Case in Point-to-Point
That's not true for Georgia Power, an investor-owned electrical utility based in Atlanta -- even though it's the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, which also owns its own telco, Southern Telecom. Georgia Power needed to connect its headquarters, a 27-story building in downtown Atlanta, to its Metro East Region operations center, about a mile away.
Georgia Power settled on Wireless Lateral, a point-to-point fixed wireless system provided by First Mile Communications, an Atlanta startup with close ties to Southern Telecom. Based on the technology known as Local Multipoint Distribution Service, configured for point-to-point applications, Wireless Lateral runs at higher, licensed frequencies -- 18GHz or 23GHz in First Mile's case, according to the company's CEO and co-founder Stan Allen.
Previously, the options available for companies wishing to connect offshoot buildings to the fiber rings in big U.S. cities tended to be offered by monopoly providers, points out Allen.
"With the reemergence of the Bell monopoly, if you're looking at fiber into commercial office buildings you're pretty much limited to the RBOCs, and now that pretty much means AT&T or MCI," he says. "For competitive carriers and enterprises those are really the only two alternatives."
For larger enterprises that means reliance on a single supplier, a lack of diverse routing alternatives in case of disruption, and little room for price negotiation. For competitive carriers it means high barriers to entry to serve high-margin large corporate customers.
"The competitive carriers are increasingly frustrated, and anticipate that the recent mergers will make things worse and not better," adds Allen. "The larger enterprises in particular want to know that they have alternative choices -- obviously they prefer a competitive situation and they're accustomed to price-performance ratios working in their favor over time."
Perceiving this market gap, Southern Telecom surveyed its corporate customers to gauge their interest in broadband wireless alternatives, receiving an almost unanimous response: "How soon can you provide it?"
"The First Mile solution now gives Georgia Power the opportunity to make a cost-comparison between traditional leased services and fixed wireless," comments Larry Butts, telecom engineering manager for Southern Company. "Each time we have bandwidth growth needs, a complete analysis comparing the options will be performed."
Founded by Allen and Michael McCollum in Sept. 2005, First Mile Communications plans to offer Wireless Lateral services across downtown Atlanta before expanding to other big cities across the Southeast, marketing fixed point-to-point services to competitive carriers and to large enterprises. The Georgia Power building gives First Mile an ideal foothold in Atlanta, according to Ben Easterling, business development manager for Southern Telecom: “From this site, Southern Telecom and First Mile will be able to offer reliable, high-capacity broadband wireless services to more than 6,000 businesses housed in buildings within a five-mile radius."
The model works best, Allen says, in "NFL cities," for companies seeking redundant connections in disaster-recovery situations. Eventually, though, he sees the service becoming the primary connection for off-fiber facilities a mile or less from hub buildings.
"For us it's a win that Georgia Power will use this as the primary link [between the two buildings]," Allen states. "While our initial pitch is for disaster recovery, we think a lot of the issue around making wireless a company's primary link is customer education."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung