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Rapid Wifi signal coverage
Coverage Maps
Close approximation coverage maps for our Access Points (antennas). Keep in mind Wireless Internet service is based on Line of Sight (LOS), so the actual service areas may be slightly different than shown due to the nature of hills, tall trees, and buildings.
RaPID WIFI'S WIRELESS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
INTRODUCTION TO WIRELESS INTERNET
•  What is Wireless Internet Access?
•  Why the 2.4 Ghz Frequency range?
•  Who designed this wireless gear?
•  What is the 802.11 standard?
•  What about all MMDS/LMDS?
•  What about wireless data using cell phones?
•  Will this work with the Palm units?
•  How does this access method compare to Cable?
•  How does this method compare to DSL?
•  I live in a valley. Is there any hope for me?
•  Why aren't the HUGE corporations using this?
THE HARDWARE
•  What are the radios and who makes them?
•  How do I connect to the radio?
•  How do I control the radio?
•  Will radios from different manufacturers work with each other?
•  What are the antennas like and who makes them?
•  What is the power output?
•  What is the power consumption?
•  What are the environmental concerns for using wireless?
•  Can higher gain antennas be used?
•  How many radios can co-exist in one area?
THE SIGNAL
•  What is the current coverage range?
•  What is the power level of 2.4 Ghz?
•  What is FHSS & DSSS?
•  What can I expect for sources of interference?
•  Will this signal interfere with any/one/thing else?
•  What is "clear line of sight"?
•  Do I have to have "line of sight"?
•  What is the fresnel zone?
•  Can this zone be partially blocked?
•  What is the range of the signal?
•  Can the signal be boosted?
•  How secure is the signal?
•  I live in a heavily populated area, how will this affect the signal?
MISCELLANEOUS
•  How does a user interface with Wireless?
•  Will any Ethernet card do?
•  Can I plug in a hub instead of a computer?
•  How may computers can I connect to a wireless radio?
•  How fast will it go?
•  Can I buy a slower/faster connection?
•  Can I buy a guaranteed throughput?
•  What will I need for hardware for a wireless Internet connection?
•  How can I tell if wireless will work for me?
•  How much does the hardware cost?
•  Is wireless as reliable as DSL?
•  What about lightning?
•  And lightning protection?
•  Will it interfere with pacemakers?
•  What Operating Systems is this compatible with?
•  Will I still need my modem?
•  Will I need to keep my second phone line?
•  Is there a limit on the amount of traffic I can send/receive?
•  Can I run servers on this connection?
•  How big are the antenna units?
•  Can I put my antenna in my attic? 


INTRODUCTION TO WIRELESS INTERNET
  • What is Wireless Internet Access?

  • Broadband is a term that has suddenly become the techno buzzword of 1999. It seems as though everyone has a broadband scheme going. There is high speed access being offered by cable, telco and wireless in nearly every area of our country, but no one method has become ubiquitous. Broadband is all the rage and has been the new "buzz-word" in the industry for a couple of years. There are three major camps in the wireless game at this time. The Cell guys have their pitifully slow data rate for use in the wireless PDA and cell phones. The big guys have adopted the LMDS/MMDS licensed band system that has a 3-5Km range and uses a higher frequency and sports throughput up to 30mbps. All of these systems use radios to send packetized data between the distribution point and a client system. Then there's the unlicensed frequency band that we're using to deploy wireless Internet to North Whidbey Island.
     
  • Why the 2.4 Ghz Frequency range?

  • This frequency range has been set aside by the FCC, and is generally labeled the ISM band. A few years ago Apple and several other large corporations requested that the FCC allow the development of wireless networks within this frequency range. What we have today is a protocol and system that allows for unlicensed use of radios within a prescribed power level. The ISM band is populated by Industrial, Scientific and Medical devices that are all low power devices, but can interfere with each other.
     
  • Who designed this wireless gear?

  • Rapid WiFi is using radio units and antennas made by BreezeCom. They are an Israeli outfit, originally named LanAir, that designed these systems for military use in tank-to-tank, and tank-to-HQ, real-time communication for telemetry and computer communication. These radios communicate within the guidelines of the 802.11 standard. Each unit is programed to use different frequency hopping patterns within the 79 frequencies in the spectrum, and to hop between these frequencies at 10-30 times per second. A client radio picks up this sequence from the sending unit and they hop in an identical pattern. Individual packets can be lost or dropped and there is no data loss.
     
  • What is the 802.11 standard?

  • 802.11 is the wireless Ethernet standard adopted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE). This allows a standard Ethernet system to have sections that are wireless without modifying the standard Ethernet standards or methods. A short 802.11 General Information page is available here.
     
  • What about all MMDS/LMDS?

  • These systems tend to use licensed frequencies, the drawback being the cost of acquiring licenses. The systems promise to scale well in densely populated areas, but are very costly to use in a rural territory. Startup costs for these systems have been said to be in the 6 figure range.
     
  • What about wireless data using cell phones?

  • Current cell phone technology operates at between 9600bps and 19,200bps. It's just too darn slow for today's Internet uses. So much so that the cell industry is having to make up a whole new protocol and web server system just to pare down the data into transmittable size for use on a PDA or the newer cellular phones. Note that you no longer see the term "cellular" being used by the cell phone industry; it's all PCS this, and PCS that. Cell phone carriers are trying very hard to establish a foot in the door of the emerging wireless data market.
  • Will this work with wireless handheld and PDA units?

  • Not at this time, but it is possible. While the signal from our access points is based on the 802.11b protocol, it is encrypted and requires an antenna that can "decode" the encrypted signal. You could, however, connect a standard 802.11b consumer-grade access point (like the Linksys WAP-11) to your computer, then use a consumer-grade 802.11b PCMCIA network card in your PDA to communicate on the Internet. Your nifty little PDA would work on our wireless network only with the help of non-encrypted 802.11b wireless equipment.
     
  • How does this access method compare to Cable?

  • It is faster than Cable access, capable of full T1 speeds in both directions. Easier to upgrade, doesn't rely on a wiring system with many potential points of failure. Not as proprietary. Doesn't require a basic service package to obtain. Is available in many places where Cable data hasn't arrived and isn't likely to.
     
  • How does this method compare to DSL?

  • Wireless is much faster, more widely available in rural areas and is less expensive. DSL is limited to the copper wire in use by the Telephone company (Telco). Wireless speeds range from 128kps up to 3000kps (a T1 is 1544kps). DSL services are not currently available in much of rural Whidbey Island. Even when DSL does arrive, it will not be deployed outside the zones that are close to the Telco central office (CO). The Telcos are reluctant to install DSLAMs in rural areas because they are expensive and rural areas are less populated that urban areas. Wireless will go anywhere you can create a relay point.
     
  • I live in a valley. Is there any hope for me?

  • Perhaps, but unfortunately there will be places that will be impossible to service with wireless. Being in a low spot will not help, unless of course you're right next to the hill where an access point is. We have made a commitment to take the wireless service wherever there is enough demand to justify the expense of creating a relay point. If you and 11 other home in your neighborhood would be willing to subscribe to the service, we'll install an access point in your area to service you.
     
  • Why aren't the HUGE corporations using this?

  • The large players are after large dollars and that means heading for densely populated areas. In heavily populated areas there is a much greater chance that this bandwidth would be saturated, not only by other users, but by lighting and other ISM band devices. 2.4 Ghz is also unlicensed and would reach a maximum density point long before they ran out of customers. The 2.4 Ghz is an unlicensed frequency, so they cannot buy an exclusive right to use it, the way they can with the LMDS/MMDS bands.
THE HARDWARE
  • What are the radios and who makes them?

  • The radio units are a little bigger than a Sony Walkman, and the antennas are about 12-inches square. There is a variety of manufacturers of wireless Internet equipment. The BreezeCom units we employ have a rugged case and are extremely lightweight. The units come with a connection for the external antenna, and an RJ-45 jack for the CAT5 cable from the network card in your computer.
     
  • How do I connect to the radio?

  • You connect your computer to the unit using a standard Ethernet cable that runs between the radio and the Ethernet card of your computer. This cable can be up to several hundred feet long, allowing the radio and antenna to be in one place and the computer to be where you want it. The antenna connects to the radio with a long length of coax signal cable.
     
  • How do I control the radio?

  • The radio is programmed by Rapid WiFit and is not programmable by the end user. This helps to ensure the security of the Wireless network. Rapid WiFi does have the ability to reprogram the radio units on the fly, to allow for upgrades to the firmware as well as service adjustments.
     
  • Will radios from different manufacturers work with each other?

  • The IEEE 802.11 standards were designed to, and should, allow manufacturers of wireless Internet equipment to produce radios that will interoperate with existing manufacturers' gear. It is up to those manufacturers to fulfill the promise of the 802.11 standards. This scenario is similar to the v.90 modem rollout, where modems that should have interoperated took a year or more to actually do just that. One of the reasons we chose the 802.11 standard was the potential for competition that will drive down the cost for the end user. We like the idea of consumers having choices. IEEE 802.11 Working Group is a great place to learn more about the future of the wireless ethernet standards efforts.
     
  • What are the antennas like and who makes them?

  • The antennas range in size from a 16" long ¾" round pole, to a 24" x 36" grilled directional unit. The most common antenna used by Rapid WiFi is the 12-inch flat panel. There are also many other antenna choices within the range of the frequency. Most of them are very lightweight and are no more difficult to install that a DishNetwork or DirecTV dish. The cables used for exterior mounting come in set lengths. The cables are slightly smaller in diameter than TV coax cable, with the connectors being slightly larger. The cable is fairly flexible, but should not be bent too sharply.
     
  • What is the power output?

  • Through antenna gain, a EIRP 4 watt signal is as high as the unlicensed use of the band is allowed to go in point to multipoint environment.
     
  • What is the power consumption?

  • The BreezeCom radio unit uses 5 volts at 1.5 amps, and uses a power block that plugs into a standard U.S. electrical outlet (120 volts AC).
     
  • What are the environmental concerns for using wireless?

  • The radio should be protected from the elements and should be not be used outdoors. It has an operating temperature range of 32° F to 104° F and a 5% to 95% non-condensing humidity rane. The antenna should be mounted outside, and has an operating temperature range of -40° F to 140° F There have been reports of water intrusion as a source for weather related problems. This was usually caused by improper connections being made. Some minor cable problems have also been encountered, but we see these as inconveniences. Weather does play a small part in signal strength, just as it does with satellite television. If it's raining heavily, the "rain fade" could cause insignificant signal loss.
     
  • Can higher gain antennas be used?

  • As long as the signal strength does not exceed 4 Watts EIRP, the end user may use a high gain antenna. Higher gain antennas are available for use with the BreezeCom radios we use, but need to be special ordered. Higher gain omnidirectional antennas may also be used.
     
  • What the heck is gain, anyway?

  • Think of a radio signal being a ball of radio waves being emitted from a single point. By reshaping the signal you add gain, or power, to the signal strength. In the case of an omnidirectional antenna, the top and bottom of the ball are squished down and up to flatten out the signal, creating a doughnut shaped pattern. In the case on a Uni-Directional antenna, the signal is reshaped by not only squishing the top and bottom, but by changing the shape as well. Imaging looking down on the ball and being able to cut into the six o'clock position and then reshaping it so it looks like a piece of pie with the left edge at 10 o'clock and the right edge at 2 o'clock. In each case the total power is compressed into a tighter pattern thus resulting in a gain of the effective strength of the signal.
     
  • How many radios can co-exist in one area?

  • BreezeCom recommends no more than 15 Access Point radios be deployed in such a way that they can see each other with their antennas. Instances have been reported of hanging antenna units off the four sides of a large building, thus quadrupling the density. Clever shielding and creative use of lower powered directional antenna can increase densities dramatically over larger areas. Using a microcelluar deployment approach allows for even greater densities to be supported, facilitating rollouts in even extremely dense areas.
THE SIGNAL
  • What is the current coverage range?
    It's hard to give an accurate coverage rangge because wireless Internet depends on line of sight, but we have created a coverage map that shows an approximate area of coverage.
     
  • What is the power level of 2.4 Ghz?
    The FCC limits the signal strength to an EIRP of 4 watts. At the radio connector the signal is 100mW of power. (a PC-Card runs at 50 mW) Through the process of antenna gain the signal is effectively boosted to higher levels, not to exceed the equivalent of 4 watts EIRP.
     
  • What is FHSS & DSSS?

  • Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum and Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum is the quick answer. Both operate from 2.400-2.485 Gigahertz, in what is known as the ISM band. The 802.11 wireless standard covers both DSSS and FHSS, although not all manufacturers employ or fully adhere to 802.11. Both FHSS and DSSS use the middle 79 frequencies and must leave the top and bottom 3 alone as a "buffer". The DSSS system utilizes "sets" of frequencies in a sequential progression and uses "channels" 1,6 and 11. There are 11 channels available in the spectrum, but each uses frequencies such that only three channels can coexist and not overlap. To obtain 11Mbps under the 802.11 DS must separate the carrier frequencies of each channel by 30 frequencies and there are only 79 to go around restricting colo use to 3. DSSS can sustain throughputs from anywhere from 4.2Mbps and up depending on the manufacturers claims and methodologies. DSSS can also maintain a higher throughput over distance than FHSS. DSSS is much more susceptible to detrimental interference. DSSS can only coexist with 2 other units in RF proximity, severely limiting its use in a point to multipoint application. A BreezeCom DS11 WBS can associate with 128 WBC clients, although throughput would suffer greatly at those densities. SS was co-invented by Hedy Lamarr in 1942. Some 50 years later, her genius gives us a technology that allows us to utilize radio frequencies in a much more secure, reliable and efficient way. FHSS uses 78 frequency hopping patterns employing all 79 frequencies. This allows for the collocation of 15 FHSS radios in one location without loss of throughput. FHSS also can overcome moderate signal interference better than DSSS. FHSS can have packet loss on several of the frequency hops with no need to retransmit packets. The 802.11 standard and the FHSS has redundant data built into its methodology that allows for radio packet loss without the loss of the data being sent and the need to retransmit that data.
     
  • What can I expect for sources of interference?

  • The 2.4 Ghz frequency range is affected by some industrial lighting devices, some wireless house phones, microwave ovens, and other radio equipment that uses the 2.4 Ghz range. In rural settings, these sources of interference are minimal and can be avoided by proper positioning of the antenna units. In an urban or city environment the sources of interference could be extremely debilitating.
     
  • Will this signal interfere with anything or anyone else?

  • These radios put out a very low power signal and as such are not likely to interfere with other devices. Some hospital equipment can be affected by these signals if, and only if, the unit is used in very close proximity to some devices. Hospitals are one of the largest users of 2.4 Ghz Wireless LANs.
     
  • What is "clear line of sight"?

  • The ability for the antenna units to see each other without obstruction is clear line of site. For more information on LOS, please see our Line of Sight page.
     
  • Do I have to have "line of sight"?

  • Live by this phrase, but know that there are no absolutes: "If you can't see it and you can't hit it by throwing a rock at it, it likely won't work". With that said there are always exceptions. Reception points within a half mile (give or take) have been shown to operate without line of site, but these are conditions where the signal is capable of either penetrating or reflecting. Many factors influence and affect the radio signal. Building materials such as coated glass and foil insulation are very good barriers to the signal. Concrete can be penetrated in close proximity to the antennas. Wooden buildings can be penetrated. Trees are bad. Trees are mostly water and stop the signal very effectively, but again, if proximity to the antenna is close enough, the signal will penetrate some foliage. But, and this can not be stressed enough, the signal will not penetrate any volume of trees at distance; distance being defined as more than a 1/2 mile, but again, it isn't a black and white issue. There are cases where ISPs have literally burned through trees using amplifiers and highly directional antenna, but these are exceptions not rules, and they may be overpowering the systems in order to achieve these penetrations. In some cases, trees can be over come by using more frequent installations of access points in a microcellular deployments. Pine trees are easier to penetrate than an oak or maple trees. Installations performed during winter months may stop functioning during the spring when tree begin to leaf.
     
  • What is the fresnel zone?

  • The fresnel zone is a conical shaped area extending out from an antenna in the direction the signal is traveling. Think of it as a megaphone. The fresnel zone for antennas one mile apart, has a radius of 27' in the middle where the two cones are as large as they get. Fresnel zones are discussed further on our Line of Sight page.
     
  • Can this zone be partially blocked?

  • Yes. But the more blockage/distance there is, the less signal is received. Theoretically, one application running at 5 miles, where the lower portion of the zone is significantly blocked by trees, could manage to keep a low level signal.
     
  • What is the range of the signal?

  • Servicing customers from an omnidirectional antenna can be supported up to 10 miles out with the use of an amplifier at the both the client and the access point. Unamplified omnidirectional antenna can service out to 5 miles. Panel antennas, like we use at Rapid WiFi, can generally be thought of as doing the above without the amplification, and can increase the range ability. All of the above is conditional on the LOS qualities of each link.
     
  • Can the signal be boosted?

  • Yes! Amplifiers can be used. The same FCC regulation applies that you cannot exceed the 4 watts EIRP. An omnidirectional antenna with 100' of cable can be used with a 500mW amp and not exceed the power restriction. Amplifiers can significantly improve signal quality, but line of sight is still required.
     
  • How secure is the signal?

  • If it's secure enough for the Israeli Military, we think it's secure enough for Internet. The nature of FHSS makes it very difficult to intercept. The hopping sequence could be observed but only in the case of one unit transmitting as an access point without other units in proximity. As soon as more than one unit is in use, it becomes exponentially more difficult to isolate one signal. A community string is used to allow only approved radios clients to associate with an Access Point. Encryption is also used to further secure the signal at the radio level. In addition, more robust encryption boxes can be positioned at each end of the link to further protect the signal.
     
  • I live in a heavily populated area, how will this affect the signal?

  • As was mentioned in various places in the FAQ, the higher the density of population, the more likely other devices will cause detrimental interference. In point-to-multipoint applications this interference will be much more of a problem in densely populated areas. In point-to-point application, the directional antennas will greatly reduce the likelihood of interference being noticeable. The largest source of interference in the city/urban environment would most likely be lighting systems and other ISM band communication devices.
MISCELLANEOUS
  • How do I interface with Wireless?

  • Your computer needs an Ethernet card and a CAT5 Ethernet cable to connect to the radio. Rapid WiFi uses Linksys DSL/Cable routers to act as a firewall and DHCP server for your computer. Your computer will be configured as if it was using a direct Ethernet connection to a LAN with Internet access.
     
  • Will any Ethernet card do?

  • Any standard 10BaseT Ethernet card will work fine. 10Base2 network cards are coax-based, and will not work. Your network card should be configured and working properly under your computer's operating system (Windows, Linux, Macintosh, etc.).
     
  • Can I plug in a hub instead of a computer?

  • The radio needs to terminate to a device with a valid MAC address. If your hub is network addressable, you should be able to connect it to the radio. Since Rapid WiFi uses Linksys DSL/Cable routers you will be able to plug a "dumb" hub into the radio to allow all computers on your local LAN to access the wireless Internet.
     
  • How may computers can a client radio support?

  • Rapid WiFi uses the single client radio to provide you with wireless Internet. But since Rapid WiFi uses the Linksys DSL/Cable routes, you can provide access to 253 computers with the use of a hub connected to the Linksys' 10/100 port. The wireless link is much more flexible than a standard leased line.
     
  • How fast will it go?

  • This is very dependent on the strength of the signal. The lowest throughput we have seen is 500kbps and the radios support up to 3.0mbps throughput. The wireless link is faster than cable and DSL (leased lines)
     
  • Can I buy a slower/faster connection through Wireless?

  • Yes. The BreezeAccess system allows for Committed Information Rate (CIR) and Maximum Information Rate (MIR).
     
  • Can I buy a guaranteed throughput?

  • Yes. On a point-to-point connection we can work with a customer to guarantee throughput. This would require a higher setup fee, similar to a leased line setup fee, but the recurring fees would still be less than a leased line.
     
  • What will I need for hardware for a wireless Internet connection?

  • You will need a receive radio, the antenna and the cable running to it, a network-capable computer, a CAT5 network cable, and a Linksys DSL/Cable router. Oh, and electricity at the radio site will really help. We also highly recommend that battery backup and surge devices be used with all computers and their various connections.
     
  • How can I tell if wireless will work for me?

  • A site survey will need to be performed for almost all potential customers to evaluate the ability to use wireless where you are. If you know where our antennas are, and you can see one, then you should be able to get a working signal. A site survey must be done prior to installing any wireless hardware.
     
  • How much does the hardware cost?

  • A single computer installation would run about $1200 for everything, if you had to buy the equipment. Since Rapid WiFi is "leasing" you the equipment, much like the cable company "rents" you their converter boxes, you won't have to pay $1200. Setup is $75, installation is $100 for a standard antenna installation, and the monthly fees range from about $50 to $100 or higher, depending on the data rate you desire.
     
  • Is wireless as reliable as DSL?

  • We have found that it is more reliable than the Telco systems we are currently used to. We have no first hand information on the reliability of Cable Internet, but we've heard that as more and more subscribers jump on Cable Internet, it becomes slower and slower. Since it is a wired system, it is subject to those types of problems.
     
  • What about lightning?

  • This is probably the most significant threat to you and your wireless gear. Although it is just as likely to affect a cable or DSL connection as well. The antenna has a grounding screw on it, and it must be grounded to a 4-foot ground rod or cold water pipe.
     
  • And lightning protection?

  • Lightning arrestors are available for the external antenna units. Further measures are recommended to protect your entire system(s). A surge arrestor is available for the Ethernet connections, as well as power, and the phone connections. We highly recommend that be used, in addition to a battery backup for the power pack on the radios and the computer.
     
  • Will it interfere with pacemakers?

  • It is suggested that people with pacemakers not be in the immediate path of the signal. This means closer than a few feet from the antenna. These units are less likely to cause a problem than a microwave oven.
     
  • What Operating Systems is this compatible with?

  • Any Internet/Networkable computer can use wireless Internet. Rapid WiFi will still apply the OS limitations it has in place for any new customer; a Pentium-class 266 MHz computer with Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP or PowerPC Macintosh with MacOS 7.6.x or greater, and a minimum of 16 MB of RAM, and a 10BaseT network card propery configured and working properly under your computer's operatin system.
     
  • Will I still need my modem?

  • All wireless customers will be given a dialup account to use as a backup in the unlikely event their wireless link stops functioning. This dialup account is not meant to be used as a primary access method, nor should it be shared or used in combination with a working wireless access system. Wireless customers who abuse their dialup access while a wireless customer will be charged for a standard dialup account in addition to any wireless charges.
     
  • Will I need to keep my second phone line?

  • It's entirely up to you. But remember that you will have a dialup connection available in the unlikely event the wireless link goes down, so be sure to account for that potential need.
     
  • Is there a limit on the amount of traffic I can send/receive?

  • No, but we always watch bandwidth usage very closely. We want everyone to have the speed of wireless available to them. Those that misuse this availability of speed will face additional charges or possible termination of service. We have found that the average user doesn't really need all that much bandwidth to do what they want. What they will love is the speed at which the webpages load when connected via wireless.
     
  • Can I run servers on this connection?

  • Absolutely not! The running of servers of any kind (such as FTP, Web, Mail, Napster-like peer-to-peer file sharing, etc.) is strictly prohibited with Rapid WiFi's wireless access plan. If it's discovered that subscribers are running servers on their wireless link, they will be subject to immediate termination.
     
  • How big are the antenna units?

  • The antenna is about 12-inches square. The mounting process in very similar to a TV antenna or a DishTV/DirectTV dish.
     
  • Can I put my antenna in my attic?

  • Most likely the answer is, no. If you are very close to a broadcast point and your attic is uninsulated, you might be able to get away with it, but even then, any blockage to the line of site will have a negative effect on the signal.
     
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