Canton to roll out Terragraph wireless broadband
(This story is from crainscleveland.com)
With some help from Facebook, Canton is about to get what's being billed as a first-of-its-kind wireless internet system that backers say will turn the city's downtown Innovation District into a giant Wi-Fi hot spot with faster service than what is now available to most folks.
They also say the new network, which is being backed by Facebook, will ramp up the district's economic potential by delivering the internet services that new tech companies and other high-growth startups require.
"You're talking about a game changer in terms of an economic development tool, not to mention from a quality (of service) perspective. It's really a big tool in the kit," said Kyle Quillen, CEO of Canton-based Agile Networks, which will install the system. Agile runs internet service in Canton and has more than 400 telecommunication towers around the state, according to its website and Quillen.
The network will rely on something known as Terragraph technology, which has been developed by Facebook and New Jersey-based Radwin, another partner on the Canton project.
Quillen said he's worked with Radwin on some previous projects he's been engaged in, such as getting high-speed internet to The Wilds, a wildlife park near Zanesville, and has been impressed.
Terragraph uses a 60-gigahertz signal that is better able to deal with interference and crowded spaces, such as cities filled with buildings and other radio signals, compared to the lower-frequency wireless signals used in a home or business router, Quillen said. But each node on the system costs only a few hundred dollars, and once they start talking to one another, they form a robust mesh over which internet service and other online traffic can flow quickly, he said.
The signals don't go far, only about 700 meters or even less, he noted. But that's actually one of Terragraph's advantages, Quillen said, because it enables developers to put the mesh together over very specific areas. In this case, it's Canton's 12-block Innovation District.
Agile was chosen because it's already working on both wireless internet and on Canton's downtown web service. The company rolled out 100-gigabit (GB) service in downtown Canton in December and has just begun marketing it to businesses in the Innovation District, Quillen said. It's connection to Radwin and the city's efforts to develop the Innovation District helped Canton win Facebook's confidence, he added.
The Terragraph mesh won't offer 100 GB of bandwidth; few systems do and only really big users need that much, Quillen noted. But even with 3 GB of speed, it would be much faster than what most users have today. For comparison, the average home in the U.S. reportedly gets about 67 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth, with cable internet subscribers often getting about 100 Mbps, about 10% of 1 GB of bandwidth.
Terragraph has shown in international testing that it can provide 3, 4 and even 5 GB of bandwidth without the congestion problems encountered by hard-wired systems, Quillen said. Those speeds are only likely to increase.
The key to that, he noted, is Facebook and Radwin's technology, which manages traffic on the network so that nodes only take in and receive the data they need to keep the mesh operating effectively.
Quillen is impressed that Canton was chosen for the first installation of the system in the world, aside from testing in places such as Africa and India.
"This will be the first commercial deployment of this product globally, and I think that says a lot about Canton," he said. "In terms of additional technologies that will come with this, I can't even fathom what's going to come. This really has much larger ramifications for Canton and really the state."
That wasn't lost on city or state officials, either, who were quick to rally around the announcement with praise and promise.
"Canton is a city of new and ambitious ideas and this revolutionary connectivity program in the downtown Innovation District is prime example," Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei said in a news release. "We are proud to partner with Facebook, Radwin and Agile, a great hometown company, to ignite change and advance tech infrastructure here in Canton."
Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted, who was just put in charge of the state's new InnovateOhio initiative to boost technology and related entrepreneurship, also was quick to point out the importance of the Canton rollout for Terragraph.
"Facebook, Radwin and Agile are bringing a new technology into the world that advances our ability to connect people to information and to each other in a more robust and cost-effective way," Husted said in a statement.
While the technology is great for use in dense urban environments - the more nodes on the mesh, the better it works, Quillen said - it's also very good for deploying the internet to areas not wired for high-speed with fiber optics. It can be used, for example, to quickly bring the internet to a new housing development, as well as existing older neighborhoods, he said.
Husted also saw that as an opportunity.
"The fact that this is happening in Canton is a strategic advantage for the city and our state. Through our InnovateOhio efforts, we hope to expand this across Ohio to connect people to high-speed internet who have previously been left behind," Husted said in the release.
That's also what Facebook hopes to see.
"We believe that people, no matter where they live, deserve a consistent, high-bandwidth internet experience," said Dan Rabinovitsj, Facebook's vice president of connectivity, in the release. "We are excited to work with Agile Communications and Radwin as they deploy Terragraph technology in order to bring internet connectivity to more people who are unconnected or do not currently have fast or reliable access."
In Canton, users may not have to wait long for the service. The network will initially be offered to some select test users but soon rolled out broadly. And it won't take nearly as long as the 18 months or so it took to wire the Innovation District for 100-GB service with fiber-optic lines, according to Quillen.
"We're in the process of turning on the first hops (connections). We're hoping to have the full mesh architecture up and start measuring key indicators from the trial toward the end of April or early May," Quillen said. "The initial mesh will be roughly a dozen or two dozen nodes. That gives us enough coverage through the district itself to do the things we want to do."
After that, the mesh can spread out, or additional separate mesh networks can easily be set up in other parts of the city, or elsewhere, Quillen said.