Making The Point To Point

No, we’re not talking bizarre, middle-of-nowhere horsey meetings here but wireless broadband.

Having seen half of Andorra dug up for the past couple of years as fibre cable is run anywhere and everywhere (of course you want 100meg connections to your hotel for those special après-ski videos…) it’s a welcome lack of wires that comes to mind as I hear my old mate John Earley and his chums at Metronet in Manchester have been installing majorly point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless broadband connections across the city (definitely not united).

Which brings us back to one of my favourite topics in IT and that is “what goes around comes around”. In this case – and Case is literally correct, unless they had changed their name to Cray by then, and then back to Case… – it was a Case Communications product in the early ’90’s, a point-to-point, laser-based Ethernet solution (10Mbps) that we tested in a City of London location and it worked great back then even. However, it was not foolproof, since Case had not allowed for the “cleaner factor”.

As all IT folks know, the cleaner is the greatest threat to network uptime and so it proved here. Given that this was in the old “City” certain restrictions were in place, such as not allowing ugly as hell transmitter/receiver equipment to be located externally on certain listed buildings. It so happened that this location was in such a listed building. Anyway, having worked perfectly for days, one morning the IT guys got in to find that the link was down – dead as the proverbial Dodo, Yangtze River Dolphin etc etc. From the control end, all looked perfectly ok, so the only answer was to walk to the office where the other (seemingly dead) end of the link was located.

On arriving there and brushing past the sign that said “PLEASE DO NOT CLOSE THE SHUTTER AT ANY TIME” they found that the internally-located laser transmitter/receiver was no longer pointing through a glass window, but straight into some wooden shutters that had been, er, shut, by the IT devil that is “the cleaner”.

T’point (to point) being – cleaner factor allowed for – that such technologies worked well back then and still work well now. Not that the Metronet expansion is being limited to Manky weather town. The operator is rapidly expanding its network into Liverpool, Leeds (now we’re talking united), Birmingham and Dublin – not quite the “London, New York, Paris, Rome” associated with top perfumeries, but a start nonetheless. And my aforementioned mate John will welcome the Irish connection, particularly if it could extend into the North-West corner of the republic.

What is interesting about Metronet is that it is the first wireless communications operator to achieve profitability and that, to do so, it has deployed product from a (meerkat free) Russian wireless broadband product company – InfiNet Wireless – who we are currently speaking to about testing by pure chance. And guess what InfiNet’s claimed USP is? Price-performance. Doubly interestingly, last year Motorola came to us with a view to us testing its wireless broadband products in order to prove that the additional cost of Motorola product (over alternatives such as InfiNet) was justifiable. After long talks and many promises from Motorola, that particular project (not entirely surprisingly) never happened. Shame the kids had to do without Christmas presents last year, but sometimes these things are unavoidable…

So I (and my kids) personally look forward to validating the opposite argument with the InfiNet technology. But what is it being used for I hear you say (I’ve got finely-tuned hearing)? Good question. Metronet is using InfiNet’s technology to offer customers secure, high-bandwidth access to the Metronet core dark fibre backbone (ah – there’s always holes in the ground somewhere!), specifically where access bandwidth regularly requires throughput of above 20Mbps while still conforming to Metronet’s 99.95% availability SLA req’s. So we are talking point-to-point last-mile applications, as well as more complex point-to-multipoint applications covering enterprise networks, public safety and security networks. The deployments support diverse traffic profiles covering applications such as high-capacity backhaul, VoIP-based call centres, video conferencing, high-bandwidth corporate database synchronisation, remote data centre services, public security applications and IP CCTV surveillance, where low-latency networks capable of supporting PTZ-controlled surveillance systems are an important factor.

As well as targeting corporate data clients with high bandwidth and high-reliability business class Internet and MPLS based Point-to-Point network access solutions, Metronet is engaging with local Police and Council Authorities to promote use of its network infrastructure to support wireless connectivity for applications such as CCTV video and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) systems. The b******s!

As my mate John Earley explained:

“There’s quite a lot that we like about InfiNet.  From a deployment aspect we have found that their kit offers a significant throughput advantage in a smaller channel spacing compared with other manufacturers and we like a bunch of features that the solution offers.  For example, the ability it gives for per VLAN rate throttling which adds an element of network control through the air and enables us to ensure sufficient bandwidth is available for network management and monitoring.”

“We also appreciate having direct access to knowledgeable support engineers that can assist with problem resolution as and when required (quite literally).”

Interesting comment, that last one, given that we are talking a Russian company here… and a lesson for many so-called UK ones methinks.

Anyway, I say “bring it on InfiNet” and let’s give this Russian technology the Broadband-Testing seal of approval. Part-payment in top quality vodka is negotiable…

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