New twists on Wi-Fi

Extend your reach hundreds of feet or hundreds of miles

It's a wireless world, some say, conveniently overlooking the giant balls of cables behind every personal computer and every server, router and printer. But many want to expand the wireless world, so let's look at two companies doing just that.

Living in Texas, with miles of open land and homes and businesses scattered throughout low density suburbs, I've always been fascinated by Wireless ISPs. WISPs had a bit of a day before broadband services from cable and phone companies blanketed 90 percent of US home locations. The cost of wireless towers and equipment, along with the competition from expanding wired broadband reach, have nearly strangled the WISP world.

If you disparage WISPs where H. Dean Cubley, CEO of ERF Wireless, can hear you, he'll tell you about ERF's expanding service offerings in financial services and oil and gas. He'll tell you how small banks in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana now make money selling the bank's excess wireless bandwidth to customers.

"We replace the T-1s between bank branches with high capacity wireless links," said Cubley over what else, a wireless phone call. "They get ten times the bandwidth they had with the T-1s, and we help them resell that capacity to customers. With our help, they turn a capital asset into a revenue producing asset."

Cubley's plan took more work than building some wireless towers on bank buildings. "As far as I know, we're the only company able to meet the security regulations to use wireless for a bank's primary communications." ERF handles telecommunications, running the bank phones through their own network.

After less than three years, Cubley claims the banks pay off their wireless infrastructure and start saving money they don't have to pay out for data lines, and make money selling bandwidth to customers. The banks pay ERF to monitor and maintain the network. ERF handles the customer details of local businesses riding on the bank networks and sends the banks a check for their portion of the profits.

ERF has done seven bank systems in three states so far. It focuses on regional banks with five to 25 branches, meaning there are thousands of potential customers just in the banking business. The service names are Branch Net, US-BankNet and WiNet System, all connecting to ERF's Enterprise Network Services for the backbone.

Leveraging the cost of the wireless network for more than residential customers makes the model work. Besides banks, ERF supports the now-booming oil and gas domestic production market. "You can only charge a residential wireless customer US$30 to US$40 per month, but you can charge an oil company two to three times that per day, and they're glad to get it."

What about the glut of fiber we always hear about? Cubley laughed and said, "Fiber passes right by many of our customers, especially those on the highways, but fiber is too expensive to connect. Besides, fiber works best for long-distance, and our customers need a local loop."

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James E. Gaskin

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