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Arcwave Airs Out DOCSIS Data Channel

Armed with its first field trial, a newly merged wireless technology outfit has launched itself into a small-but-growing market of providers trying to help MSOs take to the air to reach business customers.

Arcwave Inc. is the result of an April merger that married CoWave Networks' mesh-network technology with Advanced Radio Cells Inc.'s line of transmission gear marketed to wireless Internet service providers.

The combined company, based in Campbell, Calif., is now coming out with its first joint product, a Data Over Cable System Interface Specification-based last mile wireless extension product for cable operators.

The company has landed its first trial with USA Media, an Auburn, Calif.-based operator, and is also working with three of the top five cable MSOs, according to Chris Martin, vice president of marketing.

Though cable operators are making more of a push into enterprise services, their reach is still somewhat limited. Forrester Research estimates cable companies serve 700,000 to 800,000 of the SME market for only a 10% market share, and much of the problem can be traced to cable lines that stop just short of connecting many businesses.

"Probably it passes 50% of the businesses within 300 feet, but up to 20% to 30% of those can't run a regular coax drop because of rights-of-way issues or zoning issues," Martin said. "So we think wireless plant extension is really an attractive solution.

"If they can even just break that 300-foot barrier, they can add a significant number of customers to their networks."

Arcwave's technology replicates the DOCSIS channel on a wireless basis, taking data from a cabler's DOCSIS channel and upconverting it to the wireless 802.11 spectrum in the 5 Gigahertz range. Unlike other competitors that rely only on the 5.8-Ghz channel in that range, Arcwave's scheme also taps the 5.3-Ghz channel to provide better coverage, Martin said.

"We're pretty much transparent — we take the DOCSIS signal and convert it from the frequency that it is running over the cable plant to a 5-Ghz frequency and send it out over the air," he added. "And that's what the cable operators want."

The hardware includes an ARCXtend network hub that attaches either to a pole mount or a strand mount, and a receiver antenna mounted on the rooftop of the customer's business. From there, the signal is passed down standard coax to a customer's cable modem.

While the strand-mounted version can extend the wireless link up to three miles, ARCXtend advises customers the distance for a reliable connection is about a mile. The pole-mounted version, given its elevation above ground, can extend to two miles.

"One of the things that we think will help wireless technology take off in the cable space is to make it really simple," Martin said. "So when we talk about the coverage limitation, we are very conservative — we are line-of-sight, because we don't want to scare them off by saying, 'If you do a lot of RF planning you can probably net three miles if you play with the antennas.' "

The company also knows that these days, MSOs are focused on revenue return, so it's putting a lot of effort behind proving the business case. It is marketing its network hubs for $4,500, with discounts for volume purchases, while the rooftop antennas sell for $450.

With Arcwave's technology, an operator could add 7,500 new business customers in a typical, dense metropolitan market covering 100 square miles. That could produce a pretty good chunk of new revenue, Martin said.

"We figure that will be about $17 million annual revenue at about $225 (per customer) per month," he said. "With those metrics, you can see payback on an ARCXtend deployment in less than 24 months and positive cash flow in less than 18 months."

On the lower-density end, it would take only eight business customers for a single network hub to reach break even in three years.

"You only need to get about 1.5% penetration to break even on a network hub and CPE, whereas if you did a typical cable plant to cover the same distance, you'd need to have about 15% penetration," Martin said. "So this is really why these guys I think are looking at it because it lowers the risk for them."

But Arcwave isn't the first outfit to unveil a wireless DOCSIS cable extension product. Salem, N.H.-based Wireless Bypass has been in the market for two years, offering a point-to-point wireless link that can extend up to up to 20 miles or a multipoint version extending up to 2 miles. Its technology also replicates the DOCSIS channel, using the 5.8 Ghz spectrum.

With trials involving paying customers already under way with two major cable operators, Wireless Bypass also has recently upgraded its technology to include the automatic provisioning features. It also has added Simple Network Managing Protocol features, allowing the operator to monitor the link.

While such wireless last-mile connections might have been at first envisioned as temporary links until a permanent fiber cable could be laid, that is not always the case now, Martin said.

"There are always going to be areas where that is impossible to do that, where it is across the river, or it is across the parking lot, and they are never going to be able to trench through that parking lot," he said. "And yet they know that they could serve that customer. So I think we will have to work closely with them to make sure they deploy it in such a way that it delivers the quality."