Pitfalls of service include availability, transmission
For most small businesses, the decision about how to access the Internet depends on the availability of infrastructure. High-speed services such as digital subscriber lines, T1 and T3 services rely on special lines or the location of the nearest telephone company’s central office.
Companies that do not have land-based broadband services readily available may be faced with high prices or no high-speed services at all.
An alternative is emerging: wireless Internet.
Through the use of a transmitter and a receiving dish, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) can direct a signal to a specific site at speeds of between 512 kilobytes and 2 megabytes per second, which is comparable to land-based DSL and T1 connections and fast enough to send large video and audio files in a matter of seconds.
One of the more attractive features of wireless is cost, according to Mike Hurly, vice president of sales at Fastnet Corp., a Bethlehem-based Internet service provider. Traditionally, subscribers must pay both the service provider and a transport fee for the delivery of the signal over utility lines, he says. With wireless, the signal travels through the air in the form of microwaves, eliminating the transport fee, which can cost as much as $300 per month.
A dish or receiver placed on the top of a building catches the signal and delivers it to the computer through an ethernet wire, says Anthony Good, the company’s wireless services manager. Wireless users need no extra hardware.
Wireless also can help a company that is unable to install the backbone for wired access, says David Pugh, chief executive officer of Sting Communications in Lebanon.
If a company leases space, it may not be able to install the infrastructure necessary for wired access, he says.
Pugh’s company has more than 250 business subscribers and serves more than 86 communities, from New Jersey to western Pennsylvania, including parts of Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, York, Cumberland and Adams counties.
Availability is perhaps the most important reason to look into WISPs. Many locations are not wired for high-speed access, says Tod Shedlosky. He is president of MicroEnterprises Inc. of Camp Hill. For some rural areas, wired broadband access may not be available for a long time, he says. The company’s MicroE division was created to bring wireless access to rural areas not serviced by other forms of broadband service. “It’s an exciting time for all of us in the wireless industry,” he says. “Costs are coming down, and limitations will be less and less a problem.”
Reliability and security seem to be no more of a concern for wireless than conventional services, says Good, whose company provides both kinds of service. Since wireless does not rely on local phone or cable wires, there is less chance of service disruption.
For security, wireless providers use what is called a proprietary protocol, which is more secure than a wireless local area network. Wireless LANs have been shown to be susceptible to eavesdropping. Proprietary protocol makes such listening far more difficult, he says.
Still, wireless access has its pitfalls.
One is its availability. Pugh says Sting has 30 transmitters in Central Pennsylvania, each able to transmit to about an eight-mile radius, and while MicroE plans to spread service outside the region’s rural areas, their coverage is currently limited to parts of Cumberland and Dauphin counties. Regionally, Fastnet serves only downtown Harrisburg, according to Good, but he says the company will expand where there is a demand for service.
Transmission relies on what is called a line-of-sight system, meaning that the receiver must have an unobstructed line to a transmitter to function properly. This can be difficult for a downtown business that is surrounded by high-rise buildings, or a facility that lies behind a hill from the nearest receiver.
Good says even trees could potentially become a problem for reception, and a site survey should be made before installing services.
Additionally, weather can play a factor. Since signals are carried via microwaves, precipitation can erode the signal, Good says. He points out that Fastnet provides a signal strength that is intended to stand up to virtually any conditions. It is possible that WISPs could sell service too far from the transmitter, where the signal is weaker. This would make it less stable in heavy precipitation.