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Wireless ISP Unleashes 100-Meg Service

Believing there’s room for a new broadband alternative, a wireless ISP called Vivint has lit up a wireless-based service that, it claims, delivers symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps that runs over LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service) spectrum and a special architecture that leans on so-called “hub homes.”

Following a pilot period, the cap-free, $59.99 per month service now touts more than 15,000 subscribers in cities such as San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, as well as several cities in northern  Utah. It plans to expand the service to three new markets, yet unnamed, by the end of the year, and to eight more in 2016.

In addition to the baseline broadband service, Vivint also offers VoIP for an additional $14.99 per month and cloud storage (via Space Monkey) for $9.99 per month.

“We think there’s room in the market for an alternative,” Luke Langford, Vivint’s general manager, wireless Internet, said, holding that “there’s not a lot of competition out there for ‘real’ broadband,” at least when viewed through the lens of the FCC, which recently bumped its definition of broadband to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps up. 

Vivint, a company that has historically focused on smart home technology and products, is taking a seemingly unique approach with its rollout that, it claims, overcomes some of the shortcomings encountered by other wireless ISPs.

Vivint, which is limited by line-of-sight restrictions, uses a combination of licensed LMDS spectrum (via partners such as XO Communications and Straight Path Communications) and unlicensed WiFi technology to deliver its pro-installed service.

On the licensed end, it deploys high frequency microwaves from fiber-connected cell towers that reach a couple of miles into residential areas and links up with individual “home hubs” equipped with microwave radios that capture those signals and two proprietary Vivint 5GHz WiFi access points (802.11n today, with 802.11ac on the roadmap) that serve as picocells for the surrounding neighborhood.

Langford said qualified homes that agree to serve as Vivint neighborhood hubs get a “sweet deal…free fast Internet forever.” They’re on the hook for powering the equipment, a cost that Vivint estimates to be in the range of $5 to $8 per month.

He said Vivint can deliver 100 Mbps and keep it cap-free in part because it limits the number of customers that can access each hub home to 24. If more customers sign on, Vivint will install another hub home.

“We think we’re a unique evolution of wireless technology,” Langford said.

Cable operators have also dabbled in fixed wireless technology to deliver speedy broadband services. OMGfast, a short-lived fixed wireless service from Cablevision Systems, used Multichannel Video and Data Distribution (MVDDS) spectrum (sold to Dish Network as part of a $700 million settlement tied to the failed Voom HD service) to deliver up to 50 Mbps.

Vivint also announced that wireless technology pioneer and Stanford professor Dr. Arogyaswami J. Paulraj has come on board as a technical advisor.