How, when, why to use hybrid fiber-wireless solutions in community broadband projects

Craig Settles just published a new report – Fiber & Wireless – Stronger Together for Community Broadband. It includes a nice sections of definitions and a lot of examples, including some from Minnesota. The core message is that a broadband solution is not painted with one brush. Communities was the capacity and speed of fiber; they want the mobility and affordability of wireless. BUT wireless requires fiber infrastructure.

A hybrid solution allows a network to reach to the far corners of a community quickly, which means singing up customers quickly, which means money to reinvest in fiber to the far corners. But again it also means mobility. It means access what you need while on the road, at the football game, in the field taking to constituents or customers.

Craig provides help on how to fix the RFP process for communities that are looking into community broadband. And also a reminder that what works in a laboratory setting might night mirror results in the real world.

Minnesota examples in Chaska..

Chaska, Minnesota formed a public private partnership that delivered fiber initially, then added wireless to serve businesses that have smaller budgets. Other small towns had their municipal IT departments build and run the networks, including Sandy, Oregon and Wilson, North Carolina. Some of the bigger cities and the counties are building out and selling fiber services themselves, but retain WISPs or other providers to sell wireless services to the public.

 

And Renville and Sibley Counties.

 Midwest Electric Cooperative in Michigan says that most of their fiber customers use about 20 Mbps of speed. One Christmas, the co-op doubled their speed for a month. Afterwards most customers were content to return to their old speed. An ISP in Minnesota, Hiawatha Broadband Communications, has been selling the residents in 10 towns 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless since 2015. Customers are overjoyed because before this there was mostly dial up. A hybrid infrastructure can address a median need for speed.

10 Minnesota towns in Renville and Sibley Counties, ranging in populations from 2305 down to 504, created a joint powers board to bring broadband to constituents. The board created the RS Fiber co-op to represent communities’ communications interests, and sign up members. The board and co-op retained an ISP, Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), to oversee network operations and marketing.

The original plan called for a fiber backbone to link the 10 towns together and build fiber laterals to the premises. It was estimated to take three years to complete and in 2018, RS Fiber would ask the board to pass another bond to finance the remaining buildout to take in surrounding farmlands. In total, the entire network will cover over 600 miles and 2500 farm sites and cost $70 million.

Broadband projects present two major financial challenges for communities: raising cash for buildout costs and generating sustainable cash flow. They can’t start billing customers until the network is built, plus there is a lag between the buildout and the time when revenue can cover operating costs. HBC came up with a solution that resolved both concerns.

HBC split the project into two phases and focused on the towns first. Starting in mid-2015, they used multiple crews to 1) build out the fiber ring, 2) simultaneously ran fiber to towers that held fixed wireless equipment, 3) then built fiber to the premises. 90% of the residents got 25 Megabit symmetrical wireless service by the end of 2015. 70% had fiber by the end of 2016.

Wireless was the key because it allowed RS Fiber to collect $50,000-$100,000 in monthly revenue and start retiring the debt because residents received service soon after the project started. It helped significantly that RS Fiber gave the go ahead immediately while cities expedited permitting processes and access to vertical assets. HBC retained appropriate staff to do simultaneous buildouts.

“It helped we could use our own fiber ring for five of the towns, our own video head-end and several towns let us use vertical assets such as water towers,” says Dan Pecarina, HBC CEO. “We installed point-to-point fixed wireless with 1gig capacity to ensure every customer gets 25 Mbps symmetrical

This entry was posted in Research, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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