The Cloud Drifts Into Hotzones
The Cloud runs a wholesale network of wireless access points that allows carriers to offer services without having to roll out their own hotspots. The network covers nearly 6,000 pubs, hotels, airports, and other locations throughout the U.K., Germany, and Sweden.
But lately it's been testing the waters for outdoor connectivity and has begun rolling out wide-area coverage in nine U.K. cities, a project it expects to complete by March. (See Cloud Offers UK Coverage.) For these larger deployments, it's enlisted the help of municipal wireless mesh startup Tropos Networks Inc. . (See Cloud Uses Tropos for Mesh.)
"These are city center networks -– hotzones -- rather than entire cities," says a Cloud spokesman, "but the scale of The Cloud's installations has been growing recently, which is why Tropos is such a useful partner."
Gabriel Brown, chief analyst for Unstrung Insider, reckons The Cloud will use wireless mesh -- a networking technique that uses cheap peer nodes to supply backhaul to other nodes -- on a case-by-case basis when it can't get cheap wired backhaul or good line-of-sight to fluff up its hotspots into hotzones. "The decision is really driven by the particular application, throughput requirements, and the availability of low cost backhaul, in the neighborhood where they’re building out the access network," he says. "But certainly, the whole of London won't be covered by a mesh, and they’re going to use a lot of DSL, some WiMax, and whatever else they can get, to connect the outdoor access points."
Brown, who is currently producing a report on mesh networking, notes: "The European outlook for city-wide mesh is a bit different from North America –- stricter regulation on power output in the unlicensed bands, and even factors such as street layouts make it less attractive. It's clearly a technology for the more adventurous service providers."
A report from ABI Research concurs, noting that European operators are trying out "campus-wide" projects rather than North America's city-wide approach, but with thousands of hotspots around Europe, using mesh technology to expand into hotzones could provide a "significant opportunity" for service providers. (See ABI: MSOs Invest in Mesh.)
The Cloud joins the likes of Cityspace Ltd. , which runs a wireless broadband project called StreetNet in partnership with the London Borough of Islington. The network comprises a 20-multi-radio mesh provided by BelAir Networks Inc. that covers a three-mile area and is served by one primary 8-Mbit/s wired link, with a second backup link for redundancy. "Without really doing much marketing, they're running at about 8,000 sessions per month, with users said to be getting service at around 500 kbit/s in most cases," says Brown.
The Cloud announced its third round of venture funding last week, an undisclosed amount that brings its total investment to over €20 million (US$24 million). (See The Cloud Raises More Cash.) Its last cash injection was in July 2004, when it separated from parent company Inspired Broadcast Networks . (See The Cloud Drifts Off.)
Investors 3i Group plc and Accel Partners were joined in the round by Provider Venture Partners AB , a Swedish VC that will support its expansion in Scandinavia.
The Cloud's spokesman says "the current funding provides sufficient capital for the immediate future and for the things the company wants to achieve," a laundry list that includes the U.K initiative, Nordic expansion, acquisitions, and the development of new services.
As part of that plan it has acquired NetCheckIn GmbH , a German wireless LAN operator with hotspots in hotels and airports. The partnership with Tropos will also allow the operator to offer new services like mobile Internet access, wireless VOIP, remote wireless video monitoring, automated meter reading, and public safety applications.
— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading