WiMax technology part of plans for higher-speed Internet
One of Springfield’s original dial-up companies has begun the transition to WiMax, a high-speed wireless technology an industry analyst calls “an evolution, not a revolution” in broadband competition.
The step by Springnet1 is part of continuing improvements in broadband technology, both wired and wireless, that continue to remake the market for Internet service.
Comcast is promising higher download speeds to cable customers, but starting only in Philadelphia, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul for now. AT&T remains in the still-looking phase of providing a local video alternative to cable television. Sprint has announced plans to build a nationwide WiMax network.
Xanadoo Inc., a Texas-based provider that entered the local market early this year, introduced its version of WiMax to its Illinois markets in April.
Springnet1 actually switched on WiMax service in August. Neal Miller and Anthony Hopp, who founded the company in 1995, said this week about 180 of its 600 broadband customers within a 30-mile radius of Springfield have been switched.
Springnet1 began broadband service in 1997.
Miller and Hopp said they decided to make the “substantial” investment in WiMax technology because of increasing congestion on open — unlicensed — broadband spectrums, the result of steady addition of such wireless devices as phones and handheld computers.
“It’s the Wild West out there,” Hopp said.
The traffic jam of signals had begun to cause slower downloads and occasional lost connections for clients, Hopp said.
“It had become so difficult to manage the system when there were so many demands. If I’m interfering with you, you’re interfering with me,” said Hopp.
Hopp and Miller said company engineers theorize that even remote-control traffic lights, which rely on wireless technology, were interfering from time to time with traditional broadband wireless.
“We had engineers staying up and watching the network (for interference), but we’d have no idea where it came from,” said Miller.
A wireless business analyst for Connected Nation said Springfield is one of only a handful of small and mid-sized markets nationwide with WiMax availability, primarily because of the expense involved in making the switch.
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution. It’s been out there for awhile, but it improves distance and it improves capacity,” said Charles Spann of Connected Nation. The not-for-profit research and lobbying group is based in Washington.
Spann said WiMax overcomes “line of sight” problems with trees and structures that can cause interference for WiFI and other wireless technologies.
Illinois Telecommunications Association president Doug Dougherty said he expects demand for protected broadband spectrums like that licensed to Springnet1 to continue to increase.
“If you’re in an open spectrum, you’re fighting other people for space. If you have a licensed spectrum, then you have your own pathway through the air,” said Dougherty, though he said WiMax represents a significant investment.
“We’ve seen these introduced with great fanfare in municipalities like Philadelphia and Chicago. None of those came to fruition,” said Dougherty.
Comcast announced last week it plans to double download speeds for 10 million customers in 10 metropolitan markets in the next few months, beginning with Philadelphia, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
A spokeswoman for the company said a schedule has not been determined for smaller cities. Comcast took over Insight Communications systems in Springfield, Peoria, Rockford, Quincy, Macomb and Champaign-Urbana as of Jan. 1.
AT&T also has had periodic discussions with Springfield city government about area-wide wireless service and the possibility of a cable alternative, but city spokesman Ernie Slottag said nothing is pending on either technology.
Miller and Hopp declined to discuss the specific cost of buying and installing WiMax technology — Springnet1’s antenna is atop the Hilton Springfield — other than to say it’s about double the cost of traditional equipment.
The company supplies clients with the equipment, and rates have not changed, they said. The service has been rolled out with an introductory rate of $29.95 a month for residential customers in the first year. The normal charge is $49.95 a month for residential service and $79.95 for businesses.
Hopp said the upgrade also is about protecting market share. WiMax should make it easier to reach new customers because it eliminates the line-of-sight problem, at least within the 30-mile radius.
“It was a substantial investment, but we can’t have trees being the reason we can’t expand,” said Hopp.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 firstname.lastname@example.org.