Serving Up a Super WLAN

When the Super Bowl festivities get under way in San Diego, Calif. next
weekend, the visiting throngs of fans will be protected by a network of
security/surveillance cameras covering Qualcomm Stadium and adjacent parts of
downtown.

The cameras will be linked by an “enhanced” 802.11b network, supplied by San
Diego-based WLAN wholesaler SkyRiver Communications. This
isn’t SkyRiver’s only service deal in the Qualcomm complex; it’s been providing
Internet service to stadium concessionaire Volunteer Services of America for the
past six months or so. But this operation is different becuase it’s
temporary — for Super Bowl weekend only.

According to SkyRiver’s founder, President, and COO Lee Gopadze, the company
has been offering short-term service for corporate and public events of limited
duration since last fall (October 2002).

Short-term gigs

In many cases, SkyRiver’s “event” assignments have involved networking remote
security cameras–examples include construction job sites (before the communications
infrastructure is installed) and auto dealers’ tent sales–but installations
can serve other purposes, too. For example, tent sales take advantage of a broadband
Internet connection to perform quick credit checks and other needful chores.

At a recent wireless communications technology conference, SkyRiver set up a
WLAN cyber cafe for the use of the attendees. Said Gopadze, “A competitor bid to
install a T-1 for the three days of the event, and was going to charge $3,000.
We did it for $300. It took two hours to install, two hours to tear down.”

Indeed, ease of setup and removal is one of the big selling points of
wireless broadband for short-term installations. Another, naturally, is freedom
from the wireline grid. Eric DaVersa, SkyRiver Director of Sales, made the
point: “It’s hard–sometimes next to impossible–to get wireline connection to the
sites we service. You have to line up the backhaul way in advance. And it’s
expensive.” But if your event is within the area served by SkyRiver (see this
San Diego County coverage
map
) the company will guarantee an installation to be up and running within
three to five days after an order comes in.

Returning to the subject of the upcoming Super Bowl installation, Gopadze
said “The whole operation will take less than three days from the get-go to
complete installation. The only prep work involves deploying bucket trucks to
set up the cameras.”

New technology kids on the block

Founded in September 2000 and headquartered in San Diego, the firm brought
some technological innovations to bear in supplying reliable, low-cost Internet
and private data-network services to ISPs, IT consultants, and network solution
providers. According to Gopadze, SkyRiver is currently supplying 55 local provider/resellers
with last-mile fixed-wireless broadband, aimed primarily at small and medium-size
businesses.

Why the wholesale strategy? “There’s no lack of sales forces in the world–no
need for us to build that part,” says Lee Gopadze. “What there is a lack of is
competent, reliable broadband service.” And that’s what the firm was built to
deliver.

According to Gopadze, SkyRiver’s founders were attracted to license-free
802.11 technology because it was inexpensive and reliable–and likely to continue
to become more so over time. “But there were some negatives, too,” said Gopadze,
“mainly stemming from the nature of IP over Ethernet–CSMA, security, and
other factors.”

If it don’t work, fix it
The first step the
company took in addressing these shortcomings was developing a variant of the
operating system that would still work with off-the-shelf 802.11 hardware
components. “Basically, we took RF propagation techniques and system designs
common to cellular networks and applied them to Wi-Fi,” Gopadze said. SkyRiver
has and continues to deliver a balance between low cost and reliability.

SkyRiver’s technology innovations include beefing up basic 802.11 security
substantially. “A lot of our improvements here are simply based on good network
procedures,” said Gopadze. Specifics mentioned include pass-phrases on base
stations and MAC address-based
authentication, which prevents duplicate subscriber logons. “We’re not
invulnerable,” said Gopadze, “but no one has hacked our system so far.”

Further enhancements, Gopadze reports, involved innovations in the
base-station antenna, which uses a time division technique (employing a polling
algorithm) to create momentary point-to-point connections with multiple remote
nodes. The CPE, made from standard, off-the-shelf components from Proxim, Cisco,
etc., also aims to balance low cost with robustness and interference resistance.

Event service business

Although SkyRiver has only been experimenting with short-term service installations
for about four months (as mentioned, since October 2002), the business is already
making a modest but measurable contribution to the company’s bottom line. Gopadze
estimates revenues from event sales to be between 4 and 5 percent of the total –and
anticipates significant growth in this area.

The current offering features burstable 3.0 Mbps connections, billed at $799
per week, with an additional installation/de-installation fee of $399. This
includes dedicated Internet access and a block of eight IP addresses. As mentioned,
SkyRiver guarantees to have customers up and running within five days of receiving
an order.


Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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