A Wi-Fi fix from VBN

26 Oct 2002

Visitor Based Networks of Tralee has been instrumental in providing high-speed internet access to individuals, businesses and communities throughout the country outside the Dublin area.

Like Leap Broadband, it uses unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4GHz band, but it uses different technologies appropriate to the nature of the area.

“The basic problem we see in Ireland is that the country is well served in terms of arterial fibre routes, a lot of that fibre is unlit,” said Peter Bellew, CEO of Visitor Based Networks (VBN). “There’s not much equipment at the end of the links or along the route. So if people want to bring better connectivity to their area, the cost of bringing fibre is very expensive.”

A key part of VBN’s offering is the use of wireless networking protocol IEEE 802.11b, also known as Wi-Fi. More commonly used for networking computers housed within the same building, this is just one of the technologies the company uses to bridge the last mile between user and the internet access point.

“We don’t always use 802.11b equipment,” said Bellew. “We use other technologies in the same frequency. For instance, there is another radio system called FHSS that can scale better. We also use TDMA [time division multiple access] equipment, which is similar to that used for mobile phones in the US. It’s good for a lot of subscribers in densely populated areas.”

Putting in a network-based system isn’t cheap. “Setting up the right system can cost about €700 per location and then, depending on what the client wants, you’re talking in the region of €10,000 for a base station,” he continued. “That includes firewalls, routers, virtual private networks and so on. If it’s a business service you have to put a business scale behind it.”

Other expenses may include the cost of renting space on the roof of a building to install the base station. Another reason for the high cost is that the IEEE 802.11b protocol was never designed to work outdoors so the equipment has to be hardened for exposure to the elements. Those are all one off costs, however, and once the equipment is installed, the client only has to pay for actual use of the internet.

“We generally help people organise the actually internet connectivity,” said Bellew. “We have found that Eircom, if you work with them, are very fast. Since the takeover [by Valentia] we’ve seen a completely different approach. If you are clear with them what you want and work with their engineering people, they can supply solutions very quickly.”

According to Bellew, the company is exploring the use of 5.7GHz unlicensed band. “We’re doing a lot of work in that area and have some success,” he admitted. “The Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation (ODTR) has just opened up that frequency, which is good news for people like ourselves.

The equipment for it is more robust. You see a lot of wireless internet service providers in other parts of the world using this band because the power level is higher. The regulator has very strict power limits for 2.4GHz.”