[FRIAM] The Last Mile, again

Steven A Smith sasmyth at swcp.com
Mon Apr 23 23:31:57 EDT 2018

Nick -

I'd say there is good news and bad news... but most likely mostly good
news.   (TLDR and TMI for most here):

Richard Lowenberg formed a group here in SFe some 10 years ago (nearly?)
called "the FIRST Mile" to turn the language around.   "Last Mile"
leaves it to the industry to treat us like an afterthought... and while
there is solid logic to building a network from the center out... it
doesn't fit the logic that went into things like Rural Electrification
and Telephony and even Cable Franchises,   requiring corporate interests
to service the more difficult and remote long before (if ever) they
would have based entirely on market forces.  

I don't know "Radwin"  but what you describe is roughly what the "La
Canada" cooperative did for the South Santa Fe region (including El
Dorado) some 15 or more years ago.    I attended one of their board
meetings about 7 years ago when my best (only?!) option coming from the
San Ildefonso Pueblo (established with a Grant) shut down abruptly (not
long after the Grant was over).   I was trying to gather enough
information and support to possibly form a similar non-profit for the
Pojoaque Valley area which has notoriously bad coverage.    I am looking
into it again (with a little less naivete) because the Federal Grant
service known as RediNet with phat fiber to our valley seems to finally
be ready to receive a coop if we can get our act together.

The good news is that what they are describing is generally quite
doable, the only question is whether they can get enough customers,
raise the capital for the primary infrastructure, and keep it operating
long enough to get into the black.  The same challenges I am seeing with
a not-for-profit effort here... just without any need to make more $$
than it takes to operate viably.

The bad news is not too bad.  First,  They can't be promising 0%
oversubscription of bandwidth... that would be prohibitively expensive
and excessive for the type of utilization  a collection of (part-time?)
homeowners would need.   Their level of oversubscription (in theory and
in reality) is what will make or break your real bandwidth.   If I read
you correctly they are offering 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up?    I'm not
sure what the range of oversubscription is, but I"ve heard on the order
of 4x to 32x with the former being very rare and usually only during a
startup phase before a service actually connects enough customers to
begin to consume the bandwidth.  

My own service is commercial, using similar hardware (in our case,
Ubiquiti) and I get mine beamed a solid 23 miles from Big Tesuque.   I
pay $70/month for 10/5Mbps (which I rarely see), including a $10/month
lease of my receiving equipment (vs one-time of about $300)  I have
variable service and gaps in service based on (apparently?) wind and
icing on the mountain (much more than your towers will likely ever see)
and landline cable cuts between SFe&ABQ.   If your guys are *commercial*
then ultimately they may fall into the trap of trying to maximize
profits which will ultimately marginalize services for you.  Meanwhile I
suspect they will outperform DSL (over old copper with oxidizing
connection blocks on poles or underground) and cable (similar but also
often not as pervasive as twisted pair phone lines).

I also took a whirl at prototyping a "mesh" system designed to support
third world ruralities with Voice over IP and Internet.  I was trying to
set up a network in La Puebla to serve a large handful of small
farmers/horse-people who either had no service (no phone or cable wires
to their property) or were unhappy with the quality of service they were
getting and were (superficially?) willing to participate in a
cooperative experiment with their neighbors.   The basic units are
called "Mesh Potatoes" (I forget the origin of Potato in this) and cost
about $30 each.  They are fundamentally 802.11 routers with two radios
for "bridging" packaged in a weatherproof case, with a VOIP chip (so
neighbors can pick up a simple phone handset and ring one another), and
can therefore also receive external longer range (beam shaping) antennae
to reach further in a given direction.

Each house would have one of these and possibly one or more identical
units acting as "repeaters" in between them and one or more other houses
in the "mesh".   They were designed to be easy to set up and cheap
enough to swap out if there were a hardware failure.  They run off of a
wide range of low-voltage, making them ideal for solar powering, but the
$30 units only come with a 110/220 wallwart requiring mains.   Their
draw is low enough though that you could probably hook one up in a
vehicle and park it in a convenient spot without drawing the battery too
badly.  Most of the regions they are aimed at don't have mains nor
vehicles, so batteries (intermittently charged or swapped) or solar are
the most common. 

I DID have some technical difficulties, mostly in placing routers close
enough to both power sources (mains) and amongst the participants, but
the big thing was that in spite of being underserved, rural self-made
types, I could tell very quickly that they all "just wanted a service
that works" and weren't very cooperative when I started asking them for
permission to install a directional antenna on the side of a barn or
casita to reach a neighbor, or instructing them on how to reset the
system if their neighbors were having trouble...   They also wanted a
minimum of Netflix Streaming without any buffering 99% of the time....  
In a few cases I saw what they were wanting to replace (DSL providing
Netflix Streaming with no buffering 90% of the time) and how unhappy
they were and realized I was setting up another thankless role/task for
myself.   On the other end, the best way to get an uplink (or several
redundant) was from the existing providers who were not willing to
adjust their End User License Agreements to allow the kind of sharing
implied...   As awkward as it was for me trying to set all of this up, I
realized it confronted *their* service model of one contract/bill/POC
per household/family, even if half of the people I was working with
*couldn't* access their current service (lack of infrastructure or even
line of site to towers).  

My final goal was to help a friend from Kenya light up the series of
villages along the western edge of the Rift Valley where he is from...  
he is an Olympic runner who came to Northern NM to train for the 04s and
stayed... they feel lucky there if there is an elementary school within
a 30 minute *run* from home... that is how he (and many Kenyans)
apparently get started running... "running to school", forget "up hill
both ways in the snow!"

I doubt that  the incumbents in your area will try to compete these guys
out of business directly... they may be happy to have them picking up
the "difficult to serve" clients.   I also think that  despite the
downfalls of a commercial service that ultimately you will likely get
better service... coops tend to depend heavily on dedicated volunteer
help...  members who are highly motivated and technical... who carry
most of the weight (until they burn out or are replaced by fresh folks).

In any case, congratulations and carry on!   All that extra EM radiation
may slow the mosquitos down for you?   Don't forget to wear your tinfoil

- Steve

> There is a movement afoot to bring broad band to us here in the
> mosquito infested bog.  A group of locals is forming a for=profit
> company to bring internet (25/3) to hundreds of subscribers in our
> hilly, rural town.  They will put 4 “Radwin” transmitters atop 150
> foot towers on two local hill tops with smaller repeaters as
> necessary.  The transmitters look for all the world like Mac
> Powerbooks.   Each house will have a waffle sized receiver. The plan
> for 200 dollar initial buy-in cost and a one hundred dollar per month
> subscription cost for UNLIMITED service at the advertised rate.  (No
> “up to”.)  I now pay about a hundred dollars a month for a Verizon
> jetpack which pays for only ten gigs of data.  To stay within that
> limit I have to turn off anything that moves on the internet, and go
> to the local library to get podcasts, movies, or to update software,
> or do a cloud backup. 
> In short, I am enthusiastic about the idea.  What’s wrong with it? 
> And if nothing is wrong with it, why haven’t  all you Eldorado folks
> done it already.  Go ahead.  Rain on my parade.   I asked them if they
> were afraid that Verizon would get religion and put in DSL at the last
> moment just to put them out of business.   Their response was that
>  local DSL service is so crappy that it probably wouldn’t make any
> difference.  They say their real competitor is Elon Musk who is
> planning a vast satellite service that will light up everyone in the
> universe
> I gather you have all been suffering gale force winds and duststorms. 
> Ugh.  We, for our part, have had seven snowfalls since we got here.
> (All minor, but still, relentlessly gray and chilly) The weather broke
> this weekend and the garden is beginning to be populated.   I hope the
> equivalent break is happening for you. 
> Miss you lots,
> Nick  
> Nicholas S. Thompson
> Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Biology
> Clark University
> http://home.earthlink.net/~nickthompson/naturaldesigns/
> <http://home.earthlink.net/%7Enickthompson/naturaldesigns/>
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