Beating Fiber without Wires

To understand the solution, you first have to understand the problem.

In this case the solution comes from GigaBeam, a Herndon, Va. firm claiming to offer a fast and cost-efficient wireless “alternative to fiber.”

The problem lies in the nature of Wi-Fi, which is inherently slower than fiber, and which is hindered by issues of bandwidth capacity. It can be difficult and expensive to bring adequate bandwidth to a cluster of interconnected Wi-Fi access points such as one might find deployed in an urban environment. “If you cobble together several Wi-Fi cells, you end up needing backhaul” to serve those cells, explains GigaBeam CEO Lou Slaughter.

GigaBeam has come to market with a product called “WiFiber,” a radio-based system intended to augment Wi-Fi deployments with inexpensive high-speed bandwidth.

WiFiber is a point-to-point wireless system that uses very high radio frequencies of 71-76 gigahertz (GHz) and 81-86 GHz to transmit. By the end of this year, Slaughter said, the product will be delivering signal at 10 gigabits per second, far faster than any existing wireless connection today.

“My vision is that we will have multi-gigabit capacity with the reliability of fiber at a fraction of the cost of fiber,” Slaughter says. “This technology will enable connectivity on the order of $1 per megabit per month. Right now, if you connect with a T1 line to the local carrier, that can cost you something on the order of $1,000 a month, and you are only getting a little more than one megabit.”

The GigaBeam offering is made possible in large part thanks to rules changes by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That body has authorized new rules for 13,000 MHz of spectrum, enabling multi-gigabit-per-second communications. As a result, GigaBeam is already generating interest in its products, which began shipping in this month. Most significantly, it has inked a deal with the provider of wireless services for a number of Donald Trump properties now under development on Manhattan’s West Side.

“We are using the GigaBeam radios to tie all of our building rooftops together to create a gigabit backbone,” says Frank Matarazzo, president of Microwave Satellite Technologies (MST), which operates a Wi-Fi service called Interactive Wi-Fi in New York City.

MST already has a number of high-speed solutions in play throughout its market area. In Manhattan, it uses its own fiber-to-the-building network to deliver mega-bandwidth for video and high-speed data. In Brooklyn, MST uses 18 GHz microwave to deliver video, and 2.4 GHz point-to-point links for high-speed data.

As the company has moved ever more aggressively into wireless, Matarazzo has looked for ways to deliver the same rich content at a manageable price point. “If you had to rent that kind of capacity [from a carrier], you are talking about thousands of dollars a month, forever,” he says. “You can’t cost-justify bringing that much bandwidth to a given location.”

With the GigaBeam solution, MST owns and manages the system, so there is no recurring charge.

What stops the carriers from snagging the GigaBeam idea and using it to deliver signal themselves? The way Slaughter sees it, carriers will view this as just another tool in service of their products, rather than as a competing asset. “The carriers generally are service companies,” he says. “In a way, they are our customer base. Carriers will buy our technology the same way they buy fiber today.”

That being the case, Slaughter says, his biggest business challenge is in the realm of education: People don’t understand where the product fits into the overall landscape. As he begins to roll out the press releases and plan trade show appearances, Slaughter says he’s banking on the radically different nature of his product to help him get heard over all the noise surrounding wireless these days.

“This is a disruptive technology,” he said. “It’s not just one more hotspot.”

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