfair.

After bouncing my head off the wall, I realized it’s about money, power, and crushing competition. At every turn, the people who are behind these ideas have their hands out. From fiber pundits, cellular companies, Internet behemoths, politicians, and end users who want to illegally download the entire Sony library in 32 seconds, they all have an agenda. None of them are looking out for the rest of the people — that is, people who need more cost effective service. I’m thinking that giving 98 percent of those users what they need is more important, and is a huge market opportunity.

Here is my agenda. I believe we can deliver 30 Mbps wireless service in urban markets to everyone at a cost of less than $250 or less today for a one-time charge. How do I know we can do it today? Because we are doing it right now. I’ve got users sending me speed tests of 50+ Mbps. And we are doing it with last generation Ubiquiti 802.11n equipment that is more than three years old.

In a week I’m opening up new areas with 50 Mbps using Ubiquiti 802.11ac equipment. They FINALLY got DFS certification (in the meantime, three of my APs started getting their AARP cards). In two more months, we are going to start migrating some of the 802.11n areas with another next-generation product to increase that speed. The plan is to make cable companies sweat and DSL companies to just throw in the towel. I’ll post final numbers in a couple months, once we have everything in place, but it will be a new standard for wireless point-to-multipoint deployments.

VDSL2 is the only tool left in the twisted pair tool shed, but nobody wants to upgrade their copper to make that happen and the wires are getting older and older (.5 Km range for maximum speed). By the way, it still won’t be fast enough to compete with our next generation wireless design (I’m seriously excited about this, can you tell?) and will be too expensive. There are pockets of it here in higher income areas that support Triple-Play.

True story because I just don’t have that good of an imagination: I live in an upper middle class area of Phoenix and I had a CenturyLink representative come to my door two weeks ago. They told me they upgraded their fiber network in the area and I’m now eligible for their new high-speed DSL service: 12 Mbps. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but this is the same company to whom the dolts in various federal agencies gave billions of dollars. Nice job using my tax dollars efficiently, dear government person. You helped bring CenturyLink up to 2008 and dissuaded small businesses from competing.

For fun, in two weeks, I’m going to launch service in an area that CenturyLink just got several hundred thousand dollars to upgrade to 25 Mbps. We are going to undercut them in price and provide way more bandwidth long before it even gets built out. I want to see the face on the salesperson who knocks on that door and says, “Because the government gave us all sorts of money to enhance the pathetic Internet service we have been providing you for the last few years, we can now offer you our government mandated 25 Mbps service for a price that is 20 percent higher than we were charging you before.”

The phrase, “we dropped you a year ago because our service from a competitor is faster, cheaper, and the CEO is much better looking (my wife made me throw that one in there)” is going to cause nightmares for these door knockers. Hey, T-Tommy Wheeler, maybe you should funnel CenturyLink more money because the first $500M isn’t enough to even get them into the current decade.

Wireless ISPs have an ability to hit many urban areas in days rather than years with more than sufficient bandwidth to be competitive. That’s a genie I’d like to see get out of the bottle — thousands of WISPS taking on wireline providers quickly and nimbly while making a mockery of the extortion and payola the government gives to the big incumbents. Ubiquiti 802.11ac equipment can easily deliver the bandwidth to hammer local providers in pockets all over cities or the edges of cities. It doesn’t take more than 10 customers to make a deployment profitable in that environment. From there, you can expand quickly and take them on. Don’t be scared of the 150 Mbps, 300 Mbps, or even 1 Gbps fiber. There aren’t a lot of areas that will have it and even where they do, it’s going to be so expensive, that at least 30 percent of the population won’t be able to afford it. Give the customers 10 Mbps to 50 Mbps for a reasonable price and you will own the area. Keep in mind that you have bigger hammers coming which we will cover as soon as I can. So, what’s stopping you, just get out there and do it.

“Of Fox and Hounds” is a 1940s cartoon where a sheepdog, who is trying to catch a fox, is led around by a fox because he doesn’t recognize him as a fox (You should reread that first line again since I couldn’t figure out how to make it clearer). Unfortunately, the sheepdog is a little dim-witted and a little inexperienced in the job he is born to do. Figuring out what to do for expansion into new area right now has been pretty much similar to that. Between all the new products, the new products that aren’t meeting expectations or have feature delays, lack of real-world testing of some new features, changes in the 5GHz spectrum by the cell companies and the cable companies (and even Microsoft is throwing their hat in the ring now), and whatever additional damage the FCC might do because T-Tommy Wheeler isn’t sure who he has to kiss up to this week, I’m starting to feel like the poor sheepdog. AARRGGHHH, I’m so confuuusssseeeddd! If our industry were a GPS right now, I’d be driving off the cliff. What’s frustrating is that I have to keep re-evaluating this decision every few months as new things keep getting delayed (if you keep promising to give your girlfriend a ring and your delay excuse is that you are waiting for the jeweler to make it, eventually you are going to need to find a new girlfriend). I also need to dispel some misinformation that I keep hearing from new people contacting me that are getting into the industry. So using some logic, reading lots of forums, and grabbing enough Diet Coke for a long session, let’s get see if we can piece through it.

Because the number of variables here exceeds the number of emails Hillary Clinton deleted, I’m going to focus it down to a new area scenario with a single manufacturer that may or may not have to work with other manufacturers in the future (pound your head against the wall a couple of times now, it will all become clearer or when you wake up, you probably won’t care). I’ll cover cross manufacturing compatibility someday when I get a chance to actually test how it works. For example, I haven’t tested a Cambium ePMP client to see if it will talk to a Rocket AP in 802.11 compatibility mode yet. Theoretically it’s supposed to work (and theoretically Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 emails were about Yoga and not the billions of dollars she got from influencing peddling. Just wait, I’ll get T-Tommy Wheeler in here soon enough.) but how far, how fast, how well, and how many gotchas is not something I have personal experience with. I do know Bitlomat is working on their AP solution that is supposed to work with Ubiquiti clients but I have no idea of when that is coming out either. Supposedly it’s going to require new firmware for the clients, something along the lines of what SkyPilot did. So let’s just go back to what we do know is on the edge for each manufacturer in the PTMP area, Cambium has 802.11n and some boys working on 802.11ac far, far away, Ubiquiti has a whole 802.11ac product line that just passed one FCC certification and now theoretically finally supports 5.15-5.25GHz (firmware still hasn’t shipped as of today so keep checking their website, no DFS yet and lower power in UNI-3 than we are all expecting), and Mimosa has 802.11ac backhauls but isn’t shipping PTMP yet. Since 802.11n is the past, at least for me where all my clients are going to be 2 miles or less (802.11ac will go farther but it’s needed for my deployment strategy), I’m still focusing on Galactus, Destroyer of Wired Worlds, Worlds, Worlds, Worlds, . . .

That leaves us with Ubiquiti 802.11ac radios for the moment. Since I had two birthdays and rehabbed my pitching arm from rotator surgery during the time I was waiting for UNI-I and DFS for the Power/NanoBeams, you have to know that there is no guarantee you will see DFS from Ubiquiti before you see PTMP 802.11ac radios from Mimosa or if Cambium will even announce what they are working on or when. So what you put up will have to work with UNI-1 and UNI-3 for the near future. If you are rural, this isn’t an issue. If you are urban, it’s a gamble but you can always fall back to 10MHz channels if needed, which sort of negates the reason for 802.11ac (now slam your head in the refrigerator door and grab another Diet Coke). But it might buy you the time you need for a few more months.

Right now we have to deploy several microcells in a variety of areas and we will be using Rocket AC-Lites with omni-directional antennas. I can already see people cringing but there simply isn’t enough density to justify spending any more than that. Plus the antennas are going to be mounted at heights of 20-35’ so downtilt isn’t an issue either. Considering that these particular microcells are only handling about 10-50 users to start with, they won’t even be sweating. Race cheap and race often, one of my favorite mottos from my motorcycle days gets translated into, get a lot of small AP locations as cheaply as possible and establish yourself in as many areas as possible. When the inevitable interference comes from competitors, you will be much closer to your clients than they will and you will have new technologies to use. It’s also going to be where the split-frequency capabilities of Mimosa and BitLomat are going to help in future-proofing your network (Bitlomat is interesting in that they can use different size channels in each band down to 5MHz).

Now we get back to another of my favorite sayings, speed, distance, quality, pick 2. If you control the distance, that’s huge. People are also loath to change so if you get to the customer first; it’s going to be hard to take you out. This is especially true if you are starting with radios that can do 100Mbps as easily as T-Tommy Wheeler can create programs to give tax dollars to big Obama contributors (I’m still waiting to hear how well $90B in green energy programs worked out for the Energy Department) and Obamaphone fans (it’s coming, bandwidth for “free” under the same idea). On a quick tangent, it’s also curious that a former Solyndra (the infamous poster boy for “Green Energy” Obama investment) VP of Product Engineering, Wayne Miller is now working for Ubiquiti (as Artie Shaw/Wolfgang from Laugh-In would say, “Verryyyy Interesting”).

To understand how the microcell concept works, let’s look at the financials. Also, keep this in mind; Home Depot is your new BFF. Sticking a pole in the air, either on a roof or on the side of a house, costs less than $100 from them. Yes, you could use a Rohn-25 but the cost just went up by a factor or 4 or more. As long as you can get on the roof of the house with an A-Frame ladder or you can lean it against the pole, you can go about 30’. With proper fastening to the house with channel bar and pipe clamps, it’s not coming down. We usually want 4 points of contact against the wall but 3 would be fine if you are anchored really, really well. If you put in a concrete foundation a couple feet in the ground, then 2 might do it but you are going to want 2 at the top. All of this is in lieu of more expensive mounts. I have yet to have one detach from a wall or have the brackets pull out of the channel bar and we have 70+ mile per hour winds, micro-bursts, and Haboobs (wind storms). If the roof is flat, then just use a 10’ non-penetrating mount which is a lot more portable.

Throw in an AP, an omni-directional antenna, 1 or 2 backhaul radios, a router or switch, a NEMA box, and whammo, for less than then cost of a set of tires and trip for me through a Wendy’s drive-through, we have an AP location generating several hundred dollars a month. This is probably the simplest of APs but it works (but if the husband is makes the decision, you better get the wife to sign off so that when the house starts looking like a NASA communications center, she doesn’t go apoplectic). With the backhaul radios we have coming, this is kind of a no-brainer. And microcells that can be deployed anywhere give you the flexibility to not only get closer to the target client base, they can also be strategically deployed between your area and larger towers behind you. If the idea wasn’t basically sound, Vivint wouldn’t be doing it.

Then again, I’m not sure what Vivint was thinking (tangent time) when they announced a 100Mbps upgrade. That’s pretty ambitious based on current technologies, their current mechanical and electrical design, and the current firmware on Quantenna chipsets that they sort of developed in house. This gets especially interesting if the goal is to still try to have some of the users on indoor only APs. Last I saw, they were looking for up to 24 users per relay AP. It makes for good spreadsheet returns but unless their developer, Huawei, has um, acquired some new firmware through their usual R&D processes which historically has involved blatantly violating the patents and trademarks of most technology companies (yes, Huawei is an arm of the Chinese government who sanction them stealing technology without penalty), I doubt they are going to do much more than mess up 5GHz wherever they go. They certainly aren’t going to make a profit unless it’s piggybacked with their other offerings like solar or alarm. At least they raised their price to about $60 instead of $50 to more accurately reflect their cost. I don’t have a problem with Vivint trying to get into the market, I just have problem with them using Huawei who has been banned from the U.S. cellular industry because they are crooks that have stolen American technology to grow their company. This is especially bad after the most recent Chinese hack of our Federal Employee Database. I’m beating a dead horse but to even think if doing business with Huawei in the United States is a serious public relations mistake with Huawei’s military connections.

Since there hasn’t been much movement in the industry lately, I’m going back to why microcells are a good idea. It’s been argued by some that omni-directional antennas are not the best way to go for multiple reasons such as low-gain, pollutes the spectrum, limited number of users, etc… Some of those arguments go away with the Mimosa A5-360s but until there get here, we are limited to Ubiquiti or KP Performance omni’s. Also, there is a lot spectrum in 5GHz to play with. In my case, I’m moving to 802.11ac so whether I stay with the Ubiquiti 802.11ac products or move onto Mimosa later on, I am not waiting. And with only a single radio on a roof, then I don’t need GPS meaning Ubiquiti is okay.

The decision behind this part of a deployment partly has to do with the fact there isn’t a functioning PTMP 802.11ac GPS system out yet. And no, I haven’t tested AirPrism yet to see how well it works so as an alternate to GPS, it’s still unknown. According to the specs, the adjacent channel rejection should be enough to put 4 radios on a tower. However, I’d like to see a test of AirPrism on a tower versus a GPS enabled product. I’m okay with using RF armor antenna shields to reduce noise, I just put it up on our last tower a couple months ago. With 802.11n Rockets and the original Ubiquiti sector antennas, it’s a necessity, not an option. The real question though is if you use AirPrism, do you need RFArmor or possibly is the combination of RFArmor with AirPrism mean GPS isn’t needed. Then the question is if the new 802.11ac antennas from Ubiquiti are so good that with AirPrism, it doesn’t need RF Armor. Then again, how will it compare to a GPS system like on the Cambium ePMP. Theoretically, it should be much faster. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to go through all this testing and I don’t need it yet.

However, since it will be several month before another option comes to the 802.11ac table, it’s mute. Rocket ACs with AirPrism are your only option. As for the antennas, the one advantage to the newer Ubiquiti AC antennas is they are available in 45 and 60 degree sectors. But now you have 6-8 Rockets on a tower with no GPS and with 802.11ac and 40MHz channels, it’s anyone’s guess how AirPrism is going to work in that environment. I know I’ll be waiting to see that test. And if that test gets done, it’s really only going to be valid with at least 20 users or more on each AP so I don’t see this happening soon, especially since all the DFS channels aren’t going to be available on Rocket AC’s in the forseeable future.

As for interference, keep in mind that the best way to prevent interference is to control the environment. Also remember that the low-cost provider should easily capture 30% or more of a market. If you are in an area with cable providers, to reduce the interference, just undercut them and take them out on price. It’s kind of impossible for Time Warner or Comcast to interfere and also set up hot-spots if they don’t have customers to base them out of. Dish and DirectTV also have indoor 5GHz products now for their video streaming so that’s something else you have to watch out for. It also helps if you provide the indoor AP also that you manage.

While we are on this hot-spot idea by cable and DSL providers (grab a handrail, tangent time again), it’s a huge pet-peeve of mine because the range of these indoor APs is about 30’ outside the house. Not only does it add to the interference level because they crank the power way up, but it’s a great way to meet new and interesting strangers who want to hang out in front of your house. The best ones are the cars that park on your street and sit and play on their laptops or phones. Yea, that’s a great idea, especially in areas with lots of kids. Since nobody wants a bunch of unknown people standing on your front sidewalk, I would suggest you call your cable provider and make sure they turn that feature off.

It’s not as easy as it sounds though, they not only don’t let you do that yourself by logging into your router (it’s the only thing they don’t let you change), they tell you it takes 4 hours for it to take effect even if you do call them. The bigger problem is that Comcast never turns it off, even after they tell you they did. My suggestion is to not believe the 4-hour story and make them turn it off why you are on the phone with them. If they ask you why you want it turned off, and they will, tell them you buy their product, you aren’t there to promote their product. Or just tell them you are sending them a bill for $25 per month for Router/AP service rental. If you really want to have fun, tell them that to encourage even more users to use their system, you are going to set up an outdoor AP on your house and let the entire neighborhood use it but you are going to take off your encyryption to promote it and use the same SSID.

Moving on with another of my pet peeves, the recent brilliant decision by the FCC to fully support unlimited and illegal file sharing (they are really saying we can’t throttle anyone for downloading illegal content but your carrier can disconnect you if one of your users downloads too much) means more work, more costs, more chance for a lawsuit, and less profit. This is definitely a case of where bureaucrats have to be bought and paid for because nobody can possibly be this intellectually dishonest. So my question then is this, what if we weren’t WISPS any more, what if we are network services who allow users to connect to our network using a secured infrastructure? Or what if we don’t sell unlimited internet, but we sell a secured internet browsing experience? What if you use private IP addresses, is that a private network? If the user knows he is signing up because of the security of a web filter like a Barracuda which will filter torrents, hacked web-sites, and block viruses going both way, does that violate Net Neutrality or does it legislate that common sense internet usage isn’t possible?

I’m sure Google never told T-Tommy Wheeler that not everyone is capable of protecting themselves while using Internet since it didn’t fit into their plan of taxation and control. And since Google is now abandoning their space-based satellite internet and abandoning their fiber expansion, maybe they will try to quit pulling T-Tommy Wheeler’s strings to put WISPS and smaller ISP’s out of business. I’m sure WISPS weren’t in Google’s target vision like they were in CenturyLink’s, but the reality is that Google has a monopoly in direct violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act with their search engine, they have a bunch of bought and paid for politicians, and they have a corrupt Justice Department led by a corrupt White House administration that are perfectly willing to let them keep that monopoly. Combine that with the fact they wanted to extend their search engine monopoly into a full bandwidth play monopoly and you would have had a huge problem. Fortunately for the ISP and WISP industry, they realized the technologies they wanted to back didn’t meet their financial goals (Elon Musk still hasn’t figured out the speed, distance, quality equation yet so he is still in the satellite game. Heck, he hasn’t even figured out the speed, distance, cost, and profitability yet for electric cars either but I like the vision).


As usual, this article started off in one direction and veered onto several different side roads. With the lack of new PTMP 802.11ac unlicensed products coming out in the market for a few months, it was a good time to dump some stuff. It’s also a good time to keep pushing the idea that WISPS need to come down from the hills and to keep looking at the different ways to do it. Knowing what the environment is going to be like is important. Knowing the best way to do it today and the best way to do it tomorrow is also important. Today, assuming you can live without DFS and you are ready for 802.11ac, then Ubiquiti is the way to do it if they can at least get 5.1GHz out relatively soon. It’s passed FCC cert and I have stickers, usually a good sign, but a month later still nothing so my fingers are crossed. If it doesn’t come out soon, then I’d say stay with 802.11n for now.

My timing hasn’t always been the greatest. I bought Google Earth Pro six weeks before they gave it away for free, I launched a data center with video streaming 10 days before 9-11, and my coupon for 1 free box of HoHo’s for every purchased box expired two days before I found it between the car seats where I dropped it. So may last article getting released about 6 weeks before some major Point-to-Point news came about simply demonstrates that my luck, and my timing hasn’t gotten much better as I get older. And this type of news is a game changer in terms of throwing DSL in the garbage where it belongs and making cable providers rethink how much longer their technology is going to be viable (I know they want to move to fiber but let’s see who really gets it and how fast).

To get out of the dark woods and into Pleasant Valley Suburbia, WISPs needed more tools in the toolbox. In most neighborhoods with the highest level of density, it’s almost impossible not to trip over copper in the form of twisted pair or cable. To get people to cut those cords, WISPs needed high-capacity backhaul options that didn’t cost more a first-class plane ticket for Bono’s hat (this really happened).

When the Ubiquiti AF24 radios came out, they were game changers. At half the price and twice the speed of anything else in an unlicensed band most WISPs didn’t’ even know existed, it put Chuck Macenski and the ex-Motorola band back on the map, albeit with a different sponsor. Some manufacturers even stopped pushing their 24GHz product in the U.S. because they were simply over-priced or not fast enough to compete. The ability to move hundreds of MBs and take Ubiquiti out of the sub-100Mbps WiFi market was huge. And the quality of the product along with an innovative design utilizing separate antennas didn’t hurt either.

As great as the product was though, our “get in the face of wireline/fiber providers Galactus toolkit” still needed more. As it turned, out, the AF24 wasn’t going to be alone. It’s at this point that I’m sure some of you are asking, what about licensed radios? I’m glad you brought it up. Licensed radios were not cheap enough in terms of WISP needs if you are talking about getting into urban areas with lots of vertical assets. A year ago, you would have been lucky to get fully deployed for less than $10K or more. Clearly that has changed with the AF24 coming and then SAF and others creating new products but it’s still a tower product, not what I believe is needed for the upcoming war.

But it was a start. At the same time, others took note and were working on the same concepts with different paths. Ubiquiti followed up the AF24 with the AF5, another clean-sheet design built in-house. It was $1000 per link less and had a higher QAM rate than 802.11ac for better spectral efficiency. Not bad for a 1-2 punch. The only problem with the AF5 is that it’s limited to 5470MHz at the low-end meaning U-NII-1 is out. But 500+Mbps, 1024 QAM, and $2000 was a pretty good second punch and a worthy younger sibling to the AF24.

In the U.S., we are limited to 5850MHz but in other countries, there are different rules. In some countries, there are no rules. In the U.S., if you are Google, need the rules changed, and have the Obama administration on speed dial, you just submit your changes to the FTC who tells Obama who tells Jeff Zients who tells Wheeler who tells us but only after playing “I’ve got a secret “with the American taxpayer. For some this sounds like a Sopranos episode but unfortunately, corruption and influence peddling in the government is the way Washington works. Tony Soprano would be proud. You knew I had to slip in something about the farce called Title II with a little OOBE backstabbing tossed in at some point.

But the counterpunch was already on its way in the form of the B5 and it was loaded with the Quantenna 4×4 chipset. At WiSPA in Vegas, Mimosa released a can of, well you know what and Ubiquiti released the AirFiber 5. What the AF24 did to the SAF 24GHz product line, Mimosa and Ubiquiti just did to the Cambium 650 product line (although Cambium got a reprieve for a couple of years in the form of OOBE since the B5 was originally slated for a 30dBm output and the 650 was already certified for higher power). Even worse though, Mimosa gave ahem, “slight hints” in the form of built products in the booth at WISPA which based on the “deer in the headlights look” on the faces of the Cambium guys, pretty much caught them off guard. It reminded me of the look that Seattle fans had when Russell Wilson dropped back for a pass and threw the interception on the 1-yard line at the Super Bowl (this is significant since they had one of the most dominant runners in the game twiddling his thumbs in the backfield). No longer was this a 2-man race, but a 3-man marathon and only two companies were stocking up on the electrolytes needed to be there at the end. Ubiquiti wasn’t sweating much since they already 802.11ac products in the pipeline, a wildly diverse product line, and the Chicago based (okay, technically south of but since Chicago was well-known for its “La Famiglia relationships it sounds more ominous) Macenski Gang that had more 5GHz and 24GHz stuff in their arsenal.

The B5 PTP links saw field deployments in January. Mimosa took an alternate approach by using a next-generation 802.11ac chip not only capable of keeping a 1Gbps Ethernet pipe filled to the gills, but also capable of running on 2 different frequencies simultaneously, similar to the AF24 and AF5. What Ubiquiti did with a proprietary design, Mimosa did with a standard, off-the-shelf chipset. I’m not going to get into all the details because the products are different in many way and have different applications so read the data sheets. If I start listing them here, you will be asleep before the next paragraph.

Right on cue, as soon as the B5 was shipping, the Airfiber 5’s came out at the same price. And then Ubiquiti started throwing what they thought was the knockout punch with the AirFiber 5X. Talk about a low blow, it was $500 lower than the B5 and $440 less than the B5c. Game set, and wait…. The Fat Lady kept singing, Wwwhhhaaaattttt!!! Mimosa saw the handwriting on the wall and decided that it was time to start bringing out the rest of family that had been hiding in the back room. Cousin B5-Lite was inducted into the La Famiglia in response to the AirFiber 5X and it came with pricing that would make Sam Walmart sweat, $300. But wait, there’s more. Buy it today and we will give you not one, but two B5-Lite radios and throw in these gorgeous decorative wall hangings that your wife will want you to mount on the outside of the house for all the neighbors to see. Yes, the B5-Lite was priced at $300 for two radios and mounting brackets. That’s $150 per radio which is just crazy awesome here at Rootin’ Ralphs Discount Radio Tool Shack, home of the crazy deals.

The B5-Lite isn’t the same as the A5X since one is connectorized and the other is integrated, but right now these are the lowest priced PTP products with hundreds of Mbps of capacity on the market that can hit DFS frequencies. I’m not referencing that either of these products are actually direct competitors because in reality, they are all doing something different in different ways. That’s what makes this so great.

Okay, I specifically didn’t count the Ubiquiti PowerBeam AC products which are already out for this reason, the firmware is still being debugged and DFS is still coming out “soon”. What I’m not sure of is what happens when it gets DFS and U-NII-1 cert. For example, OOBE limits 5.15 to 5.25GHz to around 40dBm instead of the previous 53dBm specs. When the PowerBeam-AC software is stable though, hopefully with 5.6 and even more hopefully, with DFS and U-NII-1 compatibility, then their pricing, which is about the same as the B5-Lite but with higher gain antennas, makes them a viable alternative between the B5-Lite and the AF5X.

But back to AF5/B5 battle. The B5-Lite is limited to about 1.5 miles at full bandwidth with integrated 20dbi antennas and about 300Mbps at 3 miles. The AirFiber 5X can use any antenna which extends the range significantly but now you could be encroaching on the AirFiber 5 and Mimosa B5 radio costs. But the AirFiber 5X can support big, bigger, and biggest antennas for massive range and still stay below $800 each side, the same as the B5c but at a few hundred dollars more. Most important to us is that our urban Galactic toolbox now has both long range and short range backhaul radios ranging in price from $150 to $3000 delivering a real 400-700+Mbps and you don’t have to pay a vig to get them. In the middle of this slugfest, Ubiquiti also quietly slipped another Howitzer into the battle, an upgraded 24GHz AirFiber 24HD that not only extends the range of the AirFiber 24 another 50%, it also increase the throughput by almost same amount (this could have been phrased many ways depending on the reference to modulation, pps, etc… so no comments correcting me please. Just know the radio is very, very cool).

Hold onto your horses though, friends, as the Point-to-Point wireless battle is about to become a Battle Royale cage match. It seems as though the fight card isn’t full and we have a new contestant, MetroLinq by IgniteNet. IgniteNet who you ask? That was pretty much my response until I did a little research. Apparently this company already has some vanilla 802.11ac products for PTP and PTMP and decided that 60GHz was a fun place to play. And assuming these radios get here with full FCC approval which is pending, not only do they know how to play, that know how to crash a party. 1Gbps in 60GHz means ¼ mile to a mile, depending on antenna in a client radio ranging from 7-14”. And you already know what’s coming next but I suggest you sit down, $550 each with built-in 5GHz backup radios. Yes, you heard that right Siklu, if or when this product hits the market, it just dropped the price of playing in the 60GHz band by 80%, and it comes with a 5GHz safety valve. A lot of 60GHz inventory still sitting on shelves just got heavily devalued and I think Bridgewave and LightPointe execs just broke out the Maalox. This line just kills me from Bridgewave’s website, “BridgeWave’s products are the highest performing and the first and only 60 GHz gigabit products below $20,000 for a full link”. Yea, I’d get that one edited very soon and start printing up coupons and rebates.

One other thing that needs to get discussed is full-duplex versus half-duplex and how it plays into an urban design. Most WISP clients have a 90/10 split of download to upload bandwidth. The argument that I’m making here is that a multi-hop PTP link can extend into urban areas without the need for fiber. Since full-duplex radios need double the bandwidth of half-duplex radios, there is an inordinate amount of wasted bandwidth in one direction, up. In that case, to maximize spectrum efficiency, half-duplex that allows an adjustment to prioritize traffic flow in one direction is the best. If you are building a loop network such as with towers, then full-duplex is the best since you don’t know the traffic flow direction of the loop, depending on which routing method you are using.

Where does that leave us, the poor, unwashed WISP? It puts us in the front of the Swat Team kicking down some wireline doors since we now have more backhaul tools than a restaurant has bowls. We can backhaul Gigabytes of data to bear anywhere in Ubania for less than Obama spends on tees. Consider this, with some careful mounting, we can use the 5GHz band to move 750Mbsp 5 miles for $1500 and have 4 taps in the middle. In high-congestion WiFi areas, we can spend $3500, have the same number of taps, and move 1Gbps in 60GHz. Or we can jump the shark and move it 10-50 miles and tell our local monopolistic based fiber companies which particular cliff they can jump of off. Who cares, we can do it all!! And not only is our Galactic Urban Toolbox full, equipment costs have nose-dived and hints of needing a bigger toolbox are starting to waft in the air.

These products coupled with more amazing PTMP equipment coming out later in the year, are game changers. In 60 days when Ignitenet and Mimosa B5-Lite products start shipping or you are already enjoying the Airfiber 5(X)s or B5’s you already have, I’m sure that many of you will start thinking about how to expand things. That’s when the real fight begins, Wireless versus cable versus DSL versus fiber versus government subsidized crony capitalistic boondoggles (my last political comment, I promise). It’s time for the gloves to come off and we all join the “Friends don’t let Friends keep monopolies alive by using wireline incumbents” club. It’s also why the government needs to simply get out of the subsidy business, capitalism, innovation, and free-market economics are about to destroy the need for big government fiber subsidy programs.

And I promise, no more really bad Point-to-Point puns.

Over the last few months, it’s become painfully evident that the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people has morphed into government gives us the business, is run by business, and is there to serve business.

The real power lies with the geriatric leaders of the House and Senate who listened to Cecil and Beanie live during the golden age of radio. They usually do what they are told by the special interest groups that keep them in office (the average age of the leadership of the House and Senate is 72 years old, so some of those relationships have been around a long, long time). These are the people who support this clueless ideologue of a President (I’ve been asked to take it easy on Obama here because after all, this is his first real job, so consider this me being nice), who has now corrupted what can only be described as a politically dysfunctional agency, the FCC. Yes, the same FCC run by T-Tommy Wheeler, who must be really proud of his accomplishments so far and who has now taken feckless to another level and allowed his agency to become as bad as the House and the Senate. There is no doubt that after T-Tommy (see previous article to understand his nickname) spent his entire tenure trying to thread the needle between special interests that own the current administration and his lobbying business clientele, he was completely undermined by the President.

Obama’s ultimate goal is control of the Internet by the government and a few large companies that have close ties to the government, plus higher taxes and the suppression of innovative technologies and ideas. Basically, every time the government imposes new taxes or new regulations, industries hunker down and then spend time trying to work around whatever damage the government has done to that industry. The only people who really know are the lobbyists that helped draft the legislation (GE is the master of this technique, they paid fewer taxes than the kid who mows my lawn). I used to be able to figure out what the government was up to by just following the money, but nowadays my head hurts just thinking about it. Although the players are now evident — Google, Amazon, NetFlix, and Apple — their purchase of influence may be unethical but it’s legal and understandable. At this point though, between a self-serving FCC Director/ex-lobbyist and a President with the economic acumen of Paul Krugman combined with the political negotiating abilities of Attila the Hun (really, I’m still being nice considering what I wrote the first time that my wife made me take out), this is just a disaster in waiting for the American taxpayer.

Obama’s latest move with Title II includes allowing cities and counties, the same entities that threw up all the regulatory road blocks and created monopolistic infrastructures though political favoritism, to install their own broadband networks. Basically they make it prohibitively expensive and even create anti-competitive environments, so they have an excuse to use taxpayer money to compete with companies to further destroy the free-market system. Of course, private companies would get millions of dollars to install it through their normal process of semi-rigged bidding systems. The FCC just had Dish Network cheat them out of $3B dollars in the most recent auction for AWS-3 spectrum, so forgive me if I’m cynical that this process is going to be ethical or efficient.

Unfortunately, the WISP industry in the US, both manufacturers and Service Providers, is now spending a boatload of money, wasting a lot of engineering talent, and getting a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do next. When the rules are changed in the middle of the game because some bureaucrat had his feelings hurt from some minor rule infraction, the industry shouldn’t be destroyed over it. Innovation in the WISP industry slowed down significantly in 2014 because of the implementation of rule changes without any feedback or what looks like any intelligent thought as to the ramifications. Further edicts in the beginning of 2015 by the POTUS have now sown even more uncertainty in the industry. That would be the same industry that has shown innovation and an ability to connect America anywhere, anytime at prices that would make fiber supporters cry like Seahawk fans.

Personally, I’m pretty tired of all of it. I haven’t been in this industry as long as many others, but I did have the experience of seeing how a disruptive concept can be successfully implemented and how it changed the landscape. Another thing I’ve seen is that even with all the roadblocks that government keeps putting in the way of new business, the idea of the American Dream hasn’t stopped the real drivers behind the economy. Although it’s important that our industry keep fighting for some semblance of common sense and integrity with the FCC and whoever is pulling Obama’s and Wheeler’s strings, it’s also not as important as losing focus on the next wave of wireless technologies and capabilities. Therefore, I’ve decided that even though I’ll watch what the FCC does in case I need to change my future plans, I’m not going to waste my breath or any more articles on ideologues, corrupt and unethical politicians (see, I didn’t even mention Obama in this sentence), and bought-and-paid-for appointed bureaucrats (slot in T-Tommy here). These people simply don’t have the right to be mentioned in the same breath as hard-working Americans, entrepreneurs, or honest taxpayers that pay for the government. And I’m pretty sure that no matter how inept they are, they aren’t going to stop the WISP industry’s efforts to compete in the broadband industry. They simply can’t conceive that there are people in this country that can do things without government intervention and have a work ethic that exceeds their political ideologies and the actual importance of the job.

Getting back to the technical stuff again, it’s time to start re-evaluating the RF environment that the FCC has created (or damaged depending on how you look at it). The first problem is that the traditional rural model has been the most affected by this change. The question is, how do rural providers get around this problem within the realm of the limits of physics and legal power issues? The answer is the same one that we have used in urban areas, but not the one the industry is jumping at as a technical solution. At the same time, rural operators are willing to either walk away from some customers or are willing to accept reduced bandwidth options due to the physics of getting signal through trees or long distances which I don’t see as an acceptable solution. I personally don’t find walking away from customers a viable alternative because if they aren’t your customers, they will be someone else’s.

I know my suggestion isn’t the most popular and clearly doesn’t work in every situation, but it’s very possible that the best answer is simply a relayed (point-to-point) PTP-PTP-PTP-PTP and so on system (we’ve done 5 hops and are planning longer). The FCC changes the rules, we have to change the way we think and although this is a repeat, I believe it’s now even more important to reconsider. We all know how to build this type of system. Moreover, equipment failures are now less frequent. Other than having to make a lot of new friends and approaching complete strangers to ask to borrow their roof for a few years, it’s a completely viable technology. Face it, users in the middle of nowhere need more capacity and this model can fill in some holes. In addition, 802.11n radios from Ubiquiti and Cambium that cost less than $100 can hit 120+Mbps with line-of-sight (LOS). The speed, distance, quality mantra applies here and if you can move radios closer, it’s much better.

I know that most rural areas are usually connected by towers, but the equipment has changed since the early days of Canopy, at least to everyone using Cambium ePMP or Ubiquiti radios. 100Mbps to 400Mbps+ PTP connections can be made for less than $200-$400. If you need a router or NEMA box, that might add $100-$150 more. That means a house that can be a relay point to get around trees or hills really only costs $100-$250 more than not needing a relay point. We always mount the NEMA box on the outer wall and put everything in there. With all the spectrum available, especially in rural areas, this model can hook up a lot of houses that don’t need to see a tower and minimize the amount of vegetation that needs to be penetrated.

The only problem with this idea is that you might have to provide the owner of the house with some type of discount. In some areas, we give them free Internet. If we are giving away free Internet, then we expect to connect to several more clients than we could before. In other locations, we simply give them a free indoor router and priority service. If it’s a rural area and we are the only game in town, then our contract states that for us to provide Internet service, that user must allow the house to be a relay point if necessary. I’m fully aware that many of you think of houses as a pain in the rear and unprofessional since they aren’t anywhere nearly as reliable as a tower. For example, what happens if a user turns off the electricity, moves, or someone disconnects the equipment? We have clauses that say that users are required to provide electricity, 24-hour access, etc., and we have all equipment outside the house. Users that are relayed through those locations are also notified that their SLA agreement is different because we may not have control of a user relay point that can take us offline.

Over the past 7 years, we have had a couple of incidents where we had to move the equipment but ended up with no downtime (except for the apparently really hungry psycho rabbit that must have mistaken the cable for a Twizzler). In most cases though, when we sign a contract, we scout multiple locations that we can relay from just in case we have to move something. I suspect in many rural areas, there may be only one path. Negotiations with homeowners should include discussions about how long they plan on being in the residence, possible credit check to establish stability even though you may not be charging them, and if they are renters or owners (yes, that should be first, we got fooled on that once). And although we haven’t done it yet, we are currently looking at using the houses to create redundant loop or pseudo mesh on the backhauls. It only adds $100 per backhaul house since routers are really cheap nowadays.

If you don’t think this is a great idea, consider this. Mimosa is still working diligently to get more spectrum up at 10GHz. If that happens, vegetation and distance are going to be twice as difficult as 5GHz. However, it’s also opens up a boatload of spectrum we greatly need and if making it work means getting closer to the clients, this is one way to do it. Yes, Ham Operators are going to be up in arms over losing some spectrum or at least be unhappy in sharing it but in reality, it’s barely being used. Considering that this country is about 3.8M square miles, many ways can be found to make it work where most people will be happy, except possibly the AARL (that should get me a lot of email).

With the reduction in power by the FCC in 5.8GHz, this may be the only way to reach many houses, or at least reach them with any level of capacity. We have great technologies coming out like LTE and White Space, but they just don’t have the spectrum to meet future needs of the video streaming community, at least not yet (another way to block WISPS from competing with the cellular companies). Then consider that the cost of tower deployments for these products may exceed $10K. Don’t get me wrong, these products are absolutely needed in many areas and may be the only choice. However, using 802.11 equipment to relay shorter distances at higher speeds, especially through vegetative environments, also looks like a pretty good option. I’ve used this technique for many years and with new low-cost 802.11ac radios from Ubiquiti and Mimosa coming to market, it means that moving hundreds of Mbps for very little cost is going to become another tool in the toolbox.

I need to wrap up the Cambium and Ubiquiti comparison so this is the end, at least for a while. Part of the reason is that a third player is now in the game, Mimosa, so things are changing. I know there are other companies out there like Bitlomat, Proxim, and Radwin, but they are a very small part of the WISP market and I doubt that is going to change. They are all also proprietary and I’m not going in that direction with my philosophy although Proxim is working hard on integrating other GPS systems. Not sure about the other vendors.

Chapter 49 got just too long to cover the nuances of all the announcements from Ubiquiti and Cambium so filling in a few holes might be in order. Migration, industry compatibility, new technologies, and how to integrate those technologies into new business decisions needed to be explored with all the announcements at WISPA. Each one of these areas could take a thesis to cover but since my wife gave me a Honey-Do list as long as an Obama speech without a teleprompter, I’ll try to keep mine short.

I’ll start with what was bugging me after re-reading Chapter 49 (Ubiquiti versus Cambium, Round 2). I thought clarification was seriously needed on my thought process about preparing for 802.11ac. One of the main problems for Cambium users who started with Motorola Canopy was an upgrade path. From the really clever PMP100 FSK product line, Motorola went to the PMP430 product line and then jumped on the WiMax bandwidth with the PMP320 product. No compatibility with anything previously released. When the PMP450 was announced, Canopy users were told that it was going to be compatible. Then they found out it wasn’t going to be compatible before it was compatible but then it became compatible, at least with the 430 and by sticking a second head on the shoulder of the 430, compatible with 100 series. Although all of those operators stayed Cambium, many operators went looking for additional options, a la Ubiquiti. The PMP450 also ran into the pesky physics issues of OFDM not going as far as FSK since it was about 6 times faster. The old adage, speed, distance, quality, pick two, still makes a good motto to fly by if you are changing modulation schemes. 802.11ac and/or 256QAM won’t be any different.

Cambium operators who tried Ubiquiti not only ran into the same thing, they also found out that GPS on Ubiquiti was kind of like a blind date your friend set you up with. The reality just didn’t match the hype and the results were as close as Mondale’s campaign against Ronald Reagan. It just didn’t really work very well or much at all, depending on who you ask. Cambium users used to a functional GPS were highly disappointed, as was pretty much anyone who never even used GPS and expected results based on Robert Pera’s presentation discussing it.

The ePMP product line was a coup for Cambium to get it out to market since it was their first foray into a standard chipset. As good engineers are wont to do, sometimes at the cost of market share, they fixed one of the problems with Atheros and 802.11 that Ubiquiti still hasn’t figured out – GPS. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, that made it incompatible with anything else. Recently, they just announced that the ePMP CPE units will have 802.11, which is huge. How huge is it? Glad you asked. It’s so huge, that I had to delete 2 paragraphs and rewrite this one during football Sunday which didn’t make me happy (and there were the ribs I was planning to cook). Cambium makes a high quality, well-engineered product that has unique features like heaters in case you live in any area that I will never move to for that reason (Phoenix is so SUNNY!!!). My thesis, which I promised not to write, was based on the fact that if Cambium took a few years to come out with 802.11ac, you would be kind of stuck.

With this announcement, Cambium is finally assuring their customers that they don’t have to forklift an entire network to move to future technologies if Cambium moves at Motorola speeds. With 802.11ac knocking on the door (based on FCC filings, Ubiquiti’s Rocket 5M AC, WISPAPALOOZA announcements by Mimosa and the full listing of their product line on their website, , and past experience with Ubiquiti firmware, 802.11ac is not going to make an impact for several more months in the PTMP market and that’s a comforting thing to know. And with Ubiquiti, you know they are going to be 802.11 compatible since they married Atheros a few years ago and are now having an affair with Broadcom for 802.11ac. For rural operators, it won’t make a difference. For the model I put forth in Chapter 43 and future articles where we try to keep clients at less than 1 mile from an AP, 256QAM isn’t an option, it’s a matter of survival.

Hopefully Cambium has something up their sleeve or what happened to Motorola when Ubiquiti came out is going to happen to them. Ubiquiti created a whole new market at the low end that Motorola never tapped that resulted in massive growth in the industry. Now that they have something to compete with, albeit 2-3 years too late, they not only have to compete with Ubiquiti’s new products and what they are already shipping, but Mimosa announced features nobody else even imagined in next generation products. What’s worse for Cambium (and Ubiquiti) is that those features are so out of the box, they were never even discussed in house, let alone a possible product. And the mechanics of the Mimosa omnidirectional APs which are at minimum 5dBi better than anything else from any vendor, rely on a chipset that is already ahead of what Broadcom or Atheros are shipping, so duplicating it isn’t going to happen easily. Even if they get started tomorrow, it will take them another 2-3 years to get product to market based on their track record. When Cambium split off, I thought it was going to be a new kind of company, but when the ePMP came out and the parabolic dish a year later (seriously), it was evident that the old engineering mindset never changed. It’s better than Motorola, but Mimosa just dropped a dime on them and they are going to have trouble picking up.

In the case of Triad Wireless and our new sister company, Cat Mountain Wireless, the sole reason for staying with 802.11 compatibility is so that we didn’t have to change the entire network to take advantage of 802.11ac or 256QAM. Also, based on what the world now knows, Mimosa is showing products that can support up to 1Gbps on an AP along with MU-MIMO late next year (with a 4×4 system, MU-MIMO will at least double the throughput in a PTMP system by talking to different 2×2 clients on different streams). Our system can live without GPS or polling as the network was designed around that idea, although polling has some attraction. I believe it’s more important to make sure that I have an upgrade path with multiple vendors. Ubiquiti has also already released an 802.11ac Rocket that works in PTP mode (now I’m interested to see who gets their PTMP AP working well first, Ubiquiti or Mimosa).

After having Vivato, SkyPilot, and Ricochet leave me at the prom, I’m not taking any chances. Most WISPs try to get more than one supplier for their bandwidth but don’t’ consider multiple hardware vendors an issue. Just to make sure to keep this in the back of your mind, Alvarion filed for bankruptcy protection last year. And although my paranoia is limited to the efforts by Major League owners to prevent the Cubs from ever winning the Pennant (they still say the person who interfered with the fly ball during the playoffs was just an overzealous fan who made a mistake. Yeah, I believe that!), I’m not taking any chances. Another story to keep in mind is that when Chevron-Texaco bought the rights to the Nickel-Metal Hydride Oshvinsky battery, they pretty much killed the electric car industry for 8 years and then had the gall to sue Toyota for using it. This one really is true. This is a competitive industry with let’s just say, some aggressive attitudes that have been made rather public and billions of dollars at stake. I suggest having a backup plan for any single supplier is probably a good idea.

Designing a network that can compete against wireline is a challenge. Vivint is pouring boatloads of money using APs that Huawei is helping develop (probably not Vivint’s best idea from a public relations standpoint since Huawei has been banned from the cell phone industry in the United States due to their funding and ties with the Chinese military). Their model is based on building their own proprietary APs to deliver 50Mbps for $50. They use houses as relay points which I think is a pretty good idea since we’ve been doing it for about 7 years. It’s really the best financial and logistical option in many suburbs for wireline competitive speeds unless your brother-in-law is the City Manager and your last name is Daley.

Vivint is guessing though, that for every rooftop they get, they can connect a certain number of indoor clients. Vivint doesn’t want every customer to require a truck roll which is a good theoretical strategy but not very practical from a financial or technical position. My guess is that they thought they could get 10-15 clients to 1 roof mount antenna based on the performance of the Quantenna chipset. I’m also thinking that in reality they are lucky to get 5 to 1 in some areas or worse. Our network has a ratio of 4 houses for every fixed commercial asset (towers, buildings, etc. which feed the houses with backhaul) for example and although we are up to about 30 users per house/AP, that’s just all we have sold to so far. Currently the model could easily support up to 50 clients per house with a single Rocket AP. However, aesthetics and home-owners associations come into play here so multiple APs with sectors (and totally forget shields here) aren’t a viable option. This is where I think the new Mimosa AS-360 products will have their best application. Theoretically, not only will it handle a plethora (Three Amigos – hilarious) of users and capacity, it won’t look like I have to get NASA clearance to install.

To that end and to expand the foundation for taking out wireline providers, we have started a full upgrade of our core network to improve speeds to be more competitive with wireline at a better price. For example, we had 10MHz channels on our 5GHz APS and have changed them to 20MHz. At the same time, the client APs are being set to 20/40MHz for future expansion when stable and tested 802.11ac APs are available. The original reasons for 10Mhz channels were:

1. We don’t run more than 50 users per AP since we have lots of APs (with the Barracuda Web Filter and blocking of certain applications, we never saw the problem at 30-35 users others reported).

2. Rocket 5M’s never got a functional GPS so channel spacing was an issue. The general rule is double the channel width as a guard if you don’t have GPS or get RF Armor shields.

3. The Ubiquiti processors on the Rocket 5M were limited to about 22-25Kbps and less with AirMax. This could be almost achieved with 10MHz channels and a lot of small packets.

4. We only needed to deliver about 35Mbps per AP which was sufficient up until last year.

5. Smaller channels, less guard space, and we were still dealing with a lot of Legacy Pre-N Ubiquiti and other 802.11 equipment that didn’t support DFS which limited the bands.

When the upgrade is completed over the next couple of days, users should see peak speeds of 50Mbps which isn’t bad for 802.11n. Some of my customers are already reporting a doubling of speeds to 40Mbps from 15Mbps and we haven’t finished all the backhauls yet or upgraded the tower.

Part of this upgrade is replacing the PowerBridges with PowerBeams set to 40MHz. Although I’m kind of ticked that the PowerBridge never got DFS or the 5150-5250MHz band, I’m replacing them with PowerBeam 400’s anyway for the speed. This is very sad since I’ve never had a single PowerBridge ever fail all the way back to the original PowerBridge 2’s. The PowerBeam 400s are so much better and faster for less than half the price; it’s time to retire the PowerBridges. Although the Rocket ACs are sort of out, waiting for some future firmware upgrades is probably not a bad idea. It seems that manufacturers today are releasing beta firmware with hardware more often and being an early adopter is probably better left to the lab than the field. Timing hardware release and stable software release seems to be harder than the Cubs winning the Pennant. The battle with cable/DSL/NetFlix is never-ending and in anticipation of a future with 802.11ac this is a great time to prepare if that’s the direction of your network.

A few side notes:

I’m pretty impressed by some of Ubiquiti’s new equipment. I really like the innovative design behind the AirGateway- LR’s. Although they need a sensitivity level setting like the AirRouters in the firmware, they not only added to our bottom line, they have so far shown a far lower failure rate than the AirRouters. Our profitability per install went up $6-$18 (we offer an optional longer range antenna) each with these little gems. I think we have about 200 or so AirGateways deployed now. $20-$30 for a managed AP opens up a lot of ideas although the standard AirGateway without the antenna has the range of a strand of spaghetti. In some homes though, we have had to put 2 of them in to cover all of it, even with bigger antennas. Bartender, AirGateway-LRs for all my men!

The new NanoBeams have been almost perfect (perfection comes with DFS frequencies which aren’t there yet). In PTP modes, especially shots through trees, we are not only seeing big improvements in the connection quality over PowerBridges and NanoBridges, the faster processors are testing out well over 100Mbps as we expand channel sizes. They aren’t hitting the full speed of 802.11N with 40MHz channels, but it’s much closer now to the ePMP. 802.11ac though, will be a whole new ballgame. Expect at least 250Mbps of real world throughput with 40MHz channels. Along those same lines, the new NanoBeams also look great. The mount options may save $10-$25 per house in some areas and labor time while the faster processors mean at least 80Mbps or more.

For you Cambium fans, Cambium has finally released a CPE that doesn’t look like a SETI experiment for longer range. Can you tell I’m not a big fan of reflector dishes? It’s an old tired design that adds nothing to the bottom line that an integrated parabolic could do better and it needs bigger mounts and more bolts into the roof. Cambium finally agreed with me after 3 years and built the ePMP100 at a cost of only $15 more than their standard dish. Then they topped it off with a PTP ePMP Force 110 which uses GPS synched radios as a higher-end competitor to a pair of PowerBeams. It fits in price wise between the PowerBeams and the AF5 or the Mimosa B5 Integrated. I might have to do a speed test someday and see how they compare.

For the fastest unlicensed backhaul though, the real battle is about to begin between the AF5 and the B5 Integrated (Cambium has a new 2Gbps 820 radio also). After Robert Pera threw down the gauntlet and said this,

“So Mimosa’s radio is coming in at a price point similar to airFiber5, but it’s really a hack-together Wi-Fi radio. And it’s not even 4×4, it’s 2 bonded 2×2 radios each 80 megahertz channel, size of channel. And then you need 200 megahertz of continuous spectrum to reach those speeds. And not only that, but only one of the chains is doing DSS radar detection, so it’s impossible for them to be compliant to anywhere in the world and have that contiguous 200-megahertz spectrum channel. So I see them pretty much as an alternative to our AirMax AC point-to-point solution, but the AirMax AC point-to-point solution is essentially 1/4 the cost. So again, I think they’re very good at branding, they’re very good at hype. But at the end of the day, they put lipstick on a Wi-Fi tape.”

The “hack-together” comment was more like a glove to the face so I will be testing those radios when I can get my hands on a B5 to find out the truth. I don’t see them as competitors though, I see them as complimentary. The Rocket AC has more speed than a Titanium but I don’t see it handling noise as well as the B5. It also has to deal with the inherent differences between 64QAM and 256QAM. The AF5 has more throughput than either radio with its 1024QAM modulation scheme and FDD but the same problem in a high noise environment and tears up most of the 5.730-5.850 band if you want long range and 1Gbps. The B5 will handle noise with different techniques so the tradeoff here of speed versus a high-noise environment will be interesting.

FTTH or at least 300Mbps cable is coming or is here. There is no way around it. If a politician is willing to spend $14,000,000 per customer for Obamacare, $10K to the home probably sounds like a bargain to them and it pays off their donors. It doesn’t matter that the return on investment will take longer than the house will stand but we have politicians who still think that’s a good “investment” of taxpayer’s money. I’m sure they could find a whole lot of people in Detroit and other economically depressed areas who really want to pay $100 per month for these high-speed circuits. Apparently the need to run vaporware is endemic in the psyche (my tongue is so far planted in my cheek on this one, I’m using it as neck scratcher). I will bet anyone that 50% of the market or more would be happy to pay lower prices as long as they can watch NetFlix without buffering in HD, regardless of advertised speeds. However, most users are going to eventually expect massive capacity for reasons they don’t have a clue about. If their neighbors have it, they will want it. Not everybody of course as we are targeting the 50% who just want good service for the best price. We are also noticing that although bragging about speeds is a great advertising gimmick, bragging to your neighbor that you are saving $100 a month is an even better sales tool.

When Tom Wheeler was appointed to the head of the FCC, it was just another broken promise by the Obama administration to not put lobbyists into his government. The cellular and cable industry finally got their own boy to head the agency. Considering how much taxpayer money is confiscated from the taxpayer through the telecommunications industry under the guise of taxes, laundered through the FCC, and then reallocated back to the cellular and telephone companies in the forms of grants and subsidies (and paybacks to successful lobbyists), this decision was like appointing a new Capo di tutti capi to head the family. And what an awesome appointment it has become.

T-Tommy Wheeler is probably one of the best investments the cellular and cable industry has ever had (only second to Hillary’s investments in futures which makes you wonder why she isn’t an investment banker instead of a lawyer) appointed by the most crooked, feckless, and dishonest president I’ve seen in my lifetime (and I watched the Beverly Hillbillies when they were first broadcast so that’s a long time). If you think that I’m being paranoid, after watching the destruction of net neutrality, thus allowing his former and future lobbyist clients to charge for data use on the front and the back end, Mr. Wheeler has found a way to completely cripple the WISP industry. He is totally bent on destroying the one band that actually works to make rural Internet possible and efficient without government subsidies and outside the clutches of his golfing buddies at Verizon and AT&T (this little rule change must be getting him a year’s worth of Mulligans).

If you can’t tell by now, this is article is going to be far more political than technical. Although the changes to the rules are of a technical nature, the reasons for the changes are a little murky (look up political favors in Wikipedia). Basically, the FCC and T-Tommy want to change the rules in the UNI-II upper band to make the equipment far more expensive and to limit its range and useable spectrum. So, I’m giving advanced warning to those of you who have complained that I’m too political in what should be a technical article. I’m giving you fair warning which is more than the FCC did. I’m opening the floodgates on this one or I’ll have to start binging on HoHos to deal with it. I do want to say though, I’m not advocating any political party; they have both become sleazy, power-hungry, and more about keeping career criminals, err politicians, in office until they need a Power Scooter to get around Washington. I’m also against the lying, secrecy, and hypocrisy that they use to stay in power. In this case, we are going to cover how the politics are destroying the free market and small business which happens to be our livelihood and how T-Tommy “Gunn” Wheeler is the front man for it. For those of you who think I shoot (even I like how I set this one up) from the hip, I guarantee you this doesn’t make me popular as a consultant and directly affects my HoHo budget so I don’t do this lightly. But as Jimmy Stewart so famously said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

When it comes to the destruction of ethics in the political process by career politicians, believe me, I don’t like what either party does. Between McConnell extorting Republican Senators to pony up money to reelect a professional pawn, oops, politician like Cochran (whose own campaign stooped to new lows with their disgusting racist accusations) to Cummings trying to block any investigation in the IRS and Benghazi, I’m pretty much done with any incumbent and the stuff they get away with. The system is corrupt and the FCC is just another branch of a system designed to help large corporations and the status quo at the expense of the taxpayer and small business.

I’ve probably mentioned (okay, I’m beating this poor drum to death) how taxpayer subsidies through bureaucratic agencies corrupt the idea of capitalism and cheat the taxpayers although most of them are too uninformed to realize it. The way it works is ingenious actually. The politicians create some goober tax, funnel it to an agency that can then distribute it through the various agencies with subsidy programs nobody can really audit, and then dump it into the companies that wrote the programs with their teams of lawyers so they can call it taxpayer subsidies. Like some puppet politician who probably hasn’t worked in private industry since the Apollo lift-off has any idea of what the free-market really looks like. If you doubt that, ask them if they are in Social Security or the Obama Health Care System. I hate to tell you, they get to avoid the world’s longest running and totally broke Ponzi scheme along with a health care plan that is so expensive and incompetent, even the courts can’t figure out how it works and the Obama administration changes more than my underwear (in full disclosure, I change my underwear more than 40 times a year but I’m not disclosing whether it’s boxers or briefs unless someone files a FOIA with my wife).

Lobbyists buy influence with politicians by promising to funnel money into their election campaigns and Super PACs (and employing family members and friends). No surprise there and it’s been going on for years. It’s such a corrupt system that neither the House nor the Senate can pass an anti-corruption bill to even keep themselves from being ethical that has any teeth in it. The goal is to keep incumbents in office and pass laws that provides tax breaks or puts taxpayer subsidies into the pockets of the constituents who grease the wheels. In the old days, this would be called bribing a government official, but the system and the political process are so much better at hiding corruption today that taxpayers, the people who elect these officials, are clueless as to how they keep being ripped off from both ends.

A great example is “speaking fees” used to funnel money to Bill and Hillary Clinton for their influence while they were in office or in case they get into office again. If you think I’m wrong, please tell me who on the planet is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars just to flap their lips other than Warren Buffet (well, maybe Chelsea Clinton who gets $75K per event for all her worldly and business experience).

The EPA, as an example, executes the will of the President and the lobbyists who own the party. The EPA is currently in the process of destroying the coal industry (and will probably move onto all carbon-based energy suppliers eventually) as an energy supplier by arbitrarily changing the rules for pollution emissions. They want to now make coal-fired plants use technologies that either don’t exist or are too expensive to use, thus making it unprofitable for the industry to stay in business. So far it has cost thousands of jobs in Kentucky alone and the tally is climbing daily (Kentucky could always try to elect this guy,, at least he is honest about being dishonest and he’s really funny). What’s interesting is that the state that supported Barack Obama and his EPA is now one of the states getting hit the hardest economically as these plants and mines close. Don’t you just love irony? And don’t even get me started on the bogus data, hidden emails outside the federal government shared between the EPA and environmental groups, and stonewalling the EPA did to Shell in Alaska. Hold on another paragraph and we will get to the new FCC.

Unless the other political party holds power in the House and the Senate, the bureaucratic agencies that make up the real power in the federal government can pretty much get away with what the President wants or whatever their political/financial will is. If you doubt it, just look at how corrupt the IRS has become and its influence in an election year under a President with unfettered access to everyone’s financial data. And that’s just the stuff we know about. Not much is written about how the IRS and the Democrats have strong-armed people into silence like Dr. Ben Carson over his charity efforts. That’s the second part of the scandal that will never come to light. And that’s where placing Tom Wheeler as the head of the FCC comes into the story.

Ahh, a long story but what does that have to do with T-Tommy Wheeler and the FCC? I’ve told you those stories to give you the background and reasoning for the absolutely supposedly inexplicable decisions being made by the FCC. Unfortunately, inexplicable isn’t really the reason Tom Wheeler is going out of his way to destroy the only industry that competes with his buddies at Verizon, CenturyLink, AT&T, and the rest of the cellular and telecom industry. As the WISP industry has grown, it has become evident to the big players that they are vulnerable in rural areas because the WISP industry has successfully lobbied the FCC to deny telecoms the public tax subsidies that the telcos believe they are entitled to. Note I say “entitled to” which in itself is a sad statement in an entrepreneurial society and a supposedly free market economy.

The destruction of the unlicensed bands started in 2006 with the first foray into the 902-928MHz band by Progeny and the FCC. For years, that slim 26MHz band was the only sub 1GHz bandwidth that was unlicensed. Since lower frequencies are better for tree penetration, this band was the best choice for rural, high-vegetation and rural environments. Although it’s not the best option, it was still the only way signal was getting through miles of forest. Cambium’s Canopy 900MHz product owned the market then and in many cases, it is still the dominant product because it just works. It’s not fast, but FSK is a pretty good way to get signal into no man’s land. But when somebody got to the FCC and told them we apparently needed a more accurate GPS positioning system and that the 900MHz band was perfect for that, the FCC jumped. Progeny and several other companies were more than happy to get into the game, so who could blame them? So $2M later, Progeny got the right to destroy about a 1/3 of the band. Even better, Progeny got it for less than 1% of what the cellular companies paid for their bandwidth and at the expense of everyone else in the band. SCADA operators are having conniptions because Progeny is causing all sorts of interference in the band.

So Progeny destroys about a third of the band and the FCC thinks that’s an efficient use of sub-1GHz frequencies. But wait, there’s more. They couldn’t make it work with existing power limitations so they asked to use up to 30 Watts. In comparison, WISPs can use 1W transmitters with 6dBm antennas which is 4W EIRP. Progeny’s use of the band with their power output and limited masking means the band is pretty much trashed down to around 916Mhz. Keep in mind that with increased SCADA use and the power output violations that municipalities typically do in this band, it means the band is almost unusable now. Kind of interesting that a band that is supposed to be unlicensed gets licensed if you know someone in the government. As a side note, ask if they have the same emission mask that WISPs are being asked to use in 5.8GHz with T-Tommy’s new rule.

No worries though, the FCC promised that more bandwidth would become available when the TV stations turned their spectrum back. WISPs could use the channels between the channels in 6Mhz increments, thus White Space radios were born. Microsoft, Google, Adaptrum, Carlson, and others poured millions of dollars in creating hardware to take advantage of the new spectrum. Three years later, that equipment is just now coming to market. In the meantime, the FCC auctioned a bunch of the television spectrum to the cellular companies and generated billions of dollars for the federal government. Verizon and AT&T snapped up boatloads of spectrum in the 700Mhz arena and started upgrading their networks. That was okay though, since there was still a sufficient amount of bandwidth to go around. Then just as the White Space equipment is coming out, the FCC decides to sell more spectrum (that would have been used as White Space) in the 700Mhz band to cellular companies. In some cities, that means White Space radios will have as little as 1 channel to work with. Another blow to the rural WISP again who doesn’t have the clout to buy a politician or spend billions on spectrum.

Tom Wheeler though, is making a bunch of moves in the FCC to fast track additional spectrum in 5GHz. WISPs started going googoo-eyed thinking maybe he isn’t the puppet lobbyist yes-man we all thought he was going to be. Be real, T-Tommy doesn’t give a hoot about WISPs and taxpayers. The reality is that the cellular industry has been eyeing and using the 5GHz band also, very quietly in fact, to supplement the bandwidth they don’t have between towers and as part of a Qualcomm LTE technology strategy. In addition, the cable and satellite companies are drooling over being able to use more bandwidth in the house for multiple devices with 802.11ac since it reduces their cabling requirements.

Even though adding more spectrum is a good thing for everyone, it really was to make Tom Wheeler’s cable friends happy, not to help WISPS. Tom Wheeler and his crony committee at the FCC have finally figured out how to completely wipe WISPs out of the deep rural market by changing the rules in the 5.730-5.75GHz under the guise of protecting the TDWR band. They are asking manufacturers to change the hardware design to limit out-of-band emissions to a level that is unreasonable for the technology. According to Cambium, which have some of the most highly respected and experienced engineers on the industry, this will have the effect of reducing range, limiting useable bandwidth to about 45MHz, and driving the cost of the equipment up significantly. Mimosa and Ubiquiti engineers, many of whom I’ve met, have also filed briefs rejecting this rule and although I haven’t read theirs yet (these things are long, technical and boring, kind of like reading “Dreams of my Father” but without all the fictional parts). I don’t doubt they are as accurate and insightful as Cambium’s. Now, given the choice between believing a bureaucratic agency that is run by a lobbyist with his own agenda appointed by Barack Obama and engineers from private industry that have created and helped develop this industry from its inception, I have a tendency to believe the engineers. That leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that there is either a political or financial motive for the FCC to change rules that will damage the industry. This just smells bad and their reasoning stinks even worse since the rules governing the band are already in place.

The FCC is saying that since a few lawbreakers installed bogus firmware, they caused problems for Doppler radar. Assuming that is true, why then are we punishing the law-abiding citizens for the acts of a few criminals. This is the same twisted mentality that anti-gun advocates use. Criminals use guns so no law-abiding people should have them. Apparently that logic works so well, Chicago, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, only had 60 people shot over the 4th of July and each weekend is an adventure in dodging bullets. Unfortunately criminals aren’t getting the message they shouldn’t use guns the same as the morons who modify firmware that interferes with the TDWR band. But please, let’s destroy an entire growing industry and jobs because of a few unethical people. Brilliant logic and totally expected by the federal government except that it the reasoning may not be based on factual information.

The FCC is claiming that they had people fanning out all over the country collecting data to show how prevalent that interference with the TDWR band was and what equipment caused it. My first question is this, where is the data? The FCC is claiming this is a problem of epidemic proportions so if that’s the case, show me the proof. How many times did it happen and in what parts of the country? T-Tommy Wheeler should just come out and say he doesn’t have the data because it was on Lois Lerner’s hard drive and it’s been destroyed but we should trust him. At least the IRS has the arrogance to come up with stupid lies to cover their criminal activity even though statistically it’s impossible. Without publishing the actual data and proving that the data is accurate, not some made up projected number to justify such a job killing and taxpayer damaging rule change, there is no case for the FCC to change the rules. After watching the Obama administration stonewall Fast and Furious, the IRS investigation, Benghazi, and so many other scandals that I ran out of fingers and toes counting, I wouldn’t trust one piece of data coming from any branch of our government unless my Grandma herself collected it. If you want to make this fair, the FCC should partner with WISPs and pay an independent company to do an audit, not some government worker from the FCC.

Then again, remember who is running the FCC — Mr. T-Tommy “Cellular/Telcom lobbyist” Wheeler. If he kills the one band that can connect clients at 50 miles or provide decent bandwidth in remote or rural areas, he can justify slipping more FCC subsidies to his buddies at Verizon, CenturyLink, Comcast, and others to make up for the loss of service that he created. Keep in mind that the power output also lets short-range communications work through high-vegetative environment so this is much bigger than just the rural WISP market. It’s so obviously corrupt, it’s laughable that they can even consider it. Unfortunately it’s also legal. Lobbyists have been buying politicians for years. T-Tommy simply bypassed greasing the election fund of the politicians and made himself the executioner for an industry that was just starting to grow and actually compete with the cellular and wireline industries. In the end, jobs get killed, small companies will never be created, and the taxpayer gets hosed again by big money interests running Washington.

A year ago, CenturyLink, a $40 billion company that had already taken billions in subsidies from the federal government, went to the FCC and named over 60 competing WISPS they wanted to put out of business. They knew that the FCC was either so corrupt or so stupid that they asked them for tens of millions of dollars to do it and even named the companies they wanted to damage. How blatant is that? Fortunately, WISPA stepped in and pointed out that the federal government giving money to a behemoth company to crush small businesses was a bad move. The embarrassment is that CenturyLink didn’t even think this was wrong or that the even FCC would consider doing it. Apparently CenturyLink and a few other companies simply bided their time and figured out another way to do it under the guise of “it’s for the children, err, TDWR”. They have definitely now found a way. I’m calling out the FCC and Tom Wheeler for directly doing the bidding of whoever is planning on hiring him and the committee members when they leave government. Here is the famous revolving door policy that is prevalent in Washington and the Pentagon on full display. This is wrong on so many levels that instead of fighting this within the FCC, we should be fighting this with our Congressmen and Senators, at least those that aren’t already in the pocket of big telecom. Or if necessary, file a FOIA and take it to court if that data can’t be produced (here is where we should all hold our breath until it is). If not, the rural WISP industry is going to go the way of the horse and buggy, but at least Mr. Wheeler will have fattened his client Rolodex for his post-FCC career. By the way, if you are wondering what the T stands for, it’s Tool.

Interesting fellow that Shakespeare because not only did he write plays, he also acted in them. And although Tales from the Towers, doesn’t hold a candle (pre-electric times, you can groan now) to Mr. William’s contributions to culture, I have a double life too. If you haven’t guessed yet, writing articles really isn’t my full time job (now my wife is groaning), I actually run a WISP, do installs, and handle tech support calls. After 10 years though, and many mistakes and successes, I’ve decided to rethink my network from the ground up as if I was starting tomorrow and share that. The idea is to lay out a simplified road map that will bring forth thousands of new WISPs into the market that can start breaking down the digital divide without taxpayer money and creating a new business. Since a thousand bee can take out the biggest animal, the more companies that jump into the industry, the better the chances of competing against the incumbents. It’s time to open the floodgates of small business entrepreneurs and begin the war for last mile bandwidth delivery everywhere. And although few outside Star Trek fans will recognize one of Shakespeare’s most famous sayings, they will recognize this modern variation, “Who let the dogs out”! Hopefully it’s the WISP industry.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the article comparing Ubiquiti and Cambium seems to be the most read of everything I’ve written. With the new ePMP from Cambium and Ubiquiti announcing their new NanoBeam products and future 802.11ac AirPrism technologies, I thought this would be a good time for an update. For the record though, my personal favorite was Chapter 22 since I was able to include a ton of metaphors, Arlo Guthrie, politics, and technology. If I’d remembered to include HoHo’s, all the high-points would have been covered.

Chapter 48 – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, err Cargo Vans.

I like cars.  I’ve been a car guy since Hot Wheels in the 60’s.  I’ve been through the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am phase and although I’m in the Mustang phase now with enough horsepower to turn earth into my personal dynamometer, I find that my interest is turning to gas mileage, vehicle longevity, and reducing the cost of operation of my vehicles.  I know this isn’t technically a WISP type article but it’s a fact of life with a WISP from a financial sense.  That and there is a big lull in the industry on hardware/software  announcements since WISPA is almost 30 days away where we get the really big news.

In this article, Rory Conaway describes a nightmare of a project and the lessons learned.

Many WISPs do one-off wireless projects. As consultants, we get referrals for many projects from a variety of sources. I have partnered or been lead on many projects, some of which I’ve written about here, others that have been profiled in magazine articles, and some of which I’d rather put in the category of “what was I thinking”. These projects are a great way to add to the bottom line, build reputation and experience, work with new products, and get away from users who think their sole and final purpose in life is to send me speedtest screen shots 6 times a day. When someone refers a project to us, we do everything possible to make that referring company or client look good on the project. However, sometimes they are engineered incorrectly and there is no way in all good conscience to complete the installation. Even worse, if you complete the installation and it doesn’t work or work well, you get blamed. This damages your reputation with the client or the referring company, meaning no more referrals. It’s a total lose-lose situation that reminds of the decision you have to make when the doctor asks you to choose between a laxative and a suppository.

The 900MHz band used to be viable for WISPs.  Then the FCC started relaxing the rules and giving it away to companies that should be using different frequencies, like Progeny for example.  To add insult to injury, they then give them an unfair advantage of higher power.  But as sleazy as the Progeny deal was that Julian pushed out the door for his buddies or bosses, I’m not sure which yet, it doesn’t even come close to the number of illegally power SCADA devices that almost every single municipality has in place.  Municipalities are so used to over legal power limits on their SCADA 900Mhz devices they have in place, it’s become standard operation procedure and is even documented as being illegal in the RF analysis of their engineering study .  And the worst part is that nobody, especially the FCC , is doing anything about it.

5GHz has been the backbone of WISPs for a long time.  900Mhz is under assault in any urban environment meaning you are limited to Grizzly Adams neighbors and hope that most users only want to watch 70’s TV shows on NetFlix.  3.65GHz WiMax is tough on the budget and ulcers but it’s still the best option for long-range and vegetation, it’s just not magic.   2.4GHz is pretty much toast in any suburban area or city area.  If you really want to see interference, I’ll show you the logs from our Xirrus router installed indoors that picked up 1400 APs.  2.4GHz still has value in remote areas for WISPs due to the 3-1 exception rule except that without Vivato, nobody has an AP that can take advantage of it any longer.  I’m still holding out hope that with 802.11ac that the idea makes a comeback.   Even though 802.11ac is specifically 5GHz, I’m not seeing the problem scaling it down to 2.4GHz in the future.  A variation of this with dual-banding could bring back the mesh market.

This article addresses why the Connect America Fund should be shut down and what steps can be taken to encourage competition in the market for wired and wireless broadband services.
I’ve mentioned many times that I believe our current government is simply clueless.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that it’s simply far worse than that. If you combine corruption, selfishness, ignorance, arrogance, cronyism, stupidity, and incompetence in one package, that would pretty much describe the bloated, bureaucratic mess that is the US Federal Government. I’m not saying that there aren’t good people in the government; but as a whole, it’s simply pathetic. And this starts at the top and weasels its way down to every penny given to almost every private company, courtesy of politicians and bureaucrats who are either paying off someone for getting elected or through the concept of the welfare state. This didn’t start 5 years ago but has been going on for at least 100 years or more. Most of us never saw it or even paid attention unless they gored our ox. At this point though, the WISP industry’s ox is not only getting gored, its remains are multiplying and being spread across the land.  I believe the other name for this is manure.

I’ve seen projections in our industry range from “the WISP market is dying, we need to move to fiber” up to “new technologies in RF are going to make fiber the horse and buggy of bandwidth industry”.  The truth is that the wireless industry is about to put the hurt on the Wired World and they aren’t even hitting their stride yet.  My newest model which I call, Galactus – Destroyer of Wired World  (say it with a low grumble in your voice for more effect), is designed just for that battle.  The good part is that you can do it today and be ready for tomorrow.  Then when tomorrow comes, or really 802.11ac, it will just drop right in and re-arm you for the next few years of wired and fiber battle.  However, the WISP paradigm and deployment mentality is going to have to change somewhat to take advantage of tomorrow’s technologies.

I should have called this article, “How I spent my Christmas vacation developing an ulcer”. I know, I know, WISPs never really get a vacation. I’m so paranoid about being out of touch that I took a satellite phone on a cruise and left the number with my Vienna Hot Dog vendor in case he was worried when I didn’t show up every Tuesday. However, recently I’ve put 24 hours on my cell phone over 4 days, had to drive 700 miles, and waste two 16 hour days on-site while my family was enjoying Italian dinners, Christmas cookies, and many hours around the card table. But this isn’t an article about goofy client customer support calls.

Every time a new product comes out, there is a lot of discussion about pros and cons, and how it works within existing deployments.  The primary manufacturers have been following the same formulas for years.  Cambium builds for high-density, long-range tower deployments based around a tower-centric hardware product line, Ubiquiti builds for pretty much everything else that is deployed by WISPs.  This long-range tower-centric model is the only one that makes sense from a financial position for WISPS with Cambium equipment.  When an AP costs $3000-$4000 dollars or it costs $10-$50,000 dollars or more to outfit a tower with APs, routers, backhaul radios, and battery backups, it’s imperative to maximize the efficiency of that that tower to increase profitability.


At WISPAPALOOZA this year, I was asked to be one of the speakers at the <500 User WISP presentation. Although we are supposed to go to WISPA to learn from others with more and different experiences, which I did, I also learned some things about my operations that I hadn’t thought about.  Putting together a PowerPoint presentation about your company is a great way to step outside and look back in.  If you think through all the facets of the company, where you are, where you are going, what’s working, what’s not working, etc…, and put that to paper to explain it to others, you may find that there are many things about your company that you have overlooked or just take for granted.

If you haven’t been to WISPAPALOOZA before, be prepared to find out it’s nothing like your fathers WISPAPALOOZA.  This event was so full of activities, speakers, and new information that I think WISPA kept Vegas awake, not the other way around.  If you think Vegas is a vacation when WISPA is there, think again.  For all of us who have been to conventions, this is more like hanging around with 1000 friends who want to help you make your business better. Even though I have to admit to watching a couple of playoff games with the Giants embarrassing the Tigers (maybe Obama can get Detroit a bailout for Justin Verlanders arm since he is a union member), it just meant staying up later to discuss even more ideas.  I literally didn’t get more than 4-6 hours of sleep on this trip any night and I wasn’t even at the hotel to experience the fire alarm treatment.  I finallysent a postcard to the Blackjack dealers on Thursday and told them I would try and stop by next trip.


WISPS have more tools available today than ever before.  There is an optimized product for every single model that is currently deployed, and there are a lot of different models.   From grounded RJ-45 connectors to so many antenna models and every component in between, it’s impossible to keep up with everything any longer.  Ask 5 WISPS what cable they use and you will get 5 different answers.   MikroTik turned routers into white boxes and billing systems range from polished to what my Grandma’s kitchen used to look like when she decided to try a new recipe.  There are now more ways to design a WISP than there are ways to play Monopoly.

Anybody starting a business knows that funding is the biggest problem.  Angel investment and venture capital for first round funding is about as scarce as shade in Phoenix.  That is of course, unless your Uncle RUSs or Aunt CAFee open up the government (meaning poor taxpayers) purse strings (lookup OpenRange, Main Street Broadband) to people who haven’t quite mastered the intricate and mystical techniques of the Excel spreadsheet.

Chapter 36: Tales from the Towers – And back into the Frying Pan: Part 2

I’ve rewritten this article several times in the last few weeks due to the sinking stock price of Ubiquiti.  Since this article was based on where I thought the companies were going and Ubiquiti stock was sinking faster than Eddie Murphy’s box office appeal from Pluto Nash, I was hoping to see things settle down first.  Right now it’s almost impossible to make any predictions.  However, I’m going to anyway because I have as many opinions as Obama has excuses.  I’m willing to stick my neck out if I have some reasonable foundation to base my prediction on, but frankly these may be as much a coin flip as anything else so clearly don’t base any investment decisions on it.  I never saw this crash which means I’m as clueless as the next guy when it comes to investor mentalities.  Other than the typical annual or bi-annual stock shortages which the supply chain it totally used to, I can’t figure out how a company with their numbers and expanding product lines goes down by 2/3rds in stock price.  I’ve also delayed because I’m down to typing with two thumbs which is slightly slower, albeit some may say more accurate, than my usual technique (if you ever find your arm pinned to your chest for a month, I heartily recommend the Azio thumb keyboard).

Chapter 35: Tales from the Towers – Jumping into the Fire: Part 1

Before you start reading this article, I’m warning you that it’s the longest one I’ve written and the only one I let the manufacturers involved see it before it was released.  I have my opinion and perceptions as many of you do.  However, I also wanted it to be factually accurate and gave both manufacturers a couple of days to respond to any inaccuracies.  Designing a WISP with a tower-centric model is pretty straight forward.  Many of you have done that successfully for several years.  In the beginning of our industry, that was pretty much the model that stands proven and true today.  However, recent startups today range from a friend who wants to cover his neighborhood to companies that are looking at going public down the road.  As Open-Range, Key-On, and several other recent failures have demonstrated, that type of model is more difficult to design and deploy successfully (read profitably) in today’s competitive environment in the United States.  As the United States is only 20% of the Worldwide WISP market, I’m not going to presume that my analysis applies everywhere. In two other countries that I’m dealing with, both models are valid though and I’m looking at hybrid models in each of them.      

I’ve seen business plans for WISPs from small to large, and from municipal mesh to tower-centric models.  In every one, I try to look at design methodologies that would make the deployment unique technically.  The goal is that th effort pays off in reduced capital expenditures, competitive advantage, and hopefully an overall better financial business model.  One of the problems with being an engineer though is that we rarely assume we are wrong unless someone proves that we are. 

Tales from the Towers: Chapter 33 – What’s your Vector, Victor?

I participate in various forums that cover the wireless industry.  One of the things I enjoy hearing about is that unlicensed frequencies can’t work in certain applications for various reasons.  Too much interference, too expensive, and if it’s possible why anyone else hasn’t done it, are common objections and just get my shackles up.  The third one is my personal favorite and the one that really motivates me more than a good Chicago Vienna Hot Dog with pumpernickel bun, a Diet Coke (substitute YooHoo if available), and a Hostess HoHo.     I’m also worried that the Hostess bankruptcy filing might mean the end of my favorite snack so I’m starting a public awareness campaign to save the HoHo J.

I’ve seen bids in the last few weeks that range from wireless municipal specifications from 8 years ago to the desire to reach for the outer limits.  Both strategies have unrealistic expectations, just from different ends of the equation.  Eight-year old municipal specifications assume that delivering 300Kbps is an adequate expectation for anyone in 2011.  Of course, if you still use AOL dial-up, then 300Kbps is a magical upgrade.  For the rest of us, using 300Kbps is painfully close to watching paint dry for some websites and applications. Forget using the cloud for storing anything with 300Kbps.

Most WISP operators perform additional projects outside the scope of just providing Internet. 

The skill sets required to install backhaul systems and residential or business clients can be utilized in many other applications.  Although I’ve been fortunate enough to see many unique types of wireless applications, some stick out more than others.  Video Surveillance and SCADA for traffic, water, sewer, are pretty standard.  Last week I ran into a new one that really piqued my interest as both a wireless engineer and as a guy that reads  Although I only understand about 1/1000 of what I’m reading, it’s still really cool stuff. 

That’s not exactly how it’s sung by Frankie in “How you wear your hat” but if the slipper fits…  Public Safety is scared to use 2.4GHz.  Fears of hackers and the fact everything on the planet that is WiFi enabled runs in 2.4GHz.  And why should they use it when the government has given them their own system in 4.9GHz?  The reality check is this, when you share a taxi with someone going in the same direction, you both get to where you are going and you save a little money.

I’ll be right upfront and tell you that this article is about a system that I’ve designed and that we are going to sell as a complete solution.  However, it’s so unique and press releases are too brief that I thought an article explaining our system in greater detail would be a good idea.  I’m not going to spill all the secrets but some of the concepts used and comparisons to existing municipal products are valuable to municipalities trying to decide between nothing and really expensive fiber.  It’s wonderful that Google wants to pay to wire two cities on the planet, but what about the other 2,469, 499 (reference: WikiAnswers)?  This is almost like starting over from Chapter 1 but it is actually an evolution of everything I’ve talked about in the previous Tales From The Towers chapters with some secret sauce thrown in.

Running a WISP takes a wide variety of skill sets.  My collection of technical skills looks sort of like this: 

1RF Engineer 

2) Field Installer 

3) Network Administrator 

4) Client and Desktop Support

Tales from the Towers                                                            July 25, 2010 at 8:12 PM


Chapter 27: Tales from the Tower - 2.4GHz for PTP Mission Critical applications across a city?  What are you nuts?

Written By Rory Conaway (President and CEO of Triad Wireless)

This is Chapter 27 of Rory Conaway’s “Tales From The Towers” seriesabout 2.4GHz for PTP Mission Critical applications across a city?  What are you nuts? If you have not yet done so, read Chapter 26: Everything old is New Again.

Although I live in Triadland and have been accused of not having a grip in reality...

Tales from the Towers - Chapter 26: Everything old is New Again

We all know that politicians are bought and sold long before they ever get to Washington.  Just to get there means that every special interest on both sides of the aisle have already staked their claim on a representative’s soul.  When someone pays for every facet of our life, you owe them dearly which makes most votes predestined on any particular topic a formality more than a surprise.  That’s one of the reasons that votes concerning Television frequency reallocation such a conundrum for me on which side to support.

Chapter 25: What’s the Point (to Point)

It seems like the longer I wait to write these, the further I get behind with all the news in the broadband industry.  Between AT&T trying to relive its glory days of a total monopoly of the wireless telecommunications market and the government finally figuring out that CenturyLink was smarter than they were, it’s been interesting times.  It is hilarious to watch CenturyLink completely corrupt the concept behind the RUS and then surprise the industry with a massive takeover move.  If Cox and Comcast hadn’t thrown it in the face of the RUS, the RUS would still be feeding money through the various shell companies CenturyLink used to hide their activities.  I wonder how many more proposals from CenturyLink subsidiaries are stilling pending on the desks of the RUS and what they plan to do about them.  It’s been strangely quiet over there.

Chapter 24 – The Grass isn’t always Greener on the other side of the Contractor Fence.

Being a small company with a wide variety of technical needs that vary from project to project, I use a lot of contractors.  For example, I couldn’t bend a pipe without more dents than a Honda in a hailstorm.   However, WISP operations and many different types of projects like video surveillance, access control, or even VoIP projects means that I had to bring in other people with special skills that I don’t have.  However, a recent event in being the sub-contractor on a project with EarthCam has made me rethink how I’m going to treat my contractors in the future.


April 13, 2011 at 10:25 AM by Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

WISPs are starting to get a little recognition with Obama's new initiative to provide more funding and loans for Rural Broadband. He announced a new initiative to take back more bandwidth below 1GHz and auction it off. Then he came up with the brilliant idea to use those funds to pay for a real public safety infrastructure. The timing of that was about a week after Chapter 21. I'm not saying Obama is a big fan of "Tales from the Towers" and that he would plagiarize other people ideas like extending the Patriot Act or keeping Guantanamo Bay open, but, okay I am saying... Everybody has to have their fantasies.

Chapter 22 – Tales from the Tower:  Is Law Enforcement the Red –Headed Step Child of the Broadband Movement?

When Wireless Broadband was on everyone’s lips 8 years ago, we all thought we would be able to use our laptops everywhere.  About the same time that Earthlink and Metro-Fi realized you can’t make “Free” pay off for their investors, 3G started moving in to fill the void.   Then YouTube came along, pushed 3G to the ground and said, “I spit in the face of your puny bandwidth (insert Austrian Accent Here).”   3G then said, “Oh yea, my big brother, 4G, is coming and he will take care of you.  You will be sorry.”  YouTube said, “BTW, meet my friends, Hulu and NetFlix”.  4G took one look at these guys and said, “I’ll fight you guys but you have to have one hand tied behind your back, both legs tied together, and we are only going to fight for 10 minutes.  After that I win and you have to go home”.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 21: Let’s do it for the children

I get a lot of calls from people interested in starting a WISP. Since I look at each deployment as a challenge both technically and financially, it’s very interesting to me to hear the scenarios and the expectations. On the other hand, I’m also involved in several industry blogs centered on different products, and I have had the opportunity to listen to many experts with years of experience describe their methodology and philosophy behind their designs. What’s most fascinating is that the modern WISP operator has developed into the medical equivalent of the general practitioner or the proverbial jack-of-all-trades which has resulted in many successful deployments. Keep in mind that most profitable WISPS are built around PTMP design instead of a municipal mesh model. I’m hoping Guerilla WiFi can change the model.

Tales from the Towers Chapter 20: Can’t we just all get along?

I think it’s time to set the municipal alarm and wake the industry back up. Between Verizon and Sprint, I can’t figure out whose marketing department is worse. I do know these companies keep supporting more reasons to push WiFi. The technical divisions of these companies finally deploy high-speed mobile broadband but they promptly shoot themselves in the foot by either limiting users to 5GB per month or throttling to 256Kbps which is slower than EV-DO. I can’t even in good conscience beat up AT&T since everyone else, including Consumer Reports, is already doing that. I think it’s more of an admission that 4G is overhyped and oversold. Apparently getting bandwidth to the tower is a lot harder than getting bandwidth from the tower to the user. It doesn’t matter how much horsepower the car has if you can’t get gas in the engine. I think I will keep my unlimited bandwidth EV-DO card a few more months until Clearwire shows up in our city with an investor in tow. Right now I’m not even sure that a 12-month contract has any value with them.

Tales From the Towers Chapter 19: Catch a Wave-Guide and You are Sitting on Top of the World

The Beach Boys are going to hate me for this but I’ve been waiting for years to use that line.  I also wanted to title it, “Look Ma, no mesh” but I should have used that one several articles ago.  It’s not that I have anything against mesh as there is an application for almost every technology.  At this point in the industry and the economy, however, it’s time to get past a word very few non-technical people understand and the excessive associated cost of it.  Anyway, this article is about wave-guide antennas so let’s get back to that.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 18: More details on deploying large scale Wi-Fi networks

In this installment of Tales from the Towers, Rory Conaway dives into the technical details of deploying a large scale municipal Wi-Fi network with explanations on using beam-forming equipment.

Based on some of the emails I’m getting, the biggest complaint is not enough details in my articles and without them, it’s difficult to implement the idea. Fair enough, I’m definitely guilty of that. In my defense, please understand that I want to have a personal life. As most WISP’s can attest, if I had to put down every single detail on every single project or idea, I would be writing from here to Kingdom come. Except for the six guys on the planet like me that think they ought to make a movie out of every article in EETimes (I think a lower noise figure on a 741 OP-Amp makes a compelling plot line), most of you would be canceling your Ambien prescriptions. The reality is that the details only matter to technical people and those are embedded in white papers. I’ve written a couple but I can’t sit still long enough to finish dinner, let alone do a 20-page technical document. My wife says that if I had put as much time into my homework as I have in these articles, I would have my Masters Degree by now. Of course, if University of Phoenix would give me real life credit for standing in a man-lift, hanging antennas 80 feet in the air, I would have received a Doctorate without ever having attended class.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 17: Who Needs White Space?

This article explains why the “White Space” (300 to 400 MHz frequencies) may not be ideal for wireless ISPs (WISPs) operating in cities. It focuses on how WISPs can build a network using the 900 MHz frequency band instead with the new beam-forming equipment.

It’s time to step up our game.  There is no problem generating massive bandwidth from an access point (AP) location.  We have done that.  What we haven’t figured out yet is how to leap over tall trees in a single bound or walk through brick walls.  If you are willing to add in another 20Mhz of super-powerful, wall-penetrating, obstruction busting, tree smashing signal, then we have solved the problem.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 16: Setting up large scale wireless video surveillance

This is not a how-to article on setting up a home video surveillance network since even my neighbor, the non-technical guy, installed his own video surveillance system. Most of us have an understanding of how an IP-based video surveillance network works. What we want to cover is why all this phenomenal bandwidth we are creating takes video surveillance to another level and why that may or may not be a good thing — and how to apply this to a large scale city video surveillance network.

A long time ago, video surveillance cameras used terms such as CIF (352×288 pixel resolution) and 4CIF (702×576). Computers used resolutions like VGA (640×480) and SVGA (1024×768). The common denominator in all pf these is the 4×3 screen ratio. Movie makers marched to their own drums with 16:9 ratios until the standard today is the 1080 level (1920×1080).

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 15: Thinking is Cheaper than Doing

I said we would figure out how to compete with cable and it’s time to put up or shut up. I’m not writing the entire business plan here and I’m going to leave some key pieces out to protect some of what I’m working on, but the basic concept is here and it’s solid. We will put it all together later but let’s just think it through first and add some more tools.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 14: How to Make Money as a Wireless ISP

I have received calls from many people who want to start a wireless ISP (WISP) business, whether using a mesh/muni model or a point to multipoint (PTMP) system. Although I believe there is no better time than now, that doesn’t mean it’s easy, but I hope to prove that it’s financially feasible everywhere. Competing against satellite or cellular services like EVDO, WiMax, or even LTE is a no-brainer in areas that have no wireline services. I’ll cover the new Sprint/Clearwire LTE service just announced for Phoenix in another article. There are also other services like VoIP that can be provided, but for the beginning of this analysis, I will cover Internet services only.

A WISP can serve three types of geographical areas:
1) Rural – 20 or fewer potential subscribers per square mile;
2) Suburban – 800 potential subscribers per square mile (1100 people per square mile in Scottsdale); and
3) City – 3,000 plus potential subscribers per square mile (Boston: 12000 people per square mile).

Tales From the Towers Chapter 13: Interference Is Not Just a Hockey Penalty

Unlicensed frequencies mean that interference is a way of life in most major cities. The question is what to do when all the frequencies you plan on using or even radios that are in operation start having errors. I just came from an installation like that. In addition, then I was asked to design an expansion to the system. One of the clues was that interference is a problem is when things work for a couple weeks and packet errors in the log jump from nothing to tens of thousands.

By default, most of us set up our networks with 20MHz wide channels. That’s the default for 2.4GHz WiFi and usually the default for most 5.8GHz deployments. However, what happens when we do a site survey and 500 APs show up on the list? If the design is already deployed, your options are limited. You basically have three:

Tales From the Towers Chapter 13: My mom is making me clean my room

August 16, 2010 at 9:05 AM by Rory Conaway

This is the twelfth chapter in a series by Rory Conaway called Tales From the Towers about deploying and managing large scale Wi-Fi networks.

I have all these random thoughts hanging out there from the various articles so I thought it time to tidy them up before continuing on to some new ones. Let’s start with what’s really old is sometimes new again. Various ideas antenna and radio designs have been coming to me as I have been writing these articles so I thought I would share a few of them.

For those of you who are too young to have missed the Golden era of Ham and CB radio era, I have some interesting news for you. Many of the ideas that WiFi AP manufacturers have come up with are similar to some CB radio antenna systems from 35 years ago. It’s really funny to see how these ideas are implemented in WiFi with new capabilities. I’m not saying that antennas haven’t shown any innovation since then but… Of course, could you imagine a 36’ aluminum stock horizontal polarity wave-guide antenna? I would have had to sink 10’ concrete blocks into the ground to keep my garage from blowing over.

Tales from the Towers, Chapter 11: You Can’t Fit a Square Peg Into a Round Hole

My attention deficit disorder is going nuts so I’m going to veer off Triadland a little bit more.  We have defined a reference low-cost system and we clearly discussed the fact it’s definitely not the best system for a public safety mobile environment.  So I’m going to call this article the prequel.  How do we determine what equipment to use or in other words, what is the best system?  Actually, most of them have some unique value depending on the application.

Ok, that’s a copout and allows me to avoid the question.  However, there is no easy answer.  I’ll go through the process that I use when asked to design a system.  Keep in mind there are way more variables than I can cover here.  The other thing that is highly important is that you know as many products on the market.  I’m not just talking about mesh products, but PTP products, PTMP products, mobile products, virtual IP software, VPN products, antenna designs, etc…  In addition to reading and keeping data sheets from everybody, get your hands on and get as much field experience with as many manufacturers as possible.

This is Chapter 10 of Rory Conaway’s “Tales From The Towers” seriesabout mission critical municipal network designs where hope is not an engineering strategy. If you have not yet done so, read Chapter 9:Mission Critical Municipal Network Designs WhereHope is not an Engineering Strategy


Municipal wireless designs...

This is Chapter 9 of Rory Conaway’s series, “Tales From The Towers”, about working with municipalities when you deploy a large scale Wi-Fi network. If you have not yet done so, read Chapter 8: Half of something is better than nothing, but why settle?

Now let’s talk about the real-world in deploying this type of system.

Realistically, light poles or traffic lights are the obvious deployment locations. They are usually spaced pretty optimally. The problem is they are either owned or operated by the local municipality or the local power company which in many cases, is overseen by a local governing board. Either way, the key word here is government.


This is Chapter 8 of Rory Conaway’s “Tales From The Towers” seriesabout setting up a large scale Wi-Fi network. If you have not yet done so, read Chapter 7: One size does not fit all

Our network is pretty inexpensive...


This is Chapter 7 of Rory Conaway’s series, “Tales From The Towers”, where he discusses different types of antennas. If you have not yet done so, read Chapter 6: Free is not a business plan

Before we continue developing the system further,

it’s a good idea to discuss all the various antenna designs that go into a municipal design process.  I’ve described one type of design with omni-directional antennas, although I use many different designs customized to the target client.  It won’t meet all needs; no system will unless the budget is unlimited.  It is being designed to be as flexible as possible, but there are specific technologies that may work better in some areas.  Wireless hardware manufacturers have put forth various designs and optimized their hardware towards that goal.  Budgets have sometimes dictated other designs such as “Tales from the Towers.”  Due to new equipment that has been released, the numbers of potential designs that can be deployed have exploded.


Our system is installed and our credit card maxed out. Now, we have to either pay for it or figure out how it’s going to save what we invested in it. As an income based system, it’s pretty easy to figure out a direct correlation between expenses and revenue. If there is some kind of defined savings, we need to try and make that objective and measurable.

Let’s talk about the profit scenario. These are just the direct costs:

  1. We spent $10K putting in the system;

  2. 50Mbps costs $450 per month (data center plus roof rights);

  3. Pole rental costs $5 per month per pole (16 poles) or $80 per month

On the income side, you are going to have daily, weekly, and monthly clients. Let’s say you charge $5 per day, $15 per week, and $30 per month. It’s fairly easy to calculate your income/revenue to put a profitable scenario together. However, let’s go back to the original premise of a low cost system.

In the last article, access points were installed, WDS links set up for hopping, and we were ready to access the Internet.  Although TriadLand is ready to rock, we now need to connect the users.  First we need to connect the network to some type of Internet service and then come up with a way to authenticate people who want to use it.  After that we will cover the details of system management and how to overcome them.

The low-budget Muni-wireless system is ready to be deployed.

We have identified the perfect one square mile area to be covered.  The streetlights are 25’ tall and exactly 660 feet apart with full time electric power.  There are no trees and the houses are 20’ tall and made of wood.  Nobody in the area owns a microwave oven or any indoor WiFi routers.   This will be known as TriadLand.  It’s my make believe city. I get to name it. The goal for the first square mile is complete indoor coverage to a laptop.  Let’s find out if that is realistic.

This is the third installment of my “Tales from the Towers” series of articles about deploying large scale Wi-Fi networks in unlicensed bands. The theme: share and share alike. Although we were going to discuss putting access points (APs) on the poles in this week’s article, an incident occurred last week that I think is worth discussing before we go any further. Always keep in mind that unlicensed bandwidth is a shared commodity. It’s also a good idea to have a good relationship with your competitors or anyone in the area that is using unlicensed bandwidth. Sometimes that’s a little hard to do, but it’s definitely in your best interest to try.


Continuing the discussion of the budget muni wireless network requires analyzing the front line component, the Access Point (AP). There are many variations of APs. They all have features and capabilities that provide enhancements in certain environments. Some of the APs break the practical limit of 20-30 users by using multiple radios in a single enclosure, proprietary polling systems (not compatible with other vendors), and advanced beam-forming techniques. However, the focus is from a budget standpoint and that means this design will start with a single 2.4 GHz radio with an omni-directional antenna. In later articles, I will cover upgrading the design to support more users and a larger coverage area. The beauty of this design is that it’s cheap to get in the game and scalable.

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