DigitalPath: "Mesh Can't Compete"
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DigitalPath used the ISPCON Spring 2006 conference in Baltimore this week to announce plans to sell its DenseNode and BroadNode wireless broadband products to other wireless ISPs -- products that until now were not available to the public. DigitalPath has had them in use since 2002 for its own WISP network in 25 communities in northern California.
"This is our third generation of technology," says CEO Jim Higgins. "We've learned a lot on how to deploy this stuff. Others learning now in municipalities, they have the same problems we had years ago."
He says the difference between the company's DenseNodes (repeaters spaced about 800 feet apart in a metro area, with 30 to 50 per square mile), BroadNodes (fixed wireless backhaul units with a 25-mile range) and other products currently used in municipal deployments comes down to capacity.
"Look at the deployments out there: it's 1 Mbps of service that just doesn't compete," says Higgins. DigitalPath has always seen its mission as one of offering direct competition to the wired broadband of DSL and cable, and Higgins believes you need 5 Mbps (megabit per second) speeds to compete. "With mesh and all the co-channel interference involved, it's difficult to have that level of service," he says. "I don't see mesh as being viable for the service business side."
DigitalPath has patents pending on ways to extend its network to customer premises units (CPEs) in homes -- the wireless equivalent of a DSL or cable modem.
An advantage Higgins claims is that the DigitalPath systems can have each radio on a different channel. If a DenseNode senses noise or interference, it finds a new channel to run on, something he says single channel mesh can't do, or at least not at speeds over 1 Mbps.
What about the attractive factor of using the municipal network in the home and then outside as well? Higgins says it doesn't matter. "We don't think roaming is as big as people think it is going to be," he says. "Look at Ricochet: they went after roaming, and never got a business model. People want service at home, and they'll pay a bit more to roam but they won't pay more for if it doesn't even work at home."
Higgins claims that, costwise, deployment of DenseNodes and BroadNodes would be half of what EarthLink a former DigitalPath partner is going to pay to install Tropos Networks' mesh nodes throughout the city of Philadelphia in the coming months. However, no hard pricing was announced for the DigitalPath products.
Still, the proof in Higgins' claims can be found in the service the company runs in its hometown of Chico, and in other California cities like Stockton, Elk Grove, and even the capitol, Sacramento. DigitalPath has over 1,300 DenseNode repeaters deployed. Higgins says being a WISP pays all the bills in full, and that "selling equipment is profit we can re-invest." For cities planning to support the 4.9GHz license spectrum reserved for public safety use, DigitalPath offers that as an option as well.
EarthLink used the DigitalPath networks to launch a wireless broadband service for its customers back in 2004, but Higgins says they later pulled out. The customers were then shifted over to direct billing and service from DigitalPath.