Mesh on right frequency

Four weeks ago, I wrote about mesh radio because of the arrival of a new player, CALY Networks, into the marketplace. Since then, the other company involved in mesh radio, Radiant Networks, has announced several contracts for the supply of its kit to various operating companies in the USA and Europe. There will be installations of trial systems for Tradewinds Network Services and Nsight Telservices in the USA, Banda 26 in Spain and, most recently, BT in the UK. These companies, other than BT, are subsidiaries of large well-known operators. Radiant has also announced that its equipment is being evaluated in Germany and Japan but has not yet named the operators.

For UK readers, the news about BT is the most interesting; BT will set up a mesh radio system in Cardiff aimed at residential users. It will offer various digital services including interactive video on demand and high-speed Internet access. If the service offers its full capability of 25 Mbit/s then multi-channel, high-quality digital video services are possible. This would offer real competition to other digital video delivery technologies and interface quite neatly to the forthcoming household video distribution systems.

The emphasis on residential customers is very significant because many had thought that mesh radio would not make economic sense for this part of the marketplace and that initial deployments, at least, would be aimed at the corporate market. I hope that BTís trial is technically and economically successful because the implications are very important.

If mesh radio can compete with ADSL in providing broadband services to the residential market it will certainly be an excellent candidate technology for the business market. The bit rates are about ten times faster than ADSL or SDSL and the cost may even be competitive with direct fibre connections.

All this exciting stuff should generate a lot of interest in the spectrum auction currently in progress at the Radiocommunication Agency. So far, no bids have been received for the allocations on offer. The process closes in October 2002 so there isnít really any rush. BT will decide whether to bid for licences after it has assessed the results of its trial in Cardiff. The first tranche of licences was awarded in November 2000 but very few services have been announced, certainly none using mesh radio. CALY announced that Energis was evaluating its equipment, so that may result in one of those licences being used for mesh radio.

The current trials should show whether the total costs of mesh radio, including installation and maintenance, are low enough. Each node can be up to 2.8 km from its nearest neighbour; this means that the mesh can easily cover subscribers beyond the normal DSL ranges. Radiant claims that its system can handle up to 600 customers per square kilometre, so, if the economics work out, it will compete with DSL in almost all situations. This conclusion is very exciting because it will allow new operators to provide broadband services without using the somewhat cumbersome and expensive loop-unbundling scheme, always assuming that those operators are successful in getting licences.

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