The world is a faster place than yesterday; and the pace will keep quickening. Luckily the internet will keep getting faster also. 12 years ago when we started our business the equipment that was available was mostly experimental. Wifi was never designed for broadcast, it was imagined and designed for indoor use. Our first equipment that we could purchase was only able to give customers a 512/256 connection. It was an improvement over the copper telephone lines and our community embraced it. Every time new technology has emerged we have adapted and implemented the best technology that we could purchase. These upgrades in equipment have not been cheap; when we refurbish a tower it is in the thousands and then we have to put new customer equipment up also. So, if you do the math, at 30+ towers and several hundred customer radios that need to be replaced it is not a quick, easy or inexpensive task.
Delivery to rural areas is complicated. It starts at a data center like Indianapolis, Chicago or Columbus Ohio. These centers are where the bandwidth is purchased and distributed. Eiwifi has partnered with 5 other small companies of similar size and have a cage in the biggest data center in Indy alongside Verizon, ATT, Universities, hospitals and other large companies. In this cage we have three internet providers providing all of us with bandwidth so that we have redundancy in case one of the providers get a failure due to a fiber cut or power interruption. We have direct 10 gigabit pipes to a Chicago data center as well as one in Columbus Ohio. This redundant connectivity is necessary for a reliable connection to your home or business.
The next part of the distribution is getting bandwith from Indianapolis to our towers to send to your home. We have two gigabit leased fiber connections, feeding into our system at each end. Then we have microwave radios to distribute to towers and redundant links in case we get a fiber cut on one of our fibers leading to Indianapolis. Depending upon the capacity of a microwave link they can easily cost 20 thousand dollars. Fiber cuts happen, we have experienced 4 fiber cuts this year, one in Marion (but our second fiber input had us covered on that one), one in Mishawaka, one in Indianapolis and one that was out of state. We are looking for a second fiber carrier to provide another redundant link provider to Indy but there are not many choices out there, and may not be much better as many carriers are in the same bundle and if one gets cut the others get cut also.
Next in the distribution chain are the broadcast radios on the towers and receiver radios on the house. Towers that used to cost $5,000 to equip can now easily cost $20,000 or much more depending upon the type of equipment that will best work in the particular broadcast environment. The customer radios have to be replaced to match the new broadcast radios.
Now for the good news, in 2015 we saw prototypes of two different types of wireless technology. They have had some glitches and some of the promises that were made have been slow to materialize. Each of the technologies have their strong points and weak points and of course they come with a much higher price tag than current equipment we have been deploying. We feel each technology has its place in our system and we have deployed some of each in our system as trials. Each of these new technologies require a complete new install, including cabling, but the throughput is amazing. We know it is a lofty goal but our goal is to provide 25 meg or more to each of our customers. With new faster service and more robust towers, we expect to have terra-bite data caps, far more that anyone uses now!This will not happen overnight.
Also, the good news is that our backbone to many of our towers is good. Through trust of the Eastbrook School corporation in our abilities to provide for their needs we were selected to supply fiber to their schools and this has enabled us to have a robust backbone between Upland and Van Buren while Matthews has its own fiber connection and redundant link to the Van Buren fiber. This is an important part because as we begin to supply customers with 25 megs or more each, the towers need a lot of bandwith and need a strong backbone supply. This is why you have seen so much fiber installed throughout Indiana and the country. Cell towers need a lot of bandwidth also. Their key advantage over our system is that cell carriers can use 100 watts or more while we are limited by law to 1 watt. Big difference in signal levels!
We have plans for moving forward on implementing the new technology throughout the system. The older radios worked for slower speeds but will not allow faster connection speeds or talk to our new broadcast equipment. The other thing we have run into is that trees and leaves interfere with the older radios much more. Another consideration: when a user has a bad connection because of more trees or leaves it hurts all the other connections on that particular tower and slows everyone down.
We have never in 12 years had a price increase without the expectation of better faster service. Again, we expect this new technology will produce a much more robust connection to each of our customers. Our plan is to make it an option to move to the newer faster technology. Because we as a small company cannot do this and absorb all of the cost of installation for every customer, there will be a new install charge for anyone wishing to move to the faster speeds and it will include a complete new install including the radio.
The new technology has been or shortly will be installed in Upland, Matthews and along State Road 5 to Van Buren as this is where our backbone will currently support the bandwidth requirements. As time and finances allow we plan to expand first to towers that make the most sense considering both demand and costs to bring bandwith to the tower. We are currently working on a master plan to deliver this technology to our entire network as quickly as possible.
We started our company because we saw a need and believed strongly that rural broadband was extremely important. Today we are committed to bring faster broadband to our area as quickly as possible as time and money allows. This is exciting for us and we hope you are as excited as we are.
Gregg and Randy Ballinger
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