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May 12, 2017

Start-up company pitches wireless broadband solution

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Sayed-Amr “Sisso” El-Hamamsy tells the Fauquier County supervisors Thursday how a network of “data pipeline units” and “wands” would distribute wireless internet service to difficult spots.
Whether or not his new company wins the county broadband network contract, Keith Walker said he will establish Wi 4 Me’s office in Fauquier.
It seems like a viable solution. But, the devil’s in the details. We don’t know a lot of key things at this point. We don’t know the price, and we want to see it in operation.
— Supervisor Rick Gerhardt
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Fauquier’s board of supervisors continues to explore ways to extend broadband internet service throughout the county.

Wi 4 Me LLC — a start-up technology firm — on Thursday pitched the board on a wireless network that potentially would provide high-speed, wireless internet access to every home in Fauquier.

Invented and patented by Sayed-Amr “Sisso” El-Hamamsy, the proposed network would include a series of transmitters — “data pipeline units” and “wands” — mounted relatively low to the ground on poles, lampposts, homes, businesses and other structures.

That means networks easily could be designed to work with or around all kinds of impediments — terrain and vegetation, for example — providing the uninterrupted line of sight essential to delivering wireless broadband, Dr. El-Hamamsy explained to the board in an afternoon “work session.”

Using hyMesh, the system also can be built and maintained at relatively low costs, he said.

His company, Quattro Innovations has an exclusive agreement to supply Wi 4 Me the technology to build such a system.

To explain the technology, Dr. El-Hamamsy used Google Earth on a big screen to overlay hypothetical networks that connected homes, businesses, schools and other potential uses on aerial photos of Bealeton and Route 28.

The system involves no telecommunication towers, but does require access to fiber optic cable.

“Basically, you have to have some fiber hookups along the way,” said board Chairman Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District. “But, we already have plenty of ‘dark fiber’ (dedicated to specific users) in the ground around Fauquier County that can be used.”

For now, it remains unclear how access to fiber optic cable might be obtained, he said.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Mr. Gerhardt, who recently learned about Wi 4 Me from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology near Dulles International Airport. “It seems like a viable solution. But, the devil’s in the details. We don’t know a lot of key things at this point. We don’t know the price, and we want to see it in operation.”

Perhaps using county office buildings in Warrenton, the company soon plans to demonstrate how the technology works, said Mr. Gerhardt, who heads Fauquier’s broadband committee.

The technology has been used for oil and gas exploration in Canada, but never to provide commercial internet service.

Ten contractors have responded to the county’s “request for information” related to the “design and construction of a fiber optic broadband network” in Fauquier.

Wi 4 Me plans to submit an unsolicited bid to design and construct a network for the county, company founder and CEO Keith Walker said.

Fauquier could be the company’s guinea pig.

Recently established, Wi 4 Me has no office. The State Corporation Commission registered the new limited liability company on Tuesday, May 9.

But, whether it wins a contract to provide broadband in the county’s unserved and underserved areas, the start-up company intends to establish its headquarters in Fauquier, Mr. Walker said.

“We’ve got properties” at Vint Hill and in Warrenton “they can look at,” County Economic Development Director Miles Friedman said. “We said we would be in touch with one another next week. They expect the business to grow pretty fast. They think they’re going to be bombarded with business.”

Mr. Gerhardt on Wednesday gave Mr. Walker and Dr. El-Hamamsy a daylong tour of Fauquier, which included Vint Hill and Warrenton.

While intrigued, Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott) wants to know more the Wi 4 Me.

“I don’t know what to make of it, all together,” Mr. Trumbo said. “If what they said works out, it could be super for us. I haven’t heard what they want from the county yet.”

In March, the supervisors unanimously adopted the county’s fiscal 2018 budget and construction plan, pledging to spend up to $20.6 million during the next five years to build a network to connect unserved and underserved areas in the county.

“I would hope by the end of June we would have a solid (broadband) plan, one way or the other,” Supervisor Gerhardt said. “Now it’s a matter of seeing what kind of services are out there, which of course the (request for information) will shed some light on.”

In April, the State Corporation Commission authorized the creation of the Fauquier Broadband Authority.

The county also will hire a project manager to oversee development of a broadband network.

No broadband authority board meeting schedule or hiring date for a project manager has been set, Supervisor Gerhardt said.

He appreciates concerns among citizens who worry about county government’s ability to competently spend millions of taxpayer money to expand broadband service.

“I certainly understand where they’re coming from,” Supervisor Gerhardt said. “But, I also know that the future involves fiber. And we’ve got to find ways to build a fiber infrastructure for this county, or we are going to be left behind.”

The county believes a broadband network eventually will pay for itself. And, depending on the business model, it could generate revenue for Fauquier, he said.

In any event, the county will proceed cautiously, Supervisor Gerhardt said.

“As I’ve said from Day 1, unless we have a solid business model that provides positive ROI (return on investment), we’re not spending anything.”

> Click here to watch video of Thursday afternoon’s broadband “work session” — sixth item on menu below viewer

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farmbum · May 15, 2017 at 11:25 am

Sorry to hear about your service distributions. IIRC, you have dedicated hard lines to your residence and perhaps place of business? This subtle difference shows the complexity involved in the end-user scenarios. I do not believe the last wire scenarios as offered by the BOS plan will fall into the support scenario you have described for dedicated hard wire. So I go back to my scenario of "either you have signal" or you do not. Where in the current BOS plan does this support and infrastructure lay? I cannot imagine the county run infrastructure making house calls to diagnose home user connectivity issues. This is a pretty big unknown with probable human support costs as a serious weighting factor. To me, it looks cost prohibitive.
Unfortunate the county is not in the infrastructure business for communications, while it seems like a good idea, with technology changing as fast as it does, perhaps it is best they are not.

We as a county have struggled for decades with water and sewer issues, I see this broadband plan as another struggle yet more complex.
Jim Griffin · May 15, 2017 at 10:34 am
farmbum: I've run networks and at first I thought about it the way you do: It either works or it doesn't, we keep it working and that's where it ends.

Experience soon taught me otherwise: Users cannot easily resolve the nature of their issues. It could be their equipment, it could be their software, it might be the network. They do not know. Someone needs to address it.

First eight months of Verizon T1 at our farm: No issues after the first month, which required tweaking. Eight months later, a lightning strike on the line caused the router to catch fire (even with extreme protection on both the data and power lines).

Over the next year, the Verizon network exhibited such serious issues that they called it a chronic problem. It has continued for over a year, recently traced (we hope) to a bad card in Verizon's line interface unit. Weekly calls and extended outages.

In Warrenton, our office Comcast connection is up and down regularly. Lots of service calls. The office Verizon backup circuit seems stable enough, but has also required service calls.

We fix most issues ourselves. I am a technologist and we know how to diagnose and fix network trouble. Nonetheless, this requires working with the network provider.

BTW, dedicated IP addresses are an extravagance these days, an extra fee attached.

It is not so simple as "I see your router so it is your problem." Generally they cannot see the router at all from their end when there are problems, and at times the problems are intermittent.

One thing is certain: Users are going to call. For all sorts of reasons. The service needs to answer those calls, which is an expense, and those expensive interactions define peoples' perceptions of the service.

To be clear, I do not propose these responsibilities should be the county's issues. I do not believe the county should be a retail provider of broadband, but I do support the project insofar as it creates an infrastructure atop which others can build businesses as retail broadband providers. Competition is essential.

NNT: "Snowflake" talk is derisive and ad hominem. Stick to the issues, if you can help yourself. It is more constructive when dialogue is the goal, but if you simply wish to insult it is working as planned, with the result that you are far less interesting when you weigh in on the issues.

FWIW, I disagree. Much of govt's role is infrastructure that empowers competition. Govt builds the highway, others own taxi and truck companies. Govt builds the airport, airlines provide competitive services. Govt regularly plays the role anticipated here, which is why an overwhelming majority of Fauquier citizens want the Board of Supervisors to get involved.

farmbum · May 15, 2017 at 8:31 am
Hmm.... On the broadband connectivity issue, regarding service, here is what I think.

There needs to be a clear line of demarcation and responsibility on exactly what is connected to the "internet service".

For wireless, I am assuming a router with a dedicated IP pointing to the service.
That's the beginning and end of the service providers accountability. Either it is connected, has signal, or it does not.

Everything else is the consumers responsibility. Phones, tablets, PC's, Servers, WiFI connections etc. etc.

My diagnosis to you is simple, at 50 bucks a pop. I see your router, it is alive. Have a nice day.

Anything else, is a recipe for disaster.

It's like water and electricity to your house. You need in house service, you know who to call.
Jim Griffin · May 15, 2017 at 7:11 am
Agreed with farmbum, fiber is not dead. especially for infrastructure backbone.

Disagreed with "One does not call the major telcos with any giving frequency to complain about connectivity. Either one has it or one does not."

Your experience does not match mine. All broadband has many issues. At our farm we have monthly if not weekly customer service issues, and at our Warrenton office we face them only slightly less often.

Regardless, customer service is the key. People have issues, the service needs to deal with them and the manner in which they do so makes all the difference.
farmbum · May 15, 2017 at 5:53 am
Fiber is NOT dead. What is DOA is attempting to get it the last mile, or to get connectivity to everyone's home. That is not going to happen. Wireless is the answer, there, that last mile. But you need a connection point. Those points are at this moment cell towers. They have fiber connectivity to the internet. I just don't see how the local government is going to make good on building out cell towers when private industry has determined it prohibitive in their interests. I also don't see taxing the county as a whole for a benefit few will utilize. If that is their plan, I say no to broadband.
nonewtaxes · May 14, 2017 at 5:39 pm
Fiber is dead. Its old technology. Its expensive.

Maybe customer service will be the determining factor for you with regards to broadband success JG but that's your opinion.

If the county BOS is selling broadband as a capital investment then its profitability, accounting for customer service and equipment maintenance and updates, should be the measure by which its success or failure is judged.

If the county does not view the broadband project as an investment then it is an expense and the taxes that go to pay for its operations is just a county based broadband tax. It is a tax on all residents though not all residents will benefit because some resident have and like their current broadband. It will be a transfer tax. It will be broadband welfare. It will be a tax not to provide a public good but to provide a private good.

Sounds like snowflake stuff. Have the government pay for the broadband infrastructure except for the last mile. This way the government can shed all responsibility for service and connection and pass the problems on.

How do you know service calls will cost between $10 and $150? It might cost $2200 just to make the connection.

The county has trouble keeping school buses up to date. How do you expect it to stay up to date with technology?
farmbum · May 14, 2017 at 7:58 am
Disagree. This is a pure technology issue. Their are holes in the coverage areas. This is not a people issue. One does not call the major telco's with any giving frequency to complain about connectivity. Either one has it or one does not. Most other issues like billing and compliments are dealt with online. There needs to be incentive for companies to expand the fibre and wireless infrastructures. Our rural community provides nothing of the sort that would entice the telco's to expand. Certainly if private industry does not cover the issue than adding government to the equation is not the answer. I say wait it out a few more years, when 5G gets to the masses it's new consumer devices and backend infrastructure that the technology changes. It is bad timing to have a local government try and expand and run a communications service.
Jim Griffin · May 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm
Agreed: Fiber backbone is the key.

As regards the tech identified in this article, it should be noted we do not lack solutions for the last mile. Wireless, wired -- all manner of data transmission are viable choices in different situations.

The most important "tech" involved in the last mile will prove to be customer service. For whatever reason -- troubleshooting, reporting, billing, real or perceived -- there will be lots of phone calls, visits to customer service and of course outcalls with trucks. Each of those inquiries will cost between $10 and $150 or more to handle depending upon volume and complexity.

It is customer service that will prove the determinant factor in the success of any broadband provision. It is the lens through which the effort will be judged.

As a result, it seems county involvement ought not extend to the last mile. Perhaps it is right to define the beginning of the last mile as the endpoint for county efforts, which might best be limited to the infrastructure that enables others to compete for last mile dollars.

That competition will prove more reliant upon customer service and less upon the technology chosen, which will vary as broadband progresses. The constant that will determine success and profit will be customer service.

In this regard, I suggest we require those who attach to the county network to use workers at jobs located in the county to provide service, billing, sales and backbone provision. We should require the same of Verizon and others who compete for our county franchises like power, telephone and data. There is no good reason -- other than undercutting our wages, benefits and way of life -- for this work to get outsourced to places like the Philippines (as does Verizon).

Bottom-line: More attention to customer interaction, education, service and less worry about how data will get moved from point to point. The latter is relatively simple by comparison to the former, which bears much more cost and care than does data supply chain analysis.
farmbum · May 13, 2017 at 6:39 am
Fauquier should sit on the sidelines for another year or two. Technology is advancing, and the major providers have ditched their data cap plans. The money would be better spent on getting the major providers to lay more fiber. The backbone is the key.
mcm37 · May 12, 2017 at 11:48 am
Am I reading this right, that this company didn't even exist until Tuesday? Forgive my skepticism, but it sounds awfully fly-by-night to me. I for one am not much interested in being their "guinea pig."
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