[Cu-wireless] interesting wifi talk with price breakdowns:
sascha at ucimc.org
Fri Feb 27 15:11:33 CST 2004
FYI: the best part of this is way down where they talk about wireless
XVIII SIMPOSIO INTERNACIONAL DE COMPUTACION EN LA EDUCACIÓN
A Plenary Presentation
Matching New WiFi Technology With Virtual Private Networks To Create
Affordable Universal Internet Access
Digital Divide or Digital Opportunity?
One thing becomes glaringly apparent when we look at the numbers of
people who use the Internet. This is that there are a still far
greater number of people who have not. If using the Internet
increases the quantity of information available, and provides
immediate access to information even while lowering its cost, why
aren't more people using the Internet?
Identifying the Internet
Many people consider the Internet little more than the HTML language-
based websites that reside on the World Wide Web (WWW). But the
Internet is far more. In fact, it is really a suite of digital
languages that work together and which we commonly abbreviate as
TCP/IP. Most people simply refer to this as the Internet Protocol,
or IP for short.
The Internet Protocol is a method to exchange, to send and receive
all types of information. It can be used for telephone calls,
playing games or watching movies. The Internet Protocol is a process
for combining information into packets, and sending these from one
point to another. It can operate faster, and send more information,
because it groups large quantities of information into small packets
that are faster to transmit and subsequently less expensive to
Identifying Communications Applications
Before we can understand the true benefits of using the Internet
Protocol, we should first recognize that sending and receiving
information is a form of communications. And that there are many
forms of communications -- there are many applications too. In fact,
it is more appropriate to consider the Internet as a vehicle for
IP-based communications. Even the term "IP communications
applications" brings to mind much more than just websites residing on
Communications is the most universal of all of man's endeavors.
Everyone communicates, but not everyone communicates the same way, or
even the same information. Different people have different
interests, and want to access or exchange different information.
Before we can discover why people don't use the Internet, we must
consider what information interests them, and what it is that they
would like to communicate.
We should always remember that the real benefit derived from the
Internet is the lower cost for communications -- and a more rapid
exchange of information. Anything we do that degrades this benefit
is not only counter-productive, but will necessarily eliminate its
adoption by a set of potential users.
And broadband is the future. Economists at the Brookings Institution
have estimated that widespread high-speed broadband access could
increase the US national GDP by $500 billion annually by 2006.
There are basically two types of communities. One is called a
virtual community, and is based on mutual shared interests such as
between people working in the same profession or belonging to the
same political party, or who may have the same medical infirmity.
The second type is physical; it's the local community where we live.
The Internet provides benefits for both types of communities, but it
serves the two communities in different ways. There's a great
necessity to identify and implement processes that serve both types
of communities. We already expend a great effort simply trying to
make the Internet convenient for access and use by both. We strive
to lower barriers and provide an easy entrance, an easy gateway.
No matter the effort made to develop services, applications and
content, if the Internet is difficult to enter, if passing through
the gateway is troublesome, fewer people will seek access or discover
value in adopting the use of IP-based communications. The first and
primary barrier therefore is the gateway. It has always been, and
continues to be, the gateway.
The gateway barrier changes with advances in technology. As
technology advances it becomes easier and less expensive to overcome
technical barriers. And so, the original question remains. Why
aren't more people using the Internet?
The Technology Barrier
Let's explore the technology barrier in greater depth. Today, most
people access the Internet through the Public Switched Telephone
Network, or PSTN, which is simply the telephone line. Many users
also access the Internet through their cable television service, and
some through direct satellite service. In fact, there are a variety
of methods for accessing the Internet. Even cellular telephone
service providers are deploying new technologies that provide access
to the Internet.
The technologies behind all of these methods of access are advancing,
and there's no technical reason they cannot continue to do so. The
decision for which type of service to select seems at first
appearance to depend on cost. Of course, this would only be true if
all services were equally available, which is not the case. Lets not
forget that government regulates the deployment of these services.
Government, through various mechanisms, chooses who can or cannot
deploy Internet access technology. And poorly funded regulatory
agencies in developing countries are often challenged and limited in
their action by very powerful incumbent operators.
The Internet, or IP communications, is what we can call a disruptive
technology. It is a disruptive technology because it has the ability
to completely replace existing technologies -- to completely replace
the large existing communications infrastructures, the networks we
use daily. However, IP communications can be deployed in one of two
ways. It can be slowly integrated into an existing infrastructure
network, such as those of the PSTN and cellular service providers, by
adding individual components as they become beneficial to the
commercial operation, without affecting it's current practices and
pricing. This is not disruptive to an existing service provider.
IP-based technologies can also entirely replace our existing
networks. They can be used to build a completely new and lower cost
network. This could include an accommodation for inter-operability
with existing networks, for any who need to continue relying on older
methods of access such as the PSTN. This would immediately make most
of our existing communications infrastructure obsolete, and is highly
This returns us to the question of cost. Should we throw away an
existing network even when it's obsolete, simply to lower the cost of
access to a level affordable by a greater number of people?
Government prefers instead that the deployment of new IP technologies
is more measured, and allows existing commercial providers time to
catch up with technical advances.
The Regulatory Barrier
Enter the second barrier, the regulatory barrier. Notwithstanding
the wave of privatization of telecom monopolies worldwide, many
government regulatory agencies are poorly trained, poorly conceived,
inflexibly locked into old technologies by shortsighted exclusivity
clauses signed at the time of privatization, or sometimes even
outright corrupt. They continue to restrict deployment of certain new
IP-based technologies at the urging of incumbent service providers
and at the expense of consumer and national welfare.
The Panamanian regulator has blocked the deployment of VoIP, or Voice
over Internet Protocol, at the request of the incumbent voice
carrier. The regulation (http://nww1.com/go/1118GIBRAD2A.html) points
out that people using IP telephony do harm to Panama by not paying
taxes on international phone calls. This regulation is an apparent
attempt to uphold an exclusivity contract that Panama signed with
Cable & Wireless. Panama is far from alone in trying to regulate IP
telephony; a couple dozen other countries do the same.
Consider Guyana, the second lowest income country in the Americas.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) helped Government design a
project for US$ 22 million that would significantly expand Internet
access throughout the country. This would give a tremendous boost to
economic development by enabling cheaper and greater communications
between Guyana's 800,000 people, and a similar number of Guyanese
residing abroad. However, the incumbent operator has been blocking
the project in order to preserve its monopoly position on the basis
of a 40-year exclusivity clause drafted in 1991, before the Internet
Our current communications service providers, recognizing that
markets are basically protected through processes of government
regulation, generally seek to invest in and deploy only those IP
technologies that allow a monolithic-type control over a large
marketplace. They're not content to profit from a specific quantity
or type of applications, but instead seek control over large swaths
of our communications. This is a questionable strategy when
considering that communications is the most universal of man's
A new situation that only recently reared its head now threatens to
thwart industry strategy in a powerful way. It was created through
the continuing evolution in IP technology. It's a new wireless-based
technology called WiFi, an abbreviation for Wireless Fidelity. WiFi
technology operates in an unregulated band of radio spectrum
designated 802.11. This is an unlicensed band of spectrum, that's
shared and available for use by anyone. Up to now it was most
commonly used for personal appliances, such as for a microwave oven,
or a cordless home phone, and even the radar "gun" used by law
enforcement to read the speed of a moving vehicle.
Unlike today's wired network, a WiFi network requires little more
than an Access Point, which is abbreviated as AP. We all understand
that access to a wireless-based service doesn't require an expensive
connection to each user -- there's no need for running wires to each
building, or for the installation of a satellite dish. WiFi
technology is also far less expensive to deploy than the limited
wireless technologies of existing cellular service providers. And,
because in most countries it operates in an unregulated spectrum,
anyone can deploy a WiFi Access Point. Basically, a WiFi access
point is nothing less than a broadband network
A majority of the existing communications service providers have been
weakened by investing many billions of dollars working in several far
more expensive and hard to deploy wireless technologies -- which are
unable to match either the broadband capacities or low cost of a WiFi
network. In fact, existing communications providers are being forced
to write off hundreds of billions of dollars in their network
investments, due to a lack of use caused by high prices. Taxpayers
are absorbing these losses, even as the existing service providers
revise projections for deploying advanced wireless broadband networks
long into an unforeseeable future.
Current regulations hinder deployment of IP communications
applications over lower cost WiFi technology. Still, many of the IP
applications anticipated from the technologies of existing
communications service providers operate better when operated with
the greater bandwidth capacity available through WiFi networks. This
is not to say that current wireless technologies are no longer
beneficial. They are necessary, but clearly insufficient to serve an
increasing quantity of diverse communications requirements.
And here's the whole story. Technology and high investment costs no
longer offer a reasonable excuse for the digital divide. In fact,
thanks to continuing advances in WiFi technologies, the digital
divide may now be better described as an advocacy divide. WiFi is
simply too easy, and costs too little to deploy. Independent WiFi
networks are already springing up in cities throughout the USA and
around the world, as if by magic. There are more than seventy cities
with fledgling WiFi networks that offer free Internet access, and the
numbers are growing rapidly.
A draft bill in the US Congress proposes to allocate not less than
255 megahertz of contiguous spectrum below 6 gigahertz for unlicensed
use by wireless broadband devices. This a substantial increase in
the amount of spectrum currently available in unlicensed spectrum.
The senators proposing this legislation, George Allen (R.-Va.) and
Barbara Boxer (D.-Ca.), explained that current debate in Congress
over broadband services focused on two platforms, cable and DSL, and
covered only the issue of competition versus deregulation of
telecommunications as the best mechanism for encouraging broadband
deployment. The senators draft states, "This debate has reached an
unproductive stalemate and fails to consider that other technologies
are available that can jump-start consumer-driven investment and
demand in broadband services."
The two senators are asking Congress to foster a third option. Allen
and Boxer claim that innovative advances in wireless (WiFi) networks
operating in unlicensed radio spectrum offer a new process for
delivering data at high speed, and the potential for new business
models that can deliver broadband connectivity and services:
"These emerging unlicensed wireless technologies can support the
transmission of data at high speeds and at low cost. This is
especially compelling in rural areas where distance is so frequently
the enemy of wire-line networks and the primary reason for the high
cost of rural broadband deployment."
Example Of A WiFi Network
Let's look at one example of a WiFi network. I have chosen the new
network in the city Athens, Georgia, in the USA, because it is
supported in part by their local government and the local university.
Athens is a small city with a little more than 100,000 residents.
They have formed Wireless Athens Group
(http://www.nmi.uga.edu/research/wag), abbreviated as WAG, to develop
the WiFi network. The network currently covers a few city blocks
downtown, but will soon expand to twenty-four city blocks
Whether from a park bench or an outdoor cafe, a student, office
worker, or tourist can access the Internet if they're in range of the
small WAG antennas, really nothing more than small boxes mounted on
top of nine light poles around the city. The signals don't penetrate
most walls or buildings, so the WiFi network, described as a high
bandwidth "cloud," is primarily an outdoor experience. Signals are
sent back to servers at the university, which houses the network hub.
The city has provided use of the top of the nine light poles, and a
small amount of electric power to operate each antenna.
This WiFi broadband "cloud" is far more powerful than what cellular
service providers offer, and transmits data at a speed of 11 Mbps,
which is sufficient for all types of multimedia. It is accessible
24-hours a day. Anyone can join or connect to the network, even
install a WiFi antenna inside a structure for indoor access.
A Cost Comparison
A cellular service provider is unable to deploy a small network
because of the type of technology relied upon. A small part of a
larger network designed to cover only several miles might cost 10
million dollars. This is only a small part of a much larger, more
In comparison, a WiFi network not only has a much greater bandwidth
capacity, but is also far less expensive. And as WiFi technology
rapidly advances, costs are being reduced regularly. Here are some
current options for a small WiFi network, including equipment, costs
and distance of coverage.
In this example, a node represents an Access Point, which is a
box-like antenna and supporting equipment. A large network uses both
nodes and less expensive repeaters to extend range of coverage.
Wired Node (low cost)
* Linksys BEFW11S4 (wireless router and hub) ($200), or Agere RG-1000 or
RG-1100 (optional, recommended) ($170-$220)
* ComputerRouter (free or higher)
Total out of pocket cost can be as little as $200 or lower. However,
your range will be limited to a few hundred feet. To get more range
you need an antenna and/or an amplifier.
Wired Node (mid cost)
* Linksys BEFW11S4 (wireless router and hub), or Orinoco RG-1000
(residential gateway) or RG-1100 (broadband gateway) ($170-$220)
* Cables, adapters (depending on length) ($100)
* 8 to 15-dBi Omni directional antenna (optional,
recommended)($100-$200) * ComputerRouter (free or higher)
For less than $400 you can set up an access point with an Omni
directional antenna. If mounting the Omni outside, expect to pay
another $100-$200 for a lightning arrestor and a mast.
Wired Node (deluxe)
* Orinoco RG-1000 (residential gateway), RG-1100, or Cisco AP or
* Cables, adapters (depending on length) ($100-$200)
* Amplifier ($300-$500)
* 8 to 15-dBi Omni directional antenna ($100-$200)
* Mast or guyed antenna (optional, recommended) ($100+)
* ComputerRouter (free or higher)
This is a high quality node that can cover a large area, if the
antenna is mounted sufficiently high, for only $800-$1,500. Many if
not all amplifiers have integrated lightning protection, so a
separate lightning arrestor may not be necessary. This node covers a
square mile area, or more in certain circumstances.
Wired Node (cost no object)
* 3-4+ Orinoco business AP or Cisco AP or bridge ($500-$1,000/ea)
* 3-4 amps ($300-$500/ea)
* 3-4, 6-8 sector antennas ($200-$700/ea)
* 1+ mid-gain Omni directional antenna, e.g. 8-dBi (optional) ($100)
* several mid-to-high gain patch or parabolic antennas ($50-$200/ea)
* High quality self supporting or guyed antenna ($500-$1,000+)
* Misc. cables (optional, recommended) ($200-$500+)
* ComputerRouter (free or higher)
This is a truly powerful full IP-capability node costing between
$5,000-$10,000+, and capable to serve thousands of users.
The options for a wired access point, or node, as shown above
indicate that the cost for a ten square mile WiFi network "cloud" is
approximately US$ 150,000 or more. This is sufficient to cover many
metropolitan areas, and is affordable by many municipal governments.
Benefits For Education
I know many at this point may be questioning what this has to do with
education. But it has in fact everything to do with education.
IP-based applications for education are dramatically enhanced when
deployed over WiFi broadband networks.
WiFi networks are basically local-loop networks providing last-mile
connectivity. Local-loop networks are where individuals, schools,
businesses, hospitals, libraries and governments connect to the
Internet. In essence, they are community networks; they both serve
and operate within the local community. Education applications can
reside on the local network and empower a community like never
before. The community becomes capable to direct and determine its
own requirements and processes, maintain and strengthen local
standards, enhance collaboration between individuals and
institutions, and develop an economy capable to compete with other
Rising education levels also require increased economic
opportunities, or communities suffer what is called a "brain drain,"
where the most educated of its young choose to relocate to regions
offering greater economic opportunities. A community-based
local-loop WiFi network will attract both internal and external
investment. As a new virtual space, it causes the formation of new
businesses that provide new services; a WiFi network creates new
markets and fosters new innovations and ideas.
As an example, local schools with access to broadband can control the
dissemination of their own local initiatives. Students can practice
all media forms and processes through actual hands-on experience.
Local television and radio stations can distribute, even produce,
unique media content. WiFi empowers local citizens and institutions,
which in turn creates the necessary impetus for widespread acceptance
and use throughout the community. This is not about investment, but
about saving money while bettering the local community.
WiFi network deployment is not simply a development issue, but also
affects government processes. IP-based communications provide for
better interaction between government and citizens, and allow
government to enhance and increase services without raising operating
costs. A WiFi network protects local merchants from the loss of
sales to e-commerce sites outside of the community, just as it
insures local sales taxes remain for use in the community itself.
There's no longer a need to lose sales, money, or even children, to
major commercial centers around the world.
The technology is here now, and the cost has been reduced to a level
affordable by local governments and organizations. It simply
requires the will. Many municipal governments can already afford the
investment for a WiFi broadband network -- which will eliminate the
digital divide within communities.
There already exist within each community the natural stakeholders
that can help, including universities and schools, hospitals and
An example of a natural stakeholder would be any user already
suffering high costs for a bundle of communications services. A WiFi
network can provide local hospitals, schools, government offices,
emergency services, utilities, and everyone, with low cost 24-hour
access to full broadband services -- seamlessly bundled into a single
low cost community platform. This powerful network can deliver
movies and telephone service, allows instant interaction with
organizations and government, and provides for equitable
participation in e-commerce -- it equally benefits all citizens
within a community. A WiFi network dramatically lowers the cost for
communications and media.
E-Mexico provides another example for opportunity. Its current plans
are to provide Internet access through thousands of local community
centers and schools. If deployed in the traditional manner, each
computer will need it's own dialup connection -- a slower, less
powerful and more costly type of access point that, even when
connected to a desktop network, can serve no more than a few
computers at one time. A single WiFi access point can provide
service to thousands of users, and at a much lower individual cost.
The Mexican government might wish to review and study current
proposals under consideration by the US Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) regarding unlicensed radio frequencies, they're
deployment and use (http://www.fcc.gov/sptf).
Equally important, WiFi provides the opportunity for a whole new
class of productive and cost effective IP applications. Ubiquitous
web computing becomes affordable through WiFi broadband networks.
And imagine the effect on street crime when secure e-payments are
possible from any access device.
Educators should embrace the opportunity to provide leadership. This
is an education issue.
The Next Great Leap
Although WiFi technology reduces network cost to a level affordable
by many municipalities, there's one final ingredient necessary to
create a complete impetus for individual adoption. This addresses
the obvious need for communities to achieve a minimum degree of
control over their own applications, content and services.
There are two choices for hosting content and applications. They can
either reside on a local network, or on a commercial platform from
outside of the community. Microsoft's .Net provides an example.
It's a giant, monolithic, programmed platform seeking to serve
everyone, and offering an impressive number of products, vendors and
applications -- but it is cost prohibitive for small, local,
developing country vendors to participate on such a platform.
Because community involvement is in developing markets the vital
driving force behind Internet adoption, local businesses and
institutions must be capable to participate equitably.
The importance for deploying a programmed platform over a WiFi
network cannot be too well emphasized. This platform should take the
form of a "public access" Virtual Private Network (VPN). None
currently exist. However, a public access VPN is the most
appropriate applications/content platform for a community-based WiFi
broadband network. It would allow residents to choose between local
services, or to browse the World Wide Web (WWW). With a public
access VPN, local government would still have online travel and trade
promotions accessible from anywhere around the world, but could limit
access to certain services to legal residents, such as to make
payments and to transfer information or documents.
A public access VPN is a community platform for ubiquitous broadband
IP communications, including voice, media, education, e-commerce, web
computing, e-government, health, and more. It provides an ideal
method for micro, small and medium-sized businesses and organizations
to participate in e-commerce.
It can save time, lower processing costs, speed revenue collection,
reduce inappropriate activity, and speed both the dissemination and
collection of information. Government would be able to offer new
intelligent services at little or no additional investment.
The development of VPN's may be left up to large commercial market
players, interested in strategic development of proprietary
technologies that lock in customers for many years into the future.
How long will it then take to establish standards so that any website
can offer IP communications applications interoperable and seamless?
In other words, where and from whom, do the applications like IM, or
voice/text mail, or VoIP, or others, originate? They may go on
websites one day, but only when and if standards make EVERYTHING
ubiquitous (even websites and their services). And, how do you bring
the cost for websites down, if not hosted on a public access
platform? And who will provide the common marketplace for local
websites? How else can they compete... why else would they go
online... shouldn't every company be able to do so no matter its
A public access VPN can be designed using open source architecture.
There is no need for public agencies to engage in the production of
VPN's themselves -- this may and should be left to the private
sector. But for the Internet to be useful, VPN's that are accessible
to everyone at a low cost must be developed, and public funding will
be a critical element.
There is no more important an open-source programming need today.
This would not only lower costs, but also create new businesses to
provide innovative applications, content and services. Students
would gain the opportunity to learn programming and software-writing
More importantly, a public access VPN will provide equitability
between communities, and a strong reason to use the Internet. A
public access VPN for WiFi broadband networks would allow local
organizations within each community to compete effectively against
services offered through large national and international commercial
platforms. And it will not only lower the cost for local websites,
but also provide the community a method for an orderly provisioning
of the various applications, content and services it desires to
Executive Vice President, Municipal Networks
air4wan |WiFi Group
"Building the future now"
alanlevy at air4wan.com
The author gratefully acknowledges valuable comments by
Francisco J. Proenza, FAO Investment Centre Economist.
In sum, we are an army of dreamers, and therefore invincible. How
can we fail to win, with this imagination overturning everything.
-- Subcomandante Marcos
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