An answer to network overload?

COURTESY TOWERSTREAM TOWERING ABOVE: A rendering is of the Towerstream's Wi-Fi offload network, a pilot program underway in Manhattan.
Posted 6/27/11

It’s a simple concept. Smartphones are straining current network capacity and, with 788 million mobile-only Internet users across the globe expected by 2015, carriers are looking for some relief, which a small Rhode Island company believes it is poised to provide.

“It’s not that anyone made any big mistakes [but] the networks that are just getting deployed now were on the drawing board over five years ago,” said Jeffrey M. Thompson, president and CEO of Middletown-based Towerstream. “Five years ago there was no iPhone that destroyed networks. The tablet didn’t exist at that point. They have these huge, hungry screens. The long-term evolution network is only four times faster than the 3G network.”

Towerstream, which debuted its wireless broadband services in Providence and Boston in 2001, says the answer is in a powerful mobile network that supplements a carrier’s network, called offloading.

Hoping to prove its point, the company is building a network of 1,000 wireless routers in 7 square miles of Manhattan that is slated to be up the summer. By year-end, Towerstream plans to expand to 1,500 routers.

“If you look at the 3G and 4G speeds, even theoretically, they’re way below the 50-mbps mark. Our network has theoretical [speed] up to 350 mbps. Each user experience is different – just like it is for LTE – [but] we’re starting at a much higher data throughput, which is very exciting,” Thompson said, while noting that in recent tests, they’ve seen peak data rates closing in on 100 mbps.

Towerstream, which has yet to turn a profit, has not named any clients for the Wi-Fi-offloading network yet, but has said it will announce one by the end of the second quarter in August.

The major carriers “are launching these multibillion dollar networks, and there are going to be physical gaps that people are going to have to deal with and Wi-Fi offload is one of those ways,” explained Thompson.

In a recent forecast on global mobile traffic, Cisco said the average smartphone will generate 1.3 gigabits of traffic per month in 2015, a 16-fold increase on the 2010 average of 79 megabits per month.

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