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December 16, 2010

Towerstream's Manhattan Wi-Fi Network - Close to true 4G

Today in frigid weather, I went to Union Square to see how Towerstream's Wi-Fi network performed. Considerably closer to the ITU's definition of 4G than any other technology available today, I was able to use my laptop's built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi adapter to connect to the Access Point at 138Mbps. Excellent quality on its own, and in the presence of 175 other access points you could say stellar.

The next step was to open a browser and bump up against the splash page, provided by Jiwire. After accepting the generic Acceptable Use Policy, the system allowed internet transit.  A quick speed test showed 5.45 Mbps down and 6.2 Mbps up, a perfectly good performance level, most probably restricted by the size of Towerstream's pipe between its AP location and its distribution site.  In their 3rd quarter conference call Towerstream described the general architecture of this network, and it allows for increasing the size of this connection.  Performance can be driven higher by expanding this pipe. That will take more advantage of the 802.11N Wi-Fi access points that they are trialing and deliver an even better user experience.

The latency on each network hop to Google was less than 10 Milliseconds, boding well for the support of IMS based voice clients that switch between cell and IP connections or pure VoIP apps.  With its strategic distribution sites in some of the largest US markets, Towerstream seems well positioned to be able to help cellular carriers and other ISPs alleviate some issues in their most painful locations by offloading the data traffic from their smartphones.  It remains to be seen whether Towerstream can convince the mobile operators in their markets to embrace their wholesale strategy and more fully integrate Wi-Fi data distribution into their architectures.

Even if they don't convince the MNOs of the world to buy Wi-Fi from them, it can be accretive to their bottom line, because just like an MSO, adding Wi-Fi to Towerstream's distribution network is a very low cost proposition.  The cost could be recouped by selling day passes or subscriptions to out of towners, or even through advertising, since they are leveraging mounting rights they already have, and not impinging on their customers' connections to deliver the Wi-Fi net access.  Their rollup strategy can only better this proposition, as it increases the coverage area they can provide in each market.


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