Yesterday I covered the story of BendBroadband, a local cable operator in the USA serving customers in Central Oregon, and how they decided to launch an HSPA+ network to reach rural customers. They’re worth mentioning because they’re the first company to build and launch a commercial HSPA+ network in the United States. Not T-Mobile, not AT&T, but a little guy you never heard of. More importantly they’re one of the first internet service providers in the USA to extend their reach of potential customers by using wireless technology. Cox recently launched a CDMA based network, that they eventually plan to upgrade to LTE, but they’re more worried about competing with today’s wireless operators than providing broadband to rural communities. Frank Miller, the Chief Technology Officer, left a comment on that blog post yesterday, so I decided to reach out to him and ask a few questions. I’ve slightly edited the answers to make it easier for non technical people to read; check it out:
1: Can you introduce yourself, your role at BendBroadband, and what BendBroadband recently announced regarding your new HSPA+ network?
Frank Miller, Chief Technology Officer
Review the press release for more details about our HSPA+ launch [PDF file]
The focus is on rural markets with a NAT/802.11n router, also with a USB modem.
First step is HSPA+ 21 Mbps down, 5.6 Mbps up user eqipment in production in the United States in the AWS bandplan.
2: How fast is your HSPA+ network, is it based on the 14.4 Mbps version of HSPA+ or 21 Mbps? Are there any plans to upgrade to LTE, if so when?
21 Mbps down, 5.6 Mbps is specified in the protocol, field tests at layer 3 show in that in optimal conditions we get 15.8 Mbps down, 3.9 Mbps up.
We plan to upgrade to LTE when the ecosystem, from user equipment to radio access network, mature.
3: What are you using to provide backhaul to the towers? Most operators connect a T1 to cell sites, but since you’re an ISP I bet you have something a little bit more hardcore!
1Gbs fiber or up to 600Mbs microwave. We only transport IP, so there is no legacy TDM (time division multiplexing) or ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) overhead.
4: How much money are you saving by rolling out HSPA+ versus laying cable?
Activation per home runs about $400 depending depending on the customer’s location. In an urban environment, activation runs nearly $1000 per home using cable.
5: May I ask how many cell sites you’ve deployed, how many customers they’ll cover, and who built them?
We have 17 cell sites (read: towers) at launch and have added 20,000 potential customers to our cable footprint. We are budgeted to upgrade channels/towers as required to protect the customer experience. Ericsson is our vendor for the Packet Core and RAN.
6: You’re a family owned ISP, so what challenges do see going forward as more and people consume an ever increasing amount of bandwidth?
We have effectively stayed ahead of the consumption curve, for our DOCSIS 3.0 product, with proactive engineering. We are applying same practices to our wireless broadband deployment to protect the customer experience.
END OF INTERVIEW
A 60% saving in CAPEX for customer acquisition is ridiculously impressive, especially considering the upgrade path to LTE from HSPA+ isn’t terribly difficult. I hope more and more operators consider going wireless since I’ve had terrible experiences with scheduling people to come to my home and tear up my front lawn just so I can get internet access. This also rocks for people who prefer to live in the suburbs, and are usually a pain in the ass to service since they’re so far away from the DSLAM (ADSL customers) or the fiber/coax network. All in all I hope BendBroadband serves as a template for other ISPs to follow.
Thanks for answering my questions Frank!