A while back I wrote an article and blog post stating:
The question is not whether we are going to deploy new infrastructure; the question is “who will own it?”The article discusses several alternatives to ownership by the current telephone and cable companies: local governments, cooperatives, small ISPs, and home and building owners.
I know of two trials in which home owners purchase their own links to a backhaul point -- similar to what we now do with our sewer and gas lines, and one wireless access company called Fon.
Fon claims 1,726,336 "members." Members purchase an 802.11n base station that is augmented with several application-layer programs for $99 or €79 and share bandwidth with other members. There are eight Fon installations in my zip code, but only two have been active during the last hour. After several years, Fon deployment is not dense enough to provide a viable alternative to the cable and telephone ISPs in my area, and I don't expect it ever will be.
But, technology and business models improve, and a new company, netBlazr, hopes to sell small business owners equipment for forming a network. The $299 equipment package contains three 802.11n radios and a fast router. Fiber backhaul is supplied by netBlazr. The basic service is free, but they also offer a premium service and dedicated circuit plans with guaranteed speed for small businesses.
NetBlazr's technology and business model are different than Fon's. The extra radios and faster router should improve performance in densely populated areas -- the extra routers let netBlazr change the network architecture on the fly if something goes wrong. The network architecture and backhaul provisioning lead them to deploy in highly local areas. They pick a backhaul point then sign up customers they can reach from that location. They started in a small area within Boston, and will expand from there as demand and density allow. If things go well, they will expand to service office buildings in other cities.
Will netBlazr catch on and scale up to provide a viable alternative to the incumbents? It may be a long shot, but companies like Google or Craig's List seemed like long shots at one point. You never know -- improving technology is on their side and their competitors are not used to competition.
Here are the slides from netBlazr founder Brough Turner giving a talk on the advantages of WiFi over Wimax and LTE and introducing netBlazr.
Fon announced today that they have over 15 million people sharing Internet access over their personally owned open hotspots. Since WiFi range is limited, the value of a Fon membership increases with dense coverage, and as shown here, most of the "Fonistas" are in Western Europe.
In addition to signing up individual users, Fon is making deals with Internet service providers. In the US, cable companies are rolling out their own versions of shared access as is Google Fiber.