Leap delivers wireless broadband

26 Oct 2002

Leap Broadband offers the first broadband alternative within the Dublin 2, 4 and 6 postal districts.

For a monthly fee of €99 plus an installation fee of either €169 or €249, depending on the height of your building, you can have a 512Kbps symmetrical service with no upper limit on the amount of data you can upload or download.

According to Leap Broadband director, Charlie Ardagh, it is the fastest and cheapest broadband internet access in the country. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Charlie and his brother Rory were the people behind Formus, a communications company that planned to offer a similar service all over Europe but went bankrupt instead.

“The Formus business model was capital intensive,” explained Ardagh. “The company had grown to 10 countries with almost 1,000 employees when the downturn happened. The company had been planning a Nasdaq flotation but the market didn’t favour it so the company ran out of cash.”

The company’s American owners decided to pull the plug. The Ardagh brothers acquired the assets of the company from the liquidator through a competitive bidding process and got their hands on what Ardagh describes as “a fairly gold-plated carrier grade network”.

While coverage at the moment is confined to Dublin’s southside, Ardagh hopes to have citywide coverage within the next three to six months. “We would have a central facility where the main internet pipes would come in and several hub sites,” he went on.

“We have service from two tier one suppliers. These would be cells that service the area within a 3km radius. We install a small box the size of an A5 diary — called a Speedbox — in the customer’s building. The customer’s LAN [local area network] plugs into this. A cable goes from the Speedbox to the roof of the building where it connects to an antenna that is in the form of a flat panel the size of a laptop screen and is pointed to our nearest base station.”

The company uses unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4GHz band. This same band, however, is used for other purposes such as wireless LANs and Bluetooth-based personal area networks. “Our system uses a technology called frequency hopping designed by the Israeli military,” he explained. “Normally, a 2.4GHz signal going from A to B would have a selection of three paths to travel. We break those three paths into 72 to provide a greater chance getting around interference.”

According to Ardagh, wireless local loop technology offers several advantages over ADSL. Apart from the fact that it is less expensive, it is also symmetrical, in other words users can send data at the same data as they can receive it. “Our SOHO [small office/home office] users also get a fixed internet protocol [IP] address, which is not available to ISDN or ADSL Solo customers,” he pointed out. “This means that business or SOHO customers can run their own server and host their own email and website.”

In addition to its SOHO offering, Leap Broadband offers a number of business level services. It starts with a €199 per month package that gives customers 1Mbps access, a registered domain name, an email service and a fixed IP address and, at the higher levels, a service level agreement. Contention rates — the number of people sharing a connection — varies from 20:1 to 4:1 depending on the monthly fee.

Leap Broadband has already signed up about 30 customers in its catchment area. These include web development company Clearscape. Conor Stanley, a director of Clearscape, said it was a very easy decision to make to switch to Leap Broadband. “Previously we were being charged €400 to €450 per month for ISDN. Leap Broadband offered us 1Mbps for a flat fee of €199 per month,” he said.

“Of course we did due diligence but in the end it was an easy decision. It’s made a huge difference to us. We have a server located in a server farm and if we need to send large files to it our designers can connect at much higher speeds — uploading big files in about five to six minutes.”

Ardagh’s ambitions for the company are not limited to Dublin. At the moment, the intercity connection charges mean it is not a viable business proposition to offer the service in other urban areas. “However, that’s where the National Development Plan comes in,” he added. “There is an initiative by the Government to build a national network to give people like us affordable access and if that happens we’d be in those other cities in a flash.”

In the meantime, Ardagh has his sights set on tier two or tier three cities in the UK or “nice-sized” cities in France. He is also looking at the possibility of moving into the 5GHz spectrum, which is also unlicensed to offer even higher connection speeds and greater range.