Unwiring an Architectural Landmark

If you’re a small independent hotspot network operator looking for a successful
model to copy, you could do worse than Tadaa Wireless, a regional player in
Montreal, Canada.

In March, Tadaa made news when it launched a breakthrough project to provide
wireless service at Westmount Square, a landmark residential-business-retail
complex in the city. It was already operating a substantial hotspot network
with 45 coffee shop and hotel sites in Montreal, and unlike many Canadian
hotspot operators, has charged for service almost from the beginning.

Company CEO and co-founder Daniel Yeboah told us last year that Tadaa had
about 1,000 monthly subscribers and 1,000 to 2,000 casual users per month.
The subscriber base has grown since then by about 25 percent, he says — including
a significant spurt in the last couple of months.

"As people become better educated about Wi-Fi, as they come to understand
it more, they’re signing up," he says. "It’s quite encouraging."

Yeboah also claims Tadaa is only a month or so from being operationally profitable.
He attributes the relatively quick success — the company launched three years
ago — to its strategy of not deploying hotspots merely to increase foot print
but insisting that each be a good revenue producer in its own right. He also
notes that his company remains a "lean, mean operation."

It helps that Tadaa has solid backing from DVC Capital, a local venture
capital firm. Yeboah says the only reason he would look beyond DVC for additional
funding is if a major business opportunity came along that was too big to
finance from within. Westmount Square apparently did not require any outside

The complex includes 225 luxury condos in one tower, two business towers,
plus high-end fashion retail in an underground mall. Built in 1969 and now
considered an architectural landmark, it sits between downtown and the predominantly
English-speaking enclave of Westmount in the west end of this bilingual city
of two million.

Groupe Cogir, a major residential and
business property owner in Montreal, and Groupe EL-AD Canada co-own Westmount
Square. They were in the process of multi-million-dollar renovations at the
complex when Tadaa approached them with the idea of doing something that,
as Yeboah says, "would make the property unique in North America."

Tadaa is providing Wi-Fi-based high-speed Internet service to Westmount Square
residents and businesses using a network of access points and other infrastructure
equipment from Vivato. The fixed-access
services and the large scale of the network are a first for Tadaa, which had
previously only operated traditional single-site hotspots.

The Westmount Square project includes a 1.5-mile-radius (line of sight) hotzone
around the property that provides tenants with access outside on the street
and in nearby parks and buildings. The hotzone is available to existing Tadaa
hotspot subscribers as well.

Residential subscribers pay about $23 a month for unlimited access. That’s
for an individual computer, though, not per household. Subscribers experience
data speeds of 1 to 1.5 Mbps. Tadaa says the network can support up to 1,500
concurrent users.

Business subscribers pay $75 a month and up, plus implementation and consulting
fees. Tadaa can provide simple access to the Internet for a LAN or provision
an office wireless LAN using only the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, which
provides blanket coverage within the complex.

Security was a key concern for business customers. Where Tadaa is providing
office WLANs, users in each company log on to an SSID (service set identifier)
dedicated to that customer. All traffic is carried from end-to-end on virtual
private network (VPN) tunnels.

"If you had an office with ten people, for example, you could have a
remote host, with no servers present in the office and everyone could work
wirelessly in a secure environment," Yeboah says. "The entire LAN
is totally secured from residential and public users."

He claims that "quite a few" tenants, business and residential,
have converted to the Tadaa service, but others are waiting for existing contracts
to run out before switching.

Westmount Square’s owners will use the network for administrative applications
such as inventory management and security systems for the complex, including
alarm systems and video surveillance. Yeboah envisions it being used in future
for voice over IP (VoIP), wireless bank and credit card machines and other

Summit Wireless, a subsidiary
of Summit Technologies, a local systems integrator, designed the network and
selected Vivato as the technology provider. Tadaa’s network installer of choice
for several months, Summit is now a partner — Tadaa liked the company so
much it invested in it.

The unique aesthetics and architectural design of the Westmount Square complex
made designing and implementing a wireless network more complicated. Summit
selected Vivato base stations because they meant installing less equipment
and wiring.

"Our initial site surveys indicated that more than 160 traditional access
points would be required to provide Wi-Fi throughout these three skyscrapers,
with independent wiring to each device," says Summit chief technology
officer (CTO) Johannes Jobst.

"Not only was this prohibitive from a cost standpoint, but it was impossible
if we wanted to preserve the integrity and aesthetics of historic Westmount
Square. Vivato was the only viable solution."

Summit only needed three Vivato VP1200 Wi-Fi Base Stations and six VivatoVA
2200 Wi-Fi AP/Bridges to provide the coverage needed. The extended range afforded
by Vivato’s smart antenna technology allowed network designers to take an
unconventional "inside-out" approach. It installed the Vivato equipment
inside a window of one building to provide Wi-Fi to an adjacent building,
thus preserving structural and design aesthetics.

Tadaa, meanwhile, is on a roll. It has 45 additional hotspot sites under
contract and expects to have 100 in total up and running by the end of the
year. In the wake of publicity around the Westmount Square project, it received
"quite a few calls" from other building owners.

"We expect to have another four to five [similar] locations up and running
in the next six to nine months," Yeboah says.

Tadaa appears to be doing something right, but what is it? Certainly there
are other "lean, mean" hotspot network operators out there. Certainly
there are others that, like Tadaa, are well backed and have concentrated almost
exclusively on one city.

Yeboah says part of it is ensuring that each hotspot delivers a decent revenue
stream rather than just expanding the coverage foot print for the sake of
a foot print. Other small operators, though, may envy the kind of "restraint"
Tadaa has supposedly shown in this regard. Most are a still long way from
having 45 sites in one city.

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