New Development in Broadband . . .

MBI TO EXPLORE FIXED WIRELESS AS A GENERAL OPTION MBI Director of Technology Dave Charbonneau surprised at least pole-n-signalsome of the participants at the Hybrid-Wireless Working Group at the Hawley Town Office on Thursday evening, April 7 when he outlined plans to evaluate a number of wireless options as he works to get Broadband implementation “moving forward” in Western Massachusetts.

The Hybrid-Wireless Working Group (HWWG) is an ad hoc assemblage of representatives of Towns in Western MA which, like Hawley, have been exploring wireless Broadband because they cannot afford the cost of MBI’s preferred formula of ubiquitous Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).  Because of its central location among the participating Towns, 6 of the 7 HWWG meetings held so far have taken place at the Hawley Town Office.

Initial studies performed for some of those Towns by industry consultants indicate that they should be able to achieve acceptable levels of performance using wireless at approximately 35 to 40% of the cost of Fiber-Optic cable.  Some of those studies — including the one performed for the Town of Hawley by Fred Goldstein of Interisle Consulting Group — were funded via MBI Planning Grants. 

During the meeting, Mr. Charbonneau outlined a comprehensive study of wireless alternatives that he and his staff are in the process of commissioning via Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) sent to outside consulting firms.  He said that while the full range of wireless alternatives would be explored, including . . .

♦ LTE-4G — Cell carriers like AT&T & Verizon;
♦ Fixed Wireless — Dedicated and specifically-aimed transmitters and antennas;
♦ TV Whitespace — Lower Frequency transmitters/antennas for the most challenging terrain; and,
♦ Wi-Fi Mesh — Large number of signals in confined spaces (like downtown Greenfield)

. . . his personal bet is on Fixed Wireless as a preferred option.  It works best in rural, mountainous areas, he said, and there have been great advances in the technology’s capabilities over the past 2-4 years.  Fixed wireless is the model that the Hawley Communications Committee is currently exploring.    

One important outcome of the study, according to Mr. Charbonneau, will be the creation of “tabletop analyses” of the possibilities for wireless in each of the Western Massachusetts Towns that are currently unserved by Broadband vendors.  This means that all Towns would be able to consider wireless alternatives to FTTH.

Called the Broadband Wireless Access Study (BWA), the funding will be awarded to one or more engineering firms in June, and then the study itself is projected to take 12 weeks.  So we can expect to see results in September or October.

This is a long time to wait, and Mr. Charbonneau did not comment on the impact that the BWA study might have on other funding activities within MBI.

For those Towns that that are pinning their hopes on wireless, Mr. Charbonneau’s visit to Hawley, and his message, were encouraging.

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