EarthLink Adds Another Muni Vendor Partner

EarthLink’s rebirth from dial-up ISP to provider of metro-scale Wi-Fi has included two key partners the entire time: Tropos Networks for mesh gear to handle client connections and Motorola as both the system integrator and provider of equipment for backhaul to the mesh. But where the Motorola Canopy provides the street-level backhaul connections, the high level  — on top of towers and buildings — will be the province of AirPair licensed wireless equipment from Ottawa, Canada’s DragonWave.

“Tropos units are connected to the Motorola Canopy system, which brings data from buildings and towers to the street,” says Jeb Linton, chief architect for EarthLink Municipal Networks. “Tower tops themselves are like aggregation points for large parts of the city. [DragonWave’s equipment] will cover areas from a mile or two, depending on the density of the area and the height of the tower.”

“We are a part of the backhaul,” says DragonWave vice president Alan Solheim. “They may use another level at point-to-multipoint to get to the individual routers, or they can connect direct to our products.”

Solheim says this two-tier backhaul will vary in configuration from market to market, depending on the contracts EarthLink has with the city. “Typically, we provide the high capacity core, another layer of capacity that goes directly to the routers on the lamp posts,” he says.

DragonWave AirPair products use high frequency microwave radios running from 11 to 38 Gigahertz. A link has a potential data rate of 500 Megabits per second (Mbps) with full duplex. The company claims the equipment has five nines of service availability: 99.999%. They dropped the prices on the entire AirPair line in June, which probably doesn’t hurt as EarthLink is trying to keep costs down.

Last month, the company announced that AirPair has been put to use in five European deployments of both wireless broadband and 3G cellular.

Linton says DragonWave’s equipment has been their choice for a while and has factored into all their proposals, but only just became official as a partner. It’s not exclusive, either, as Motorola and others have some equipment for unlicensed band use that could be put to use for the same type of backhaul. For now, however, he says the point-to-point high capacity links benefit from the lack of complexity of the AirPair products.

When asked if WiMax links will factor into EarthLink wireless broadband plans, Linton says that the technology is “targeted mostly at the place where we use Canopy, the point-to-multipoint connection for distributing bandwidth from the tower. We are looking at WiMax for that in the future, but decided against it out of the gate. It is a technology we’re very interested in.”

Motorola, the EarthLink Municipal Networks system integrator, will install the AirPair products as needed. The number of AirPair products installed per city could range from 5 to 100, depending on the need.

“What we provide to them is scale, capability and performance so they can add additional services,” says DragonWave’s Solheim. “If they only wanted basic Internet access, we might not have been so interesting.” Future services they claim to help support include the usual suspects: video and voice over wireless.

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