Monday, October 26, 2009

Pushing Internet into Small Cable Systems: The Wireless “Last Mile”

Pushing Internet into Small Cable Systems: The Wireless “Last Mile”

The key to a successful implementation of high-speed Internet systems is no different than the proven formula for good cable television operations; large numbers of happy contented subscribers that receive reinforcement of the wisdom of their monthly purchase of services through good experiences with the technology. As in any business, large numbers of satisfied customers remain the one constant of the determination of “success.” Unlike conventional businesses, however, the cable operator must take the technology to the customer. Unlike conventional businesses, the cable operator must provide a wide range of flexible services capable of change with local market conditions. This is particularly true of small cable system operations given the limited numbers of homes passed by the cable plant together with the high fixed costs of new technologies.

Today, multi-megabit wireless technologies exist that allow the small cable operator to cost effectively extend the reach of the most profitable service offering available to the cable operator since the 60’s; that service being high-speed Internet. Typical last mile delivery of Internet services is accomplished via an upgraded two-way cable system. Some cable operator are able to accomplish this task with the addition of two-way electronics only while others must contend with aging cables and connectors configured in a sometimes unworkable two-way cable system architecture.

In the alternative, a number of wireless technologies are available that allow distribution of the two-way high-speed Internet services up to 30 miles in a line-of-sight path with short range coverage using technologies that are relatively immune from path obstructions such as trees or small structures. These technologies present the small cable operator an alternative to time consuming and sometimes costly system upgrades while concurrently extending the coverage area miles beyond the franchise boundaries.

Unlike the capital costs associated with a system wide upgrade in order to offer a service to a select few subscribers, the implementation of a wireless last mile to the Internet subscriber restricts the capital costs of installation solely to those the subscribe to the service. Concurrently, the relatively low capital costs associated with today’s wireless alternatives provide a means to extend the service to other franchise areas, surrounding homes that cannot be reached economically with cable plant extensions or businesses that may not ordinarily consider subscription to the cable services.

A wireless last mile solution provides many small cable operators an immediate solution to the provision of high-speed Internet services whether or not there are future plans to upgrade the system to two-way. At the same time, the “homes passed” by the wireless signal becomes significantly greater though a line-of-sight 30 mile radius coverage area of up to 2,800 square miles in the extreme case using “backhaul installations” and a 10 mile radius of coverage (300 square miles) with typical subscriber installations.

Finally, while it is unlikely that the entire cable channel line-up can be economically microwaved to a nearby community or cluster of homes, the two-way high-speed Internet signal may be easily cost justified for an “Internet Only” service in most areas.

As a result of the consideration of a wireless last mile solution, the small cable operator is now able to significantly increase the number of homes passed by the high-speed Internet service thus meeting the primary objective of successful business operations; large numbers of satisfied customers.

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