My new house in Grass Valley really makes me miss wired broadband. I’m only 3 miles from the middle of town but there’s no wired broadband options, no cable or DSL. So everyone uses wireless Internet.

Fixed Wireless is the new hotness. Remember all those nerds throwing WiFi over a mile with Pringles can waveguides and Yagi directional antennas? Fixed Wireless is that idea made commercial with hardware like Motorola Canopy. It’s a peer to peer network; my house has a directional antenna pointed north with an always on 900MHz link to some other house. That house links to another house, which in turn links at 2.4GHz to a tower with wired bandwidth.

The good news is the latency is very low, about 30ms before I reach the edge of my ISP. Compared to satellite’s 250ms+ that’s terrific. Bandwidth is not great; I’m paying $70/mo for 768kbps download. That’s about twice the price and one tenth the speed of my DSL, but given the limitations of wireless it seems reasonable. Here’s a roundup of ISP prices in western Nevada County; fixed wireless comes in the middle between DSL/cable and cellular service.

The big bummer is the peer to peer network with houses sharing bandwidth. It’s like a return to party lines! My ISP heavily manages things. My 768kbps is actually more like 2000kbps but only in a burst for the first 15 seconds; just perfect for loading web pages and other quick interactive stuff. I also have a monthly download cap of 15GB. That seems terribly restrictive and I don’t like it, but they tell me they need it to manage shared bandwidth. It’s too bad, a single HD movie or game download is about 5GB. So I’m closely monitoring usage and doing things like bringing my Mac back to SF just to upgrade Xcode.

Internet access is such a vital resource for our culture and economy, bringing good broadband to rural areas is important. There is a fiber backbone project being built now that will bring a lot more bandwidth to Grass Valley mid-2013, but the last mile problem is real. And getting worse; AT&T has actually removed service in Nevada County and Comcast isn’t even trying. It’s not profitable for them to run cable to customers, so they just don’t bother. Wireless seems to be the only option for the future, but there are fundamental limitations that mean it will never be as good as wired broadband.

  2012-11-04 17:41 Z