Frequently asked Questions
1. Why are rural broadband providers using wireless? Is wireless better?
Not at all! Wireless is the only communication link available in the rural area that has the capacity to carry broadband service. The only other rural infrastructure that is available is the phone line and it does not have the capacity for broadband beyond a few kilometres. Also, most rural phone lines are on a multiplex system that even further limits the data capacity to 28.8 kbps or less.
Wireless communications have a number of transmission impairments that affect reliability and throughput. You never get something for nothing. The lower radio frequencies that we use for high speed internet (HIS) have good range, the signal goes through trees and even bends over hills somewhat. But those frequencies are more affected by changes in weather and can be subject to a condition called tunnelling where the signal will ride on an atmospheric inversion layer for 200 miles but not work at 2 miles. This condition does not affect the higher frequencies used by Wimax but, unless there is something to reflect the signal, it is line of sight only. The Wimax frequencies are short range with negligible bending. Trees absorb the signal.
A fibre optic network would be the best solution for reliable broadband. For example, our previous wireless technology had a bit error rate of 1 in 100,000 bits. Our new technology has a bit error rate better than 1 in 100,000,000 bits. A fibre optic network would have a bit error rate of 1 in 1,000,000,000,000 bits or less. That is what we should be trying to build in this area.
Wireless connections will always have more issues than a cable delivery service. We want to have a receive signal that is 50 to 100 times stronger than actually required (fade margin) to allow for changing radio propagation conditions. The fade margin on a cabled system would typically be 1.5 times the required level. Given the local terrain, achieving 100% coverage is very difficult and expensive with wireless. We see wireless as a "stop gap" solution until something more appropriate is available.
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2. Some providers talk about "unlimited" service plans. Why aren't you offering an unlimited service?
From our experience, a truly unlimited service is an unmanaged service. An unmanaged service will have higher costs and poor quality of service. There is a limited amount of spectrum available for rural broadband. To ensure a reasonable usage experience for everyone on a system, the service must be managed. Viruses, Trojans and bandwidth hogs like Netflix would make the system unusable. We've seen it happen.
We often get annoyed at the way some businesses mislead people. A true unlimited connection of 3 Mbps should cost between $500 and $700 per month. You are being misled if anyone offers an "unlimited" service for significantly less.
Some providers offer a certain throughput but will say that they are happy if you are getting only 40% of that throughput. Other providers have an unlimited package, but if you exceed a certain amount, they limit your throughput for a period of time. What is unlimited about that?
We have chosen to be upfront about it. In a recent policy review, we found that 2.5% of our customers exceeded their bandwidth allowance. Obviously, our policy is reasonable and on target. As it becomes appropriate, we will adjust the bandwidth caps and increase our capacity. The majority of users should not subsidize a few users.
You pay for airtime usage on your cell phone; this is no different.
The network is not very busy between midnight and 8:00 AM. We have recently changed our management system to support true unlimited use in that timeframe
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3. You've been developing a new technology to be able to provide broadband service that meets peoples growing dependence on broadband. Why did you choose that technology?
We studied a number of options before making a decision.
We chose a proven technology over something still in development.
We chose as many "off the shelf components" as we could to keep the costs down. These costs have to be recovered from the community.
We chose a technology that, because of its greater range, is better for a rural area. The lower radio frequencies that we use for high speed internet (HIS) have good range, the signal goes through trees and even bends over hills somewhat. The radio spectrum is managed so efficiently that we provide 3 Mbps as our base service and, according to user reports, supports surfing, digital phone, gaming and digital video better than any other wireless system.
This technology is also very expandable to support medium to large client bases. The infrastructure investment can be sized according to the client base. A recent comparison, by another company, demonstrated that our technology was more than 3 times faster than WiMax
We know that we chose the right solution because other broadband providers are following us towards the same technology. Even the Gas Co-Op and REA are following Harewaves' lead with this technology. When other people copy you, it means you've made the right decisions.
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4. There is a lot of talk about WiMax as the greatest thing. Why didn't you go with WiMax?
We looked into it and decided that it wasn't appropriate for a rural area. The technology wasn't fully developed. The range was too short and it was too expensive. For example; a 300 foot tower with WiMax equipment, antennas and a connection to the outside world would cost about $300,000. Given the coverage area and rural population density we would expect to reach about 400 homes. About a third of those homes would want broadband. From our microwave broadband experience, due to trees and terrain, we can connect only about 50% of those who want service. That would leave 60 to 70 users to pay off a capital investment of $300,000. There is no payback on that investment.
Also, WiMax uses adaptive modulation. This means that different modulation profiles (i.e. data rates) are used within certain signal level ranges (i.e. distance from the tower). In practise, this relates to concentric rings of different download speeds radiating out from the tower. The number of users in each modulation profile 'ring' share that download capacity. The problem comes in at the outer modulation profile 'rings'. Geographically, they have the largest area and the largest number of users to share the smallest download bandwidth. These clients will not get reasonable service.
Comparison tests* show that the typical WiMax maximum customer download speed is around 6 Mbps where we have demonstrated 25 Mbps on our technology. Now, 6 Mbps isn't a bad throughput compared to previous technology but when you consider that applications like "Netflix" require a connection speed of 4.8 Mbps it is apparent that the applications and user expectations are almost making WiMax obsolete, particularly if it is supporting an "unlimited" service.
*these tests were performed by others.
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5. Does WiMax have some advantages?
Of course. WiMax was designed for an urban environment where the signal can bounce off buildings and still maintain a connection. It was also designed for a mobile use where connections can be maintained in moving vehicles. WiMax is also a standards based format; any vendor's equipment should work in any other network. There are still some issues with interoperability that should eventually be overcome.
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6. The Gas Co-ops recently announced the cost of their upcoming WiMax service. Why are your rates so much lower?
There are 2 main reasons why our costs are lower. The most important is the technology that we use. An expensive WiMax cell has a coverage area of around 1000 square kms. A less costly WiDox cell has coverage of around 10,000 square kms. A WiMax network would need to equip and maintain at least 10 towers to provide similar coverage. The capital investment cost and the operating cost per customer is much higher with WiMax. We remain confident that we made the right decision in implementing this technology almost two years ago.
The second main reason why our service rates are lower, is that Harewaves overheads are much lower. We work hard to control costs; we know what our neighbours are dealing with and what is important to them . Everyone at Harewaves works. Additional expertise is contracted as required. There are no expensive buildings or executives at Harewaves.
Another part of controlling the costs is managing the network traffic.
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7. You have residential and commercial service plans. What is the difference?
Businesses, to be able to operate in our community but compete in the world, expect a high level of support. They need to be able to depend on their broadband service. We monitor the connections of our commercial customers. The system pages us if there is a problem so that we can respond immediately.
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8. What is 4G? There is talk of that in the wireless community as the next best thing.
4G is the next generation format of packet based wireless technology that is under development. It typically refers to a format called LTE (long term evolution). This format is being adopted by the major telcos around the world for their advanced multi-media cellular phone networks. Some aspects of WiMax may be included in 4G. The first shipments of true 4 G products are not expected until 2012.
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9. How will the cost of broadband service change in the future?
Three main factors influence the cost of broadband service: infrastructure equipment financing costs, bandwidth cost, operating costs and subscriber base.
Infrastructure costs are fixed at the time the network is installed. Bandwidth costs are coming down, salaries and transportation costs are going up. Demand is also going up.
We expect rural broadband service charges to hold or to go down in the near future.
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10. You don't have a loyalty program. Why is that?
It is something that we've never built into the service cost. Why should we overcharge you so that we can give some of it back? We prefer a loyalty program where you get good service. When we have paid down the equipment investment we will increase the service level with out increasing the price or reduce the service cost.
We do have a customer referral program where, if you recommend our high speed internet service to others you will get a free month of service. Ask us for details.
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11. Will I need to sign a long term contract?
No, we do not require a term contract to connect. It has been our belief that you should have the right to disconnect if you are unhappy with the service without fees, but there is an option of a three year contract that allows us to reduce the upfront installation costs to $99.
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12. Internet Video on Demand - Where is it going?
A number of people have asked us about NetFlix and the impact it has on their traffic allowance, so I thought I would try to give a bit more information and clarity on it. For those of you that are wondering what NetFlix is, it is a web based service that you sign up to for a small fee and you are able stream movies over the internet to watch. The problem with this service and others like it is that it is built on the backs of the internet service providers and puts a load on service providers that is not substantiated by subscriber rates. Netflix is just an example, there are many applications and websites that are providing the same services such as apple tv and television networks that re-broadcast re-runs online.
The impact in the past has not been as significant, but as more and more users are viewing online the amount of infrustructure needed to support these bandwidth intensive applications grows. One of the issues with wireless providers is that there is just not enough wireless frequencies available to us to accommodate this type of traffic and if there were the infrastructure cost would be significant as well.
Some of the major players in the U.S. and Canada (Verizon, Bell, Videotron, AT&T)are starting to implement traffic allowances and overage charges due to the recent explosion of these types of applications.
What does this mean to the end user? Unfortunately cost always funnels down to the end user, so it will be up to the end user to decide if the cost outweighs the benefit. I’ve included some links to a few articles that talk more about this topic that are quite interesting to read.
That being said, Harewaves has introduced a true late night unlimited addition to the service. Ask us for details.
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13. You say that you see wireless as a "stop gap" rather than a final solution. What do you think is the right answer?
Anybody who has to stand in a certain place in their yard or home to get cell service in the summer understands some of the limitations of wireless. The other issue is the growing demand for more throughput. Throughput is related to the amount of available radio spectrum. This is very limited, new wireless bands that are made available are higher in frequency which means shorter, line-of-sight, range.
With 9 current internet providers, there is a huge overbuild of infrastructure in this area. Competition is good, but does a homeowner in the city even have this many options? This overbuild of infrastructure represents separate investments that each provider needs to pull out of the area. Most of these providers have had short term, 'quick buck' thinking. and have gone after the 'low hanging fruit' and ignored fringe areas. This inefficient use of money has resulted in both thin revenues to the providers and inadequate coverage for the area.
If you have been the victim of one of our "soapbox rants" you know that we've been saying for some time that the area needs to have a broadband strategy. Enough money may already have been spent on infrastructure overbuild to have built a proper, long term network. Without a strategy, the free market simply goes after the best returns and ignores the fringe areas.
The right answer is a hybrid wired and wireless network. We feel that there are areas, mainly the rural subdivisions, where the population density is sufficient to support a fibre to the home (FTH) deployment. A broadband network based on fibre optics has the capacity to provide a long term converged voice, data and video service. No wireless distribution equipment has that capability. A hybrid network would start with a large, but diminishing, wireless component. Proceeds from the operations would be used to extend the cabled network and reduce the amount of wireless based service.
Spending millions of dollars to build another wireless network in the area would be unwise.
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14. You don't talk like other Internet Providers. What gives?
Two main reasons. We live in this area; our customers include neighbours, relatives and friends. We meet you in the community every day. We need to be upfront and honest.
We try to follow Christian principles even though we have feet of clay. This means not misleading people with partially true information.
For example, some providers will sell you a 3 Mbps service but will tell you afterwards that they feel they have lived up to their commitment if you get 40% of that. We call 40% a failing grade.
Other providers brag about their "latest and greatest" 4G network. The truth is that the first shipment of true 4G products is scheduled for 2012.
Some service providers talk about "unlimited *" service plans but when you get to the fine print it is usually, in fact, limited. Meanwhile you create this 'run wide open' mentality among users that will bog down the network. Harewaves is just upfront about it.
You have probably seen advertisements from some of the major carriers talking about their download speeds of up to 14.4 Mbps. The truth is that this is a calculated, theoretical maximum. It can not even be demonstrated in a lab for one user. The following chart shows the reality. The maximum experienced speed was less than 20% of what they alluded to in their sales pitch; the typical speed was less than 10%.
The speeds are averages across all cities where their data service was tested.
We are offended that this kind of miss-truth has become normal practise. We want to be different. We can show you that, where service is available, a 3 Mbps service can deliver 3 Mbps.
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15. Why aren't you working with the Gas Co-Ops and the REA? Surely it would cost less to layer new technologies on top of existing infrastructure and to expand from existing infrastructure than to start over?
We did approach those utilities and suggest that we work together. At that time, the stated reason for building a wireless network was to support utility meter reading. We also offered to support meter reading trials on our existing network. They didn't really want to talk to us. They had their own agenda.
You are correct on the costs. We were recently awarded a grant from Broadband Canada for a project to put new technology on 4 sites. Towers were required at 2 of those sites. The total project estimate was about $270 thousand. The local utilities spent more than that on start up activities without building anything. Their project, as we understand it, will run into millions.
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