Another Break in the Wall

Supercomm has become the Comdex of the telephony business just as the definition of that business has been exploded.

Cisco Systems Inc., which is the IBM of this space, identified many carrier types in a scrolling display on its booth; a steel-and-metal contraption suitable for use as a World’s Fair pavilion.

There are ISPs, CLECs, ASPs, IXCs, ILECs, and MSOs. There are Internet OSS outfits, optical carriers, wireless carriers, greenfield operators, and broadband carriers, along with old-fashioned voice carriers. (For those who are lost, see below.)

    ISP Internet Service Provider
    CLEC Competitive Local Access Provider
    ASP Application Service Provider
    IXC Inter-Exchange Carrier (long distance outfit)
    ILEC Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (Bellhead)
    MSO Metropolitan Service Organization (cable head-ends)
    Internet OSS Internet providers offering phone service
    Optical Carriers Long distance outfits with fiber (like Qwest)
    Wireless Carriers Cell phone companies (like Sprint PCS)
    Greenfield Operators New phone or Internet companies built from scratch
    Broadband Carriers Networks designed for DSL or cable modem service

Executives and techies from all these types of carriers came to Atlanta (in sport shirts) this week from all over the world to see the latest and greatest gear, all of which is now based on the Internet Protocol. And the biggest crowds (except for those who watched the circus acts in the Alcatel booth) surrounded the guy speaking in a Finnish-accented monotone in front of the Nokia sign.

He was describing Nokia’s new “wireless broadband” infrastructure called a RoofTop Network, which is going to be bigger than William Shatner’s toupee.

It starts with a stick antenna and a box. The antenna goes on your roof, lashed to the chimney or an air vent, and a wire runs down to the box, which also plugs into a power outlet and your computer. The whole thing uses unlicensed frequencies (at around 2.4 GHz) to deliver up to 12 Mbps of data inside your home or office. You don’t have to jump through FCC hoops or those of your state regulators to do this. You can get in business with this system right away.

Ari Leppa, general manager of Nokia Wireless Routing, explained that the antennae work in a “mesh,” so you don’t have to see the main antenna to be connected. If you can get a signal to one (using Nokia’s AIR Operating System), you can reach them all. When you can get a signal to more than one, you have redundancy. The bigger the network gets, in other words, the more powerful it becomes.

Why am I telling you this, since you’re not a telephone company and don’t plan to become one? Well, the RoofTop router costs just $1,200 in quantity, and the design is subject to Moore’s Law that means it’s going to get cheap fast. If Bellheads or cable operators are giving an ISP trouble, he can quickly build a network of these RoofTop bridges and bypass them. (If you’re having trouble getting service to your corporate campus, you can build your own network and share a single, long-distance connection to the Internet backbone.)

The RoofTop system offers cheap, ubiquitous, instant broadband at a fraction of the cost of running wires, and it will work anywhere. It will work in Africa, in Jamaica, in the Philippines, or in Russia-even in places where wires are likely to be stolen and sold for scrap. Leppe expects quantity deliveries by the fourth quarter of this year. It’s going to absolutely blow the Internet access business apart.

Even in a dry, Finnish-accented monotone, that’s hot stuff; the kind of stuff that might make even an old jaded rock fan break into song:

All those problems of the “last mile” for fast Internet service (the ones we’ve been obsessing over the last few years) are suddenly starting to look so 20th century.

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