I decided to write a post about the NZ Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) and my concerns around it. I have attended only one public forum run by the Blenheim council for the people in Marlborough. This provided me with some insight on the progress in Marlborough and I had the opportunity to voice some of my concerns around RBI. Unfortunately I haven't been able to go to any follow up meetings and I am unable to find meeting minutes of these meetings.
First a short explanation of what the RBI is supposed to achieve. Currently there are many places in New Zealand with no or limited access to the internet. Some places don't have a wired connection (phone line, broadband or fibre) to their property and cell phone reception can be scares or non existent. The big telecom providers aren't interested in spending a lot of money to install a new cell phone tower or dig up the road to put a cable in if it is only going to be utilised by a few people. That's where the NZ RBI comes in. First to identify the locations with no or poor connections to the internet. Second, connect these households up by subsidising Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPS).
A WISP will install an Wi-Fi antenna onto your house and connect it to their own privately owned and operated infrastructure. Similar to the system I build but on a larger scale. The price and throughput depends on the WISP.
My personal concerns
Since the RBI has been announced it seems like every month a new WISP comes into existence in the hope to make some money. Although I understand that it is a smart idea to find a hole in the market, my worries lie with the quality of work that is going to be delivered by inexperienced people or when short cuts are made. Putting something up that sort of works is easy. Designing a system that is robust, scalable, efficient, within regulations etc. is not. Whenever I see a new WISP advertising for the Marlborough region I try to do a basic background check. I will leave it up to the readers to do their own research.
So all these WISP are most likely using similar equipment and especially frequencies. Most likely around the 5.8gHz. My biggest worry is frequency management. First of all, are the WISP going to be forced to use licensed spectrum as not to interfere with existing community broadband radio links? At the moment the amateur spectrum for long range PtP links is very narrow and already overused and in some places illegally broadcasted on. If WISP will use the same spectrum it is going to be one huge frequency jamming war with the result that nobody will have a decent throughput. So frequencies and their bandwidth will need to be regulated and commercial operators should not be allowed to use parts of the unlicensed spectrum.
Many WISP will create an infrastructure with repeater stations on hill tops to create a line of sight to their customers and other repeater stations. How are we going to protect a repeater site from being sabotaged by a competitor. I don't necessarily mean damage to equipment but the installation of another WISP equipment right next to yours, interfering or blocking transmissions.
Here is a quick summary of my concerns from the previous section:
The RBI created a hole in the market which a lot of people want to take advantage of. If council/government doesn't put the right regulations in place the RBI will result into a war between WISPs and existing community networks. I suggest the following:
Tips for potential customers
Here are some tips if you are considering a WISP for broadband to your household.
George Timmermans, Research Toolmaker, Software Engineer and Tinkerer