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Telluride, Colorado, USA

In June 2002 we delivered the first Neighbourhood ISP to Telluride Wireless Broadband. The system design objective was to provide all wireless access to subscribers throughout most areas of the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village using 802.11b technology.

Telluride and Mountain Village are twin mountain resort ski towns that held many challenges to establishing a wireless ISP. For one thing, the towns are wrapped around the mountain, following the countours of the rock. From any given location, at least half of the population is blocked from view. This makes it quite a challenge to provide wirelescs service to a majority of the people and businesses.

At the time the project was first discussed, there was no broadband in the town. A year later, a nearby ISP brought in 256k DSL service but it served only a portion of the business district, representing perhaps 10 percent of the population. For the rest of the largely affluent members of this community, anything beyond 56k dial-up was a distant dream.

The server room was in the basement of a hotel, a good choice for temperature and flooring. On the rooftop, the main antennas for subscribers and relays would be mounted. A sensible combination of cable type and equipment placement was penciled into the plan, to be refined on-site.

A summary of the design parameters for this system were these:

  1. The entire system must withstand a wider-than-normal range of temperatures. The server room would be vented to the outside all year, and the wireless equipment would be mounted on rooftops.
  2. The wireless equipment must have a CPE cost of around US$100 (definitely not the typical $500 to $600)
  3. Initially we envisioned mounting rooftop antennas on subscribers' buildings, but then we found out this was a problem with town regulations. So the plan changed, during installation, to somehow make it work without subscribers using outdoor antennas!
  4. The cost needed to be under US$100k

This challenge resulted in a design that later became the Neighbourhood ISP. In effect, Telluride was the first prototype Neighbourhood ISP, although it was thought of as a "small Community system" at the time.

In a 40U rack we placed five servers: master DNS, slave DNS/authentication, web/email, proxy, and router. This was the first work-through of this new system model, and our client asked every effort at budget consciousness, so we used a mix of components that was inexpensive and readily available (mostly in stock items) to do the job.

We used dual CPU servers with SCSI drives for the web/email and poxy machines. For the name servers and router we opted for a single processor and IDE drives. Redudant power safeguarded the most important servers, and a rackmount UPS would keep everything going for about 30 minutes in a power outage.

Over a period of about two months on-site, a series of five wireless relay points were planned, installed, then modified and sometimes moved. Walking around town with a laptop to see how far the signal would reach was fun once we figured out the basic relaying problems.

All through the installation, foliage and the mountains gave us a hard time. Sometimes you could see the remote antenna and get no signal; other times we laughed in amazement at the unlikely places we would not only find a signal but pass packets at broadband speeds. In addition, we had some issues to diagnose and work out with the upstream provider's configuration of the backbone connection.

The project was completed September 2002.