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Can wireless technology provide an inexpensive semi-broadband alternative in a poor neighborhood?

Posted on 2003-10-28
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2010-03-17
As many are aware, there is a digital divide in this country.  In a vastly oversimplified nutshell:  The haves have broadband.  The havenots try phone based ISPs and decide it isn't worth the hassle.

I was recently pondering the idea of having a single wireless access point for a city block.  Could this be used as a cheap alternative to cable.  No per household wiring.  Wireless cards are cheap.  The bandwidth would be shared and hence could face contention, but you would not have to sit and wait for the phone to dial and connect.  

Is the technology good enough to make this feasible?  

Question by:klopter
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LVL 43

Expert Comment

ID: 9634956
Typically you only get a 300-350ft range out of a wireless access point with standard antennas.  You would need to upgrade the antennas to reach beyond that distance and they are not cheap.

Also, depending on structural material and other kinds of interference the signal may be too weak to even work.

You would obviously still need one broadband connection from your local Cable or DSL provider and this arrangement may not be legal within the "proper usage guidelines" of your ISP's contract.  You would want to check and make sure you aren't breaking any laws doing it.

Have you looked into DSL?  Its cheaper than Cable and faster than Dial-Up.


Author Comment

ID: 9635132
  Thanks for your comments.  It sounds like the technology isn't quite ready yet.  As for the legal issues.  I live in a town that owns its own Cable Coop and I would propose the solution to the Cable Coop for implementation - it is always looking for ways to bridge the digital divide.  On the one hand, they might lose customers.  On the other, they might gain customers long term as people see the value and find that their broadband needs exceed the shared bandwidth that they could get via wireless.  
  The DSL solution is less attractive because we don't own the telephone company (but do own the Cable Co-op).


LVL 43

Accepted Solution

JFrederick29 earned 400 total points
ID: 9635313
You could always buy an access point with high gain antennas.  They may provide adequate coverage to accomodate your proposal.

One such example:  Cisco Aironet 1200 access point and optional antennas.


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Assisted Solution

mapledrums earned 200 total points
ID: 9635431
I believe that the technology is there for wireless. Basically, it just requires a certain amount of site survey & planning. There are limitations to 802.11a/b/g of course, such as the distance, the maximum number of repeaters allowed, etc. This is where the requirements gathering & planning come into play.

If there are no legal issues, & you have a certain amount of control over the cable coop, you could nudge them into providing more bandwidth for your uplink, as a good-will gesture, as & when the link is saturated. However, you'll probably need a higher bandwidth cable modem for this (am I right to say this). Buying the high gain antennas are basically a one-time cost, but the good-will & community benifits obtained will probably outweigh the initial cost involved in the long run.

Good luck on your endeavor!

Author Comment

ID: 9635537
Thanks.  That is encouraging enough to motivate me to do more research.  This would not be through my own cable modem.  The cable co-op, if I can sell the idea, would own the modem and the access point and offer some mini-broadband service at, say $10/month.  It wouldn't have to make money, just cover the costs.  

Thanks again,

Expert Comment

ID: 9635987
Thanks for the points. Good luck !

Expert Comment

ID: 9754979
Ken- I love the idea, but worry about the legal agreement with the sharing of the signal. IF you could work out something with the ISP, then it should work for you. If you really need to go "low buck", try one of the more popular "cheaper" priced access points like the linksys and make your own extrenal antennas. We played with the plans found on the net versus the commercial antennas in our shop and with a little time and someone that can work well with their hands and tools, the results were compairable. Its not a "professional" commercial solution, but is should fit the "low buck" needs of your project.
Best of luck!


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