Tech Companies, Startups Offer Wireless Internet Options

Some big tech companies and smaller Internet providers are attempting to compete with cable companies by delivering speedy wireless Internet at a cheaper price and with fewer data restrictions. Facebook, for example, is building networking technology that will enable home Internet connection via wireless service. It plans to license the technology to Internet providers and equipment manufacturers for free. These new providers, which are targeting cord cutters, may also compete with new 5G services beginning to roll out.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook’s technology, Terragraph, “uses unlicensed airwaves to transmit signals, which are broadcast by small radio nodes that can sit on some consumers’ homes or street poles.” Internet providers using Terragraph rent existing fiber for the last mile; “together, the fiber, airwaves and nodes create a mesh of wireless coverage that helps service providers avoid running physical fiber to every house they want to reach.”

Terragraph, similar to other such technologies, “relies on ultra-high-frequency airwaves that deliver fast speeds but don’t travel long distances” and also can’t easily penetrate hard materials. Facebook vice president of connectivity Dan Rabinovitsj, said the company’s sole purpose is to “get people online.” “We don’t want to stand up and operate networks,” he said.

Terragraph has been “tested in parts of Malaysia, Hungary and San Jose, California,” and is also in use by service provider Common Networks, which uses it in “some of its radios to provide in-home 5G service in markets including Alameda, California.” Canton, Ohio-based Agile Networks also intends to deploy it next year.

Cost is one major reason why Internet providers are choosing solutions such as Terragraph. Agile Networks chief executive Kyle Quillen reported that traditional fiber would cost $250,000 and take nine months to provide service to a 25-to-30 home development.

In part due to Terragraph — which he calls “a multiplier of availability and capacity” — he estimated that deployment will take three months and cost 30 percent of a wired solution. Facebook is also developing Free Basics, which “involves partnering with local carriers to provide limited Internet access.”

Other companies working on alternative Internet connectivity solutions include Microsoft, which “has pressed the Federal Communications Commission to free up more unused television broadcast airwaves for rural connectivity and created patents and equipment for using them.” Google is testing its own fiber and aims to commercialize Loon, a project that offers connectivity via stratospheric balloons.

The four-year-old company Starry relies on “licensed ultra-high-frequency spectrum” and its own chips, base stations and home Wi-Fi routers to offer a 200 megabit-per-second home broadband service. KKR & Co. and Tiger Global Management among others have invested $300 million in Starry, which has launched services in Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Another provider, Honest Networks — through a partnership with real-estate investment fund Fifth Wall — uses ultra-high-frequency spectrum, and other companies’ fiber, to provide service to 100 apartment complexes in parts of New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey.