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'We're number one in rural broadband'

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There's a touch of shock showing on the faces of many in the wireless 'rural broadband' business in the UK since the collapse of Invisible Networks. Comtralis Networks reckons it is now top of the heap - having just unwired the town of Newmarket, Suffolk. It's been 'meshed' too.

Steve Richardson, founder of the networking specialist company, said that using the LocustWorld Meshboxes meant that he'd been able to install local broadband for a total upfront cost of £15,000, where the previous quote (from Invisible) had been for £50,000, or more.

"Newmarket, like many other towns, is crying out for broadband," said Richardson. "BT has actually published a list of 322 market towns in the UK where it has said that definitely never, ever, will it enable the local phone exchange for DSL."

Comtralis reckons that the Meshbox is the only way to make a business model work in wireless. Newmarket, famous for horse racing, now has a 1Mbps leased line coming in, shared around 25 small business clients, using a total of 20 Meshboxes.

"It's a success; people are paying money for the service," said Richardson. "We charge £60 a month as the average fee; but several are paying only £30 a month for a single PC; then, customers using 1-10 clients pay £60 and those running over ten machines pay £100."

There's a £149 pound setup fee. Prices are slightly above those paid by most DSL customers these days, "but this isn't an asymmetric service; the leased line carries as much data up as down, so its SDSL, if you like to call it that".

The town is home to Tattersalls, the bloodstock people - Europe's biggest horse auctioneer, it says - and they have a node on network. Actually, they have two; a public one, and a private one.

The private node is for their own use; the public one is so that people who are bidding can bring their iPaqs along and check the progress of bidding, and look up details of other horses while they do it. It's done by using one of the new dual-radio Meshboxes; one radio for each network.

"We also have another client in the town - Rossdales, the vet, where we've installed a Meshbox, and a virtual private network," said Richardson. "They can work on their own system when they're at the Tattersalls premises, tunnelling through the VPN over the public Wi-Fi access."

Richardson shares the opinion of Broadreach - a public Wi-Fi provider which regards public Wi-Fi as "not yet a viable business proposition."

Comtralis says it won't make its profit out of the connectivity, but out of the added value services it can provide to smaller businesses once they are online. "We will carry on with our mainstream business of installing LANs, firewalls, phone switchboards and the like," said Richardson. "That's where our turnkey solutions expertise is."

One promising avenue for future customers, he believes, is in voice-over-Net (VON) provision. "The dual-radio Meshbox will be ideal there, because we'll be able to confine all the phone traffic to one radio, and all data to the other, and provide quality of service appropriate," he said.

However, like Broadreach, Comtralis believes that there's a future in Wi-Fi, and is creating a subsidiary, partner company called Comtralis Networks which will concentrate on selling rural broadband.

"There are a lot of smaller towns where BT has 'trigger' points - where if a certain number of people request it, they'll move DSL equipment into the local phone exchange. Obviously, we think we can sell easily to the people who've been told 'never' but we also think we can install good broadband in some of the trigger towns." ®

Copyright © 2003, Newswireless.net

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