Fixed Wireless Goes Hollywood
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This week, the fixed wireless Internet provider TowerStream announced plans to expand into the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The company is working to establish points of presence in and around downtown Los Angeles to offer service in a ten-mile radius, which it says will be available starting in early 2005. TowerStream, which was founded four years ago, currently provides wireless access in Boston, Providence, New York, and Chicago.
Jeff Thompson, TowerStream's President and COO, says the company's aim is to establish a strong presence in the top ten cities in the United States as efficiently as possible.
"We're going into each one of these markets, and we're taking all the beachfront properties for our base stations so we can have the best wireless -- and soon to be WiMax -- network that's going to exist," Thompson says. In Los Angeles, those beachfront properties that TowerStream is targeting include the city's few taller buildings.
"They make installations much easier, because there aren't any buildings in the way," he says. "You can load up base stations with many more customers because there's lots of businesses within your view."
In the company's current New York deployment those kinds of advantages are offered by points of presence on skyscrapers like the Empire State Building and the MetLife Building. "We literally see tens of thousands of buildings, and hundreds of thousands if not millions of windows, and multiple millions of customers through those windows," he says.
TowerStream claims to offer a number of key advantages for businesses, including quick installation and competitive pricing -- but Thompson says one of the greatest advantages of his company's technology lies in the ability to prioritize mission-critical traffic. For example, in his own house, Thompson has a TowerStream wireless connection, with Vonage VoIP phone service prioritized over other traffic.
"We prioritize the voice over IP traffic so that when one of my kids is downloading a video game or something, it doesn't crunch the voice traffic," he says. "So you always have reliable voice service."
The company was one of the first service provider to join the WiMax Forum over a year ago, and continues to stay heavily involved in the development of the technology. Once WiMax CPEs become affordable, he says, TowerStream will consider taking advantage of the economies of scale to move beyond business customers and approach the consumer market.
As a test of consumer interest, he says, TowerStream has been establishing hotspots in some of the cities where it currently offers service. "We've sprinkled a few hotspots around that have 5Mbps upstream and downstream in some key locations," Thompson says. "As people start to find out that we have a really good connection behind that hotspot, we're starting to see steady usage patterns on a few of our hotspots."
In the meantime, Thompson says he isn't too concerned about competition from citywide deployments like those being discussed for Philadelphia and Las Vegas. "When it's a utility-driven or a city-driven network, I don't know how you're going to be able to keep the quality up on that product," he says.
"And there's always people that want to have rock solid, reliable Internet connections."