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Company Uses Grain Elevators for Internet Access 187

hohosforbreakfast writes "Here's a different take on wireless networking...a company in West Des Moines, Iowa says it will use grain elevators to provide Net access in rural areas of Illinois and Iowa. The story is here in the Des Moines Register." Ah, flat country.
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Company Uses Grain Elevators for Internet Access

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  • by jms ( 11418 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @01:51PM (#793651)
    So this means that a grain elevator explosion has the potential of taking out parts of the internet.

    An entirely new mode of network failure has been invented!
  • by Eggplant62 ( 120514 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @01:51PM (#793652)
    I recently attended training sessions on Breezecom's product in Toronto, ON, CA. I ran into a group of geeks there who were doing exactly this--using grain elevators to host their antennae for 802.11 gear to provide 11mbps connections for rural subscribers.

    Now I just wish they'd put some damned grain elevators up in suburbant Detroit. I'm having a nightmare of a time getting a point-to-point wireless link to perform well over 4 miles of trees, houses and commercial buildings. Ever see how difficult it is to get the permits to build an 80' tower in suburbia. Friggin' nightmare, man.
  • The ISP I worked for was going to use the water tower to get coverage for the east side of town, but a problem was our water tower looks kind of like a hamburger bun on a pole, and the curve of it would interfere with people who lived really close to the tower.
  • This post may be funny, but it's actually true...in the town I used to live in, in eastern South Dakota, the grain elevator in town actually DID "explode" in a way.

    This grain elevator is truly large; it has to be...oh....30 stories; that's quite a rise above the completely flat land. It consists of about 10 huge cement cylinders; I just recall them being really freaking big (I was a little kid last time I was at the elevator).

    I'm not sure about the details, but there's something about the way grain is stored; it releases a gas. Apparently one of these huge cylinders got too much gas in it, and with an earth-shaking (I'm not kidding, people for three miles around heard it) yellow-orange blast, the top blew completely off of the cylinder!

    So much for dietary fiber, kids.

    I used to say the Midwest had no redeeming characteristics, but if they can get broadband off grain elevators, more power to them.
  • An ISP in ND [dia.net] has been doing this for a while now. It works pretty well. Tall trees can be a problem though. A problem we have though is customers say that it costs too much, but the prices seem comparable to DSL in bigger cities. They just want to wait until it's around $30 a month though.
  • I'm on the East Coast now, but I was born in South Dakota. Out here, I've been told I have a "radio voice"; "perfect enunciation"; etc, etc.

    Some of the best speakers come from the Midwest, because, although there's heavy Scandinavian and German background, there are a LOT of people out there with absolutely zero accent. Including myself. ;]

    People in the Midwest may tend to "drawl" their words, but there's no Southern accent, and I actually know a lot of Midwesterners who speak very quickly.

    Ah well. We're talking about grain elevators and broadband, not deeply inherent lingual characteristics, so maybe I should just go back to South Dakota and get better connection speed than I have here...
  • Umm... 128 kilobytes a second? 256 and 512 kilobytes... I think someone needs to fact check again... As much as I would love 5 meg a second skipping across grain elevators in Iowa, I don't think it's happening anytime soon.

    I think the article might have been right. It sounds crazy, but I've seen similar technology with my own eyes. (Not in Iowa though) A small company (com-pair.net [com-pair.net]) does a similar thing. They set up a couple access points and one main point on top of a mountain. Although I really wasn't paying to much attention, it was definately fast, and it seemed more like kilobytes to me than kilobits. That's what it says on the webpage [com-pair.net] too (about half-way down). Cool pics of the equipment on that page as well. They also have some pricing and info on what makes it tick here [com-pair.net].

    As for weather effects that some people had concerns about in other posts, I think they had one problem when it got to hot, but they fixed that. It has to do with defraction, I think, but that's discussion for another article. You can get DSL in the area if you live in town, but most people don't. The phone lines are horrible, with a 24k carrier speed when I'm at home.

    The only reason why I don't have this is cause I'm away at college, otherwise I'd settle the debate for sure. Looks like they changed their pricing plan so I could rent the equipment now. I'll have to look into it further next summer...

    Wigs
    --"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts." Cecil Adams

  • The antannas have a range of 6-8 miles I beleive that would be a little under 26 square miles. I wonder how many people/square mile they count as rural? lets just say that tehre is 1 account/mile, at 40$/month that gives them in income of $1040/month + the $600 innitial hardware cost. I have no idea how much it costs to run and maintain on of these antanas, but is it possible to do it with $1040/month?
  • I'm not fan of that whining either. But this particular fixture is not innovative, other than perhaps as a business relationship. People put these antennas on the tallest things they can find. The notion is not new, and it doesn't require any genius to employ it. I gaurantee you that there have been thousands of other installations long before this on so-called non-traditional platforms. I've seen them on top of skyscrapers, water towers, radio antennas, hilltops, trees... why not a grain elevator? What makes this story any more newsworthy than the hundreds of other similar day to day occurences.

    If they wanted to write a piece on, say, high bandwidth coming to rural American, I could accept that. But this is just obvious employment of technology, without any real direction...I wish they'd generate real content, rather than producing fluff like this.

  • They say in the article it is comparable to DSL and cable, so I'd go with 128 kilobytes/sec (My ASDL line is 128 kilobytes/sec on the downloading side) 128 kilobits/sec would only be comparable to modems and ISDN.
  • Before I followed the link, the article reminded me of the story about accessing a network by carting a load of DAT tapes around in a van. Great bandwidth, horrible latency.

    These opinions are my own and not necessarily
  • Breezecom claims their gear will perform at speeds of 3mbps on their freq hopping radios and 5-11mbps on the single freq radios. I'd say that 128-512 kilobytes might be achievable.
  • I found the following very interesting: "Without high-speed Internet access, we can't expect many of those communities to survive." That is an extreme statement right there, are rural towns really that cut off?
  • You needed a pr0n fix bad enough to check it out at your grandparent's place?
  • by RayChuang ( 10181 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @05:02PM (#793665)
    Well, the idea of putting 802.11 wireless Internet connections on top of grain elevators is a GREAT idea.

    Remember, the northern Great Plains has flat enough topology that the top of grain elevators have a long line of sight out into the country. That is sufficient for most communities to get connected to the Internet using a wireless connection.

    Besides, farmers are surprisingly techno-savvy; they want direct access to the weather and agricultural price information to properly plan the year's operation on the farm. In fact, farmers are some of the biggest users of GPS satellites so they can precisely meter out the amount of fertilizer and pesticide/herbicide needed to properly maintain the farm; this has drastically reduced the fertilizer and agricultural chemical runoff that has caused water pollution problems in the past.
  • Just saw over at ISP Planet [isp-planet.com] an article [isp-planet.com] discussing the explosive potential from grain dust. Not very detailed, but a godd short read none-the-less. - Henry
  • I find this a helluva lot more interesting than any of the "Richard Stallman whines about someone not worshiping him" stories.

    This is nerds coming up with innovative solutions to problems of technology-have-nots.

    The other is just whining babies.

  • Well, that's changed now..

    You can get 56k access from pretty much anywhere in the state of Iowa and most towns with 50K or greater populations offer both DSL and @Home, of course, in Iowa, that's not very many places.

    Personally, I had cable access almost 2 years ago, and am now using DSL, and I live in a town of about 50K in Iowa.

  • So they're going to send each bit up like a little piece of grain?
    How is packet loss with a system like this? :)
  • Nah, just pretend like you meant megabits as I suggest in my second post, then I can be the idiot. :P

    Regards,

  • Personally, I don't know why the cows and corn would be on the Internet? Maybe to visit /.
  • I guess neither of us can read.

    It says they spent $10 million AND a year.

    So... is this profitable?

    -sid
  • I live in a fairly rural area, but it's about 100 miles from the SF Bay area. We have one, maybe two T1 lines running through the county. The cable TV company that serves the more 'urban' (greater than 500 population) towns here is running semi-test broadband service. But I'm definitely out of the cable modem picture where I live, the dsl technology doesn't allow for sparsely-populated areas. I have great modem (33kbps only) access with several freeISPs as long as I'm running Windoze

    The ultra-privitization of the newer telephony tech really does leave a lot of rural folks in the lurch.


    blessings,

  • by Xzzy ( 111297 )
    Cool idea, and glad to see more folks getting faster internet access.. but how susceptible is this going to be to weather effects?

    Admittedly, they define this as using "radio waves", which seems like a fairly fault tolerant medium (compared to, say, a beam of some sort), but they DO say it requires a clear line-of-sight. What's going to happen to your game of Q3A when a tornado decides to rip through the area? Even radio is subject to static, which could be pretty painful for an internet connection.

    From what I've experienced, the plains states can suffer some pretty crappy weather. Be it rain, thunder, dust storms, blizzards, or tornados. One wonders about the quality of service these people will get; the news article doesn't really explain this much.

    I'm just one to trust a wire safely buried under dirt more than radio waves being flung about.

    Which brings up another point.. how easy is it for other people to pick up these signals? Channel scanners, start your engines.
  • "All we are is dust in the wind..." -- Kansas, Dust in the Wind

    but:

    "We're all gonna be dirt in the ground..." -- Tom Waits, Dirt in the Ground

    sorry. :)
  • One thing to consider is that most of these antennas have "diversity" inputs. You can put a high-gain omni-directional on one input, and put a high-gain uni-directional on the other. With that, you could link to another wireless site and not have to pay for leased lines into the elevator. Uni-Uni links can reach ~25 miles. I doubt that they can get the 6-8 mile range using the small antennas that they are talking about. I've managed that range, but I had to use a 24dBi antenna to do it.

    One interesting thing about wireless is that when an area gets congested, you can split it like cell phones do. Just remove your Omni and put in three 120 degree Uni-Directionals and you have longer range and more bandwidth...

    It's going to be an interesting future...
  • I'm a student at ISU, and the speed (or lack thereof) of my parents' dial-up is always a shock after semesters in our very wired dorms. I'm not sure about UNI, but I know University of Iowa's getting ethernet connections, too. We come out of school craving speed, and if Vilsak, and other governors like him, doesn't want to see the brain drain in the midwest continue, then efforts like this need to continue, so we won't be lured away by the high-speed connections of major metropolitan areas.
  • Here in Southeastern CT, there's a cable company that services most people from Hartford to the Rhode Island border, called Eastern Connecticut Cable, that teamed with @Home to do cable modem access. (I know, my boss lives about 8-9 miles from me and enjoys cable modem) I just happened to get stuck in a fairly large "city" named Norwich, not even 10 miles from Eastern's service area. By a strange quirk, Adelphia cable (big in PA, but scattered in small areas in CT) has control over this area, and they say 1 year for Western CT, and 2-3 years until they get to my area. And, I happen to live about 4 miles from the telco office, so no DSL. Even worse, I live right outside city limits, and the phone company hasn't even touched the copper here in over 5 years. As a result, I get 19.2 out of my 56K modem. Anyone have any ideas on a fairly low-cost wireless solution that can reach about 9-10 miles? I'd be pleased if I was even getting a 1 meg connection to my boss's house (he uses IPMASQ for all his computers), but I'd like it if I could get an 802.11 connection out of it.
  • I work for an international company that has 2 plants in Iowa. Our home office is located in Germany. Try to have a WAN over a 56k dialup!!! It has taken us 1 1/2 years to get a T1 from US West/Qwest. And it cost us an arm and a leg. If Prairie Inet had been around when we started this project, that is probably been the way we would have gone. Our one plant is located only 2 blocks from a Prairie Inet antenna.
  • Hi, I'm from Iowa, and I'd have to say, farmer's daughters can be pretty darn attractive. :p
  • It looks like somebody hasn't seen enough IBM commercials.


    ---
  • Actually, it is part of a monopoly.

    NetINS is owned by INS, which is owned by roughly 130 shareholders--who are most of the independents in Iowa. INS is also a 70% shareholder in the company which took over from GTE in Iowa (Iowa Telecom, IIRC). This means that--through their ownership of INS--these little Mom and Pops can exercise a lot of influence on what can and can't be done in telecom in much of Iowa--up to two thirds of the state, from what I hear. The only other big player here now is USWest/Qwest, which really doesn't want to leave the big cities--and are looking to get rid of some of their exchanges out in the boonies.

    As for the shell server and personal web sites, I can only relate my experiences from 2.5 years prior. The shell server had things on it, but you weren't allowed hardly any space, and if you did try to do anything other than read mail or telnet out, your hands were slapped (and no, I'm not malicious. We're talking about sysadmin script development and testing, centralized storage of really important things--things I do on other ISP accounts with no hoopla at all). As for the web pages, I will grant you this. When I was with them, there were no personal web sites without paying extra $$'s (and the "Basic Showcase" does appear under "New"). I remember very well, because it really torqued me.

    As for being rough, my experiences with NetINS have been nothing but wretched, and I've the opportunity to compare and contrast with ISPs outside the state of Iowa. Most of them would kick NetINS' butt. Rough maybe, but justified.
    ---------------------------------
    Only in America will someone order a
    Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke.
  • NetINS???? Yeah, right. The only reason they're even in business yet is because they're essentially a monopoly--their parent company (INS) is owned by well over one hundred of the state's independent Ma & Pa telephone companies.
    Then there's the topic of their service, and price--premium cost for a paucity of services. Laughable shell server; no personal web pages, unless you paid extra. NetINS has never cared-- and still doesn't--for the individual/home user. Thank heavens USWorst came along with DSL.

    And don't get me started about their business service.

    Over all, I wish PrairieInet luck.


    ---------------------------------
    Only in America will someone order a
    Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke.

  • I don't think it would take anywhere near the amount of money that you are talking about. First off, let's talk about the servers. These guys are serving 4000 customers. That's pretty much _nothing_ compared to most regional ISPs. You could spent $5000 on a FreeBSD-based server for mail which would be more than sufficient. Add another for things like RADIUS and DHCP and you have about $10,000 in server costs, which I'm sure was included in their $10,000,000 deployment costs.

    You wouldn't need a T1 for news. Outsourcing, with a small customer base of 4,000 Iowa farmers, is the way to go. Maybe a hundred or two hundred a month for the outsourcing and $2,500 for the T1s. maybe $30,000-$35,000.

    $15,000 for office space a year? This is Iowa, dude. You could run this out of a $7,000-a-year office space and be in high cotton^H^H^H^H^Hcorn, as they say.

    $50,000 a year where I live (San Antonio, TX) is pay for senior-level IT people. You can happily live on $35,000 a year here. In Iowa, I'm sure its even easier. You don't need that many tech people, either. My local ISP has at least 7-10x as many customers and does it with three tech guys. You could run this thing on $200,000 a year in salaries, including tech support.

    I think they'll probably make it. The chances of a baby Bell bringing DSL to the thousands of tiny towns in Iowa are probably near nil.
  • Just wanted to find out what the card is that they're using, so I could setup a preconfigured LRP and ship it back to my dad whose been dying for this type of connectivity.
  • I love how all the southern states are at the bottom of the list....

  • If you download an image, won't it be grainy?

    Sorry, couldn't help myself...

    ...............
    SUWAIN: Slashdot User Without An Interesting Name

  • I see you, Mr. Ho...

    Though, I must agree entirely with my punk & ska friend. Iowa, we've got all sorts of wacky types.
  • I just subscribed to the Prairie Inet service today. In talking to their tech support people, I was informed that one of their major investors is Heartland Co-op. The owners of most of the grain elevator sites. This would help cut their overhead considerably.
    As an aside to the people who have been flaming the midwest. Let me say that we are not all farmers/hicks. I happen to be an industrial programmer for an international company living in Iowa. This change will give me remote access to my systems at work without driving 40 miles.
  • I wondered when some of the midwestern states would come up with this idea.
  • Now we just need solutions for people scattered in dense forest, deep mountaion valleys, spread WAY OUT on deserts, on small islands far from land, or moving about on the roads, skies, and high seas...

    We already have them: satellite linkups. And they might even become cost-effective within our lifetimes. ;-)
  • I used to live about 30 mi, south of Dallas Texas and I could not get anything above 26.4Kbps. I also had to get a metro line to have a local call to dallas, so it cost me $75 a month with ISP for that crappy speed. But my brother has told the people about 2 mi away that are in the GTE service area can now get DSL. So the moral of this story Southwestern Bell sucks.
  • ... now my pr0n will come out all grainy.

    ;-)

    --Joe
    --
  • I know it has been mentioned already, but I just wanted to share my email to the author of the article:

    You should know that your article has been slashdotted (mentioned on
    http://www.slashdot.org). Congratulations.

    In your article you said

    "For $40 a month the residential service provides an "always-on"
    connection at a speed of 128 kilobytes per second, which is comparable to
    cable and digital subscriber line access available in larger cities. An
    even faster speed of 256 kbps is offered for $65 a month."

    Surely you meant 128 kilobits per second ( 8 bits per byte, so closer to
    16 kilobytes per second). If 128 kilobyte per second wireless internet
    access is available for $40 a month in Iowa I just might move there. :-)

    Have a great weekend,

    Eden Brandeis

    Moderators: Be kind, I haven't got much karma.
  • Wow.

    *IF* you killed them you managed to "knock them out" for a full 15 minutes. You monster.

    I'd say your virginity is intact.

    -sid
  • How about this...

    Kilobytes per second = K/sec Kilobits per second = kbps

  • [He] will require substantial upgrades to his own equipment, since he serves his entire customer base with a dual T-1 right now.

    Now,a T3 is about 30 times faster than a single T1. But, if I read correctly (elsewhere - not in the article), a T3 is only about $3K a month. A T1 is 1/3 of that. So for the cost of a third T1, couldn't he just get a T3?

    It's a bit off-topic, I know, but I was a bit shocked to learn that a T3 is so "cheap" (ie - 30 times a T1, but costs only 3 times a T1). If I'm wrong, please correct me.

    ...............
    SUWAIN: Slashdot User Without An Interesting Name

  • Oh great, another supporter of computer/internet welfare.
    -----------------------------
  • heh I agree that Katz is even worse

    Well the way Slashdot pushed Katz's book which chose an anecdote insulting Idaho as a "hick" state, I'd have to agree with you.

    Sorry if I jumped on you about using the word "hick", but there is this double standard around, of which you are apparently aware, regarding insults to rural people (redneck jokes, farmer's daughters jokes, etc.) which amounts to ethnic trashing -- and if you look at the academic achievment rankings, you'll notice there may be a reason for urban cultures to promote this sort of bias:

    They're embarrassed at their own performance.

    This is, I believe, sufficient cause alone to make this article of interest. I mean what will Katz write about when farmer's sons start becoming millionares by replacing the Chicago commodities exchange with their internet access via the local grain elevator transponders?

    Probably something to do with how they're all afraid of showing themselves in person with the real men in the mosh pits of the Chicago exchange or some horseshit.

  • At 27 I'm no youngin. My first modem (and I still have it) is a 300-baud acoustic coupler. I know what COBOL is, and I've even worked with stupid 80-col punch cards. I had my first personal-puter in 1981.

    I just evolved over time. People tend to do that =) By todays standards, 128Kbps is slow, but speed is relative to what you need accomplished.
  • Dust. Very fine dust mixed with air in the right proportion is explosive. Flour mills are particularly susceptible. If the grain is stored wet, it will almost certainly release methane which is explosive in the right proportions.
  • That "hicks" might want high speed internet access to? The whole thing strikes me as terribly obvious.

    A lot things aren't obvious to you.

    For example, that there are enormous hidden taxes applied to any physical wiring due to right of ways that exceed even the FCC's red tape by a huge amount.

    That the first Cray supercomputer was built on Seymour's farm using guys from rural Iowa and Wisconsin. [barnesandnoble.com]

    That wireless will probably displace physical cable in urban areas once places like Iowa, Montana, Canada, China, Siberia, etc. make the advantages manifestly clear.

    That the wireless revolution will relocate the infosphere to orbit. [geocities.com]

    Or, finally, an example of something that clearly is not obvious to you is the ranking of states by academic achievement [alec.org].

    1. Minnesota
    2. Montana
    3. Iowa
    4. Wisconsin
    5. New Hampshire
    6. Oregon
    7. Washington
    8. Kansas
    9. Nebraska
    10. Alaska
    11. Connecticut
    12. Massachusetts
    13. Maine
    14. Vermont
    15. Missouri
    16. Colorado
    17. Arizona
    18. Utah
    19. Virginia
    20. North Dakota
    21. Oklahoma
    22. Wyoming
    23. Illinois
    24. New York
    25. New Jersey
    26. Maryland
    27. Nevada
    28. Rhode Island
    29. Idaho
    30. Ohio
    31. Texas
    32. Michigan
    33. North Carolina
    34. California
    35. South Dakota
    36. West Virginia
    37. Kentucky
    38. Delaware
    39. Arkansas
    40. Florida
    41. Indiana
    42. Alabama
    43. New Mexico
    44. Tennessee
    45. Pennsylvania
    46. Georgia
    47. Hawaii
    48. South Carolina
    49. Louisiana
    50. District of Columbia
    51. Mississippi

    Now, which state are you from? :-)

  • The north central and northwestern part of Iowa is very flat. Southern Iowa has gentle rolling hills, but is still fairly flat. Northeastern Iowa is somewhat more hilly, but far from what most people would consider mountainous. If you compare the lowest point in Iowa to the highest point, you aren't talking about that many feet of difference. You have to look at things comparatively to other places that have much more terrain than Iowa does... Even many of Iowa's neighboring states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri and South Dakota have significantly more rugged terrain. Tell me a state that is more flat overall than Iowa... About the only one that springs to mind as a possibility is Nebraska... Even Illinois has the tailings of the Ozarks across its southern portion...

  • Places that have grain elevators in Iowa usually have small towns (300 to 5000 population typically) near them. That is the target market for this sort of thing. Many of these small towns have dialup access (often through the NetINS monopoly -- which is affilliated with most of the rural cooperative and independant telcos), but very few of them have either any significant competition for dialup service nor any other higher speed access available.

  • by SoftwareJanitor ( 15983 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @07:02PM (#793709)
    The problem many small rural communities face is slowly dwindling population as all of the capable younger people move away as soon as they are able. One of the reasons that the smart younger people leave is that there is a lack of things for them to do. While the Internet may not be a necessity, it is certainly something that is quickly becomming something that many people feel deprived if they don't have access to.

  • by ActiveSex ( 127999 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @07:07PM (#793710)
    I quote from the article:

    "Many Iowa residents have been left behind by high-speed Internet providers simply because of where they live," said Pederson. "Without high-speed Internet access, we can't expect many of those communities to survive."

    This is utter and total bullshit of the purest ray serene.

    How often does the Internet get touted as the latest and greatest something that nobody can live without? How much of that is true? So it is difficult for rural town businesses to have web sites. Big deal. Does the local corner store have a web site? Not nearly enough people buy things from the Internet to classify Internet commerce as a necessity, like regular off-line, physical shopping.

    Rural areas are, by definition, rural. Rural to implies being away from the general population, isolation, privacy. That's what you get, and you also get the downsides, like slow net access (if any). Live with it. Nobody's going to die because their Hotmail is too slow. For crying out loud.

    --Markus

    BlackholeTV [blackholetv.com] - TV that Swallows
  • Iowa is in the midwestern part of the US. While technically most of the US speaks something that is often referred to as 'english', it generally isn't expected to adhere to the standards of the 'Queen's English'. And as gor poor grammar, it is hardly something that is relegated to or stereotypical of hicks alone. Some of the worst grammar I see is perpetrated by east or west coasters.

    And yes, my grammar isn't perfect. So sue me. And while you are at it, you might try a little attitude adjustment.

  • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @02:09PM (#793716)
    "Professor, I tried to e-mail you my paper, but it turns out someone fed it to the cows."

    -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • Which is why you, er, TURN THEM OFF or LEAVE THEM HOME?

    Why is it that there are millions of whiners in this country that can't figure out that just because you could be connected doesn't mean you have to be connected? Technology can't take over your life unless you let it; and if you laet it, you DESERVE your fate.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • Couldn't they also 'rent' space on the several TV/telephone microwave towers that dot the landscape? They are much taller than any grain elevator the the range would be much better(besides, there are a few rolling hills, the entire landscape isn't totally flat like eastern Arkansas or west Tennessee). Would the existing transmitters cause too much interference?

    I hope this service expands into neighboring states to the west. My family would enjoy that. My sister has had wireless cable TV (not satellite) for well over a decade, so hopefully her cable TV provider might start offering internet access too.

  • Seeing they already do this in central Illinois, I am fairly certain they did their market research and are comfortable that they will be able to make a small profit at least, or run it at cost as a non-profit service. If the latter is the case, the community may kick in some bucks to support the infrastructure.
  • Do they even have colleges in Iowa?

    Yes. I believe the University of Iowa and Iowa State are both Big-10 colleges and one of which (can't remember which one) had a very active Internet-based BBS over 10 years ago. That and Rutger's Quartz BBS were big time sinks for me then. =)

    Also, if you would look at this [slashdot.org] post, you would see that the two states that beat Iowa are Minnesota and Montana. Education is still considered very important in those areas. Since many small rural communities don't have the ability to create the jobs needed for their children, unless one plans on taking over the family business, the only way to get a decent job is through education and moving away. Even then, I know several farmers that have Bachelor of Science degrees. These states also have the advantage of generally being very homogenous populations, so there's no incentive to water the school systems down for political-correctness' sake.

  • Ever see how difficult it is to get the permits to build an 80' tower in suburbia. Friggin' nightmare, man.

    Make the tower a giant flagpole for a rainbow flag and accuse anyone who opposes it of homophobia. Bureaucrasts will usually run for cover when someone says that they're discriminating against some favored group ...
  • Actually, Internet is quite useful (and quite popular) in rural areas. The reasons: updated commodity prices from Chicago Board of Trade, research into new farming techniques, buying selling equipment (kinda like classifieds, only cheaper), keeping up with children/relatives, - This list goes on and on . . .

    The problem with dialup in rural areas is that the local telcos have not done a very good job catching up. My parents (on the farm) cannot get 56k(bits) from their dialup provider to save their lives. Their modem is a USR/3com 56k, and their provider (the telco) swears up and down that the pop they dial into is 56k-ready. After doing some research I discovered that, while all that may be true, if the phone switches between them and the pop are not new enough to handle 56k, then that speed isn't possible. In fact, my parents celebrate when they get 28.8k!!

    I personally think that Prarie iNet will make a fortune. There are no other options for high-speed access in rural areas. I mean, my parents can't even get cable (although they do have DirectTV). In case you didn't figure that out - yes, I didn't grow up with cable. Heck, I didn't even have Fox . . .

    - mikeh
  • Well, maybe. Even if all 4000 of the customers they hope to sign up are only receiving residential service, that adds up to nearly $2M/year income. Office space is pretty cheap in those parts, and I'd bet the cost of routers, servers etc. is folded in with the $10M figure cited. Depending on how the equipment costs are amortized, I could easily see this being profitable, if only marginally so.
  • I find it hard to believe that even slashdot calls this newsworthy. I mean, what is news exactly? That highspeed wireless internet technology requires line of sight? Or that these places are relatively flat and unobstructed? That this can be done economically? That "hicks" might want high speed internet access to? The whole thing strikes me as terribly obvious. The only thing I wouldn't know is that it is happening there and right now. But the same can be said for many many more things.
  • I won't go on a big diatribe here.. but wireless networks are far easier to set up than cable networks as far as the amount of work goes.

    Remember, these rural places don't HAVE the cable infrastructure. THere is no landline to be had... no cable, not enough phone circuits of enough quality to do DSL, and the distances are too big.

    How on earth could putting up some towers (or using the roofs of grain elevators) be harder than getting right-of-way and burying cable all over the place?
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @02:50PM (#793750) Journal
    It says they spent $10 million AND a year.
    So... is this profitable?


    4,000 customers * $40/month * 12 months/year = $1,900,000/year. And that's just the start.
    $2,500 capital cost per customer is in the ballpark with the costs of rolling out DSL. Cost per customer will drop with time.

    Unlike DSL in a city they don't have to tear up streets and string more wire all over the place, or test and upgrade existing wire. And they don't have to install a DSLAM in every two-bit switching center and wire up separate pairs for each customer to it.

    Instead they have one, or a few, antenna sites, plus an antenna and a box at each customer's house, and only air in between. The customer covers the cost of their setup with an install fee. The base station and internet connection is already set up. (If they need several antenna sites they might radio-link them to each other, too, and only need a landline to one of 'em.)

    The small number of antenna drivers also limits the amount of routing boxes they need. (They can probably drop it all into a single Redback box.) Ditto with limiting the number of backbone connections (maybe two, running by divergent routes). Piece of cake.

    I won't predict whether THIS one will succeed. (Think how many cable companies went belly up in the early days.) But I can't see anything that would doom it.
  • Not likely, for this reason: the signal frequencies used for the wireless Internet access is very close to that of the frequencies used for telephone and TV systems, and the result is potentially serious interference problems.

    By putting them on grain elevators, they already have access to a building with pretty high elevation that have line of sight far out into the countryside.

  • Kansas. Eastern and southern Arkansas and west Tennessee are pretty flat too. South Dakota east of the Missouri river is about like most of Iowa. West of the river is more rolling prairie hills, badlands, and of course the Black Hills at the extreme western edge...the 'Wild West' part of the state.

  • How about we keep kbs for kilobits/sec as its traditionally used and kbbs for kilobytes/sec. Its simple and crazy enough to work!

  • What makes this article news for 99% of slashdot? I find it difficult to believe that most of slashdot would be suprised to discover that this could be done from a technical point of view. Likewise, this article fails to illustrate the technical side of rural America. Instead, all we have is a brief [and flawed] description of a specific application of well established technology. It's not even tied into a larger message at all.

    There are hundreds and thousands of similar installation stories that could be posted here too, but that does not mean they all should be national, or even international, news.

    As for your comment(s), I fail to see how they actually apply. I did not say, nor did I mean to imply, that these states are inferior. Though it is apparent that it is a touchy subject for you, I assumed that my putting "hick" in quotes would be sufficient....

    I do, however, disagree with you in regards to wireless's future. It will certainly grow, but I'm convinced that most high bandwidth connections will remain in domain of wiring in urban and suburban areas.
  • Cool idea, and glad to see more folks getting faster internet access.. but how susceptible is this going to be to weather effects? Admittedly, they define this as using "radio waves", which seems like a fairly fault tolerant medium (compared to, say, a beam of some sort), but they DO say it requires a clear line-of-sight. What's going to happen to your game of Q3A when a tornado decides to rip through the area? Even radio is subject to static, which could be pretty painful for an internet connection.
    802.11 operates in the 2.4 GHz band, on similar frequencies as your microwave oven. Yes, it needs a clear line of site along the signal path but rain/snow/sleet/hail will have negligible effect on the signal. Only time I've seen rain affect a wireless connection is one that we forgot to weatherseal an antenna cable connector. It got wet, stayed wet a few days until the warm weather dried it out. We went up, sealed the line and no problems since.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 08, 2000 @02:21PM (#793769)
    I can see the network status page:

    20:15We are experiencing routing problems. A technician is looking into the problem, we hope to have it fixed soon.

    20:32Routing is fixed, we have applied a patch for our router.

    20:46Routing is down again. An engineer is investigating.

    20:48It appears a silo has exploded. Routing will be down for 48 hours. PS: We currently have a positon for a network technician. Aplications to root@hick.com. Danger pay a bonus.
  • Amazing how tough it is in some places to get permission to put up antennas, even for the cellphones that the yuppies who live there use. At least in farm country they're a lot more relaxed about it (just another frob on top of the grain elevator that was there already), and probably get a lot of benefit from it. Next step might be telephone service, if it's reliable enough?
  • Two nice long contiguous metallic conductors. Even if they are quasi grounded, they'll act as a good RF waveguide at some frequency.

    Nope. Their resistance to ground is very small compared with the resistance of the track. Very lossy.

    And a train is a rolling short. At best you'd get trains or data but not both at once. B-)

    Besides, they ALREADY have LOTS of dark fibers buried alongside them. (Sprint developed from the Southern Pacific Railroad's own network, for starters.) Just rent a couple of 'em and run OC-192 (or whatever) to any convenient population center. That'll beat any concevable data rate you could get from the tracks.
  • No, Captain Kirk names his own price for Internet access.

    ---------///----------
    All generalizations are false.

  • by debugdave ( 153189 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @01:39PM (#793780)
    What a lot of people don't realize is how behind techonology wise a lot of rural communitys are. I used to live in Iowa, and there are parts where there is NO chance of Internet access. Even the bigger cities can't get anything abouve 56k. I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction, but I wonder how many other regions in the United States don't have access to a high-speed connection?
  • The speeds here are comparable to some cablemodems, and for similar prices. I wonder how they manage to do this, considering the wireless infastructure is far more difficult to set up than landlines are.
  • Even the bigger cities can't get anything abouve 56k. I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction, but I wonder how many other regions in the United States don't have access to a high-speed connection?

    Whoa there horsie, we're not all in the sticks. I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and am typing this on my nice AT&T @Home cable modem. Cedar Falls Utilities offers their own service as well. You can get DSL in West Ames, and I know Des Moines has AT&T@Home as well.

    My grandparents, in Ventura, Iowa, are limited to dial-up, and the best they can get, due to the phone line quality, is 26,400. Now that's painfully slow. They're only about 3 miles from the elevator though, so depending on range, this could work...
    ---
  • Quote from article:
    "For $40 a month the residential service provides an "always-on" connection at a speed of 128 kilobytes per second, which is comparable to cable and digital subscriber line access available in larger cities. An even faster speed of 256 kbps is offered for $65 a month.

    Commercial prices are $150 for service at the 256 kbps speed and $300 for service at 512 kbps."
    Umm... 128 kilobytes a second? 256 and 512 kilobytes... I think someone needs to fact check again... As much as I would love 5 meg a second skipping across grain elevators in Iowa, I don't think it's happening anytime soon.

    -Josh
  • Yes. I believe the University of Iowa and Iowa State are both Big-10 colleges and one of which (can't remember which one) had a very active Internet-based BBS over 10 years ago. That and Rutger's Quartz BBS were big time sinks for me then. =)

    Close! Iowa State University, located in Ames, (my alma mater) is in the Big 12. The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, is in the Big 10. The third state school is the University of Northern Iowa, where I work, is located in Cedar Falls, but I don't reccomend going there. :)

    The BBS you speak of is the legendary ISCA. You can telnet to it at whip.isca.uiowa.edu

    It used to be really popular, circa 1995, when there'd be 1500 people on at a time, and hundreds more waiting in the queue, but now it's usually around 300-500 at most.

    Just consider us the Sili-corn Valley. :)
    ---
  • Up my way in the Santa Cruz mountains, Gary down at the ISP & Feed Store [ihwy.com] tells me he's planning something similar, but will be locating the antennas along the ridgetop. This will allow him to serve everyone within a 10-mile radius with approximately a T-1 equivalent, but will require substantial upgrades to his own equipment, since he serves his entire customer base with a dual T-1 right now.

    You don't have to be in the rural midwest to have trouble getting broadband service. I'm right over the hill from the Santa Clara Valley. ("Silicon Valley" for you folks down in LA LA land.) DSL is theoretically available in my area, but in fact the copper's so antique that you can't get broadband unless you live right next door to the telco office.

  • Seems like Prairie iNet are using the 2.4 GHz band, which is generally unlicensed around the world - assuming they are using the same technology as Midcoast Wireless, a Maine ISP, which has a very useful FAQ [midcoast.net]


    This is all based on IEEE 802.11 technology, which is normally used for wireless LANs with a range of a few hundred feet. The trick here seems to be using more power and directional antennae so that you can go up to 9 miles (or maybe much more).


    One company making this sort of kit is Breezecom, who have an overview of wireless Internet access here [breezecom.com].


    This technology, along with the competing licensed LMDS technology, may make mincemeat of DSL and Cable - it involves no rights of way hassles, no cable laying, and can give very low latency plus bandwidths in the 1-2Mbps range. Having used Wireless LANs at conferences and trade shows, I found the latency and bandwidth very similar to a T1 line.


    For info on 802.11, see the Linux Wireless LAN FAQ [grmbl.be], which also has good links to generic WLAN info at the end. Although the technology for 802.11 long-distance (i.e. wireless local loop) is not identical, it should give you an idea of how things work.


    For info on LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution System), see the Webopedia entry for LMDS [internet.com], which has links to related pages. One new European telco that is rolling out LMDS quite aggressively is FirstMark [firstmark.net] - they are also doing cool things with MPLS VPNs, which is how I know about them since my company just sold them the software to manage this :) MPLS is a way of getting the best of the ATM and IP worlds at the same time.


    Low latency is important because it's a key determinant of web response time, particularly for sites with many small GIF buttons, and also because Internet routers tend to treat high-latency sessions less fairly, so they get even less bandwidth then they should. It's also essential to winning at Quake, which is clearly the critical driver here :)


    This story matters more for the technology than for the particular ISP using it - it will affect most Slashdot readers in the next year or so, particularly those not covered by DSL or cable. In the UK, BT is being astonishingly slow at rolling out ADSL, and the cable companies have very little coverage, so wireless technology may be the only way to get broadband for many people...

  • Can you use repeaters in this setup, or some sort of remote stations that link back to base via microwave links? This would make it easier to cover larger areas particularly in towns.

    I'm interested to see you are using ATM via the Newbridge kit - you might like to investigate MPLS, which is a way of combining ATM's fast forwarding mechanisms with IP's routing mechanisms. The result is that very large best effort networks and VPNs are very easy to set up - no need for a mesh of PVCs, you just plug them together and the routing sorts things out.

    MPLS is not currently so strong on the traffic engineering side, i.e. setting up the equivalent of PVCs to steer traffic along less utilised paths, or for guaranteed QoS or fast failover paths, but Juniper and Cisco routers can already do traffic engineering and the standards are coming along.

    More MPLS info is at http://www.mplsrc.com/
  • I work for a high speed wireless ISP in Toronto, Ontario, Canada named Maxlink [maxlink.com]. We offer a range of services, from 0-4mbps uncommited upto 10mbps commited rates. We also offer IP-VPN as well as other network services which are forthcoming.

    This is all done using a combination of Cisco [cisco.com] routers/switches for layer 3 stuff, and Newbridge [newbridge.com] switches for the layer 2 stuff. We use 46020 to mange the layer 2 stuff, and HP openview for the layer 3.

    All our customer sites have an antenna on the roof, which is connected to an NIU. The NIU handles all of the RF stuff. The NIU is connected to a Cisco 2924 by an OC-3. A port on the switch is connected to a Cicso 1605r in the users space by a 10mb connection. The users then come off that with their connection to whatever they need.

    The transmitting stations (BTSs) are located on the top of medium sized buildings spread throughout our 5 markets (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal). By the time we are done the expansion, we will have >60 BTS. Each of the BTSs can cover an area between 2 and 4.5 km out depending on the weather in the area. Vancouver, for example, has a lot of rain, but it's very small drops, and has a range for 4km. Toronto, however, has very heavy rain drops, and it's range is only 2.5km. (thats rain fade). Because of the frequency we use (28ghz), we are effected a lot more by weather than something like radio/etc.

    The BTS's are connected via OC-3 links to our 'core' where the data is sent off to the internet or through the internal network as required. We are a startup, so there is still a lot of development in the network, but we are currently hosting over 150 customers.

    The technology is also VERY line of sight - 1 or 2 degrees off is enough to drop the NIU off the network. Because of this, and a few other things, security is garunteed because as soon as line of sight is broken, which is needed to get the signal, the site drops and the bts stops sending anything other than a "ping" to try and connect. There is no way to 'snoop' because you have to have line of sight, as well as know a bunch of information about the network to break the (admitedly light) encryption.

    If you are interested in more info, you can email me and I'll see what I can do. If you are interested in our service, visit the web site :) :) (we do email, web, dns and voice services also) :) (shameless plug).



    We emerge from our mother's womb an unformatted diskette; our culture formats us.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @03:15PM (#793808) Journal
    I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction, but I wonder how many other regions in the United States don't have access to a high-speed connection?

    Lots.

    This isn't the first radio ISP for rural areas, by a number of years. (One rural southern valley got wired this way using spread-spectrum quite a few years back, starting from a link from the town, with its phone center, to a college tens of miles up the valley.)

    But it's nice to see it's catching on more generally.

    This idea has a beautiful symmetry with DSL.

    DSL is dandy for dense urban areas. It's distance limited and the costs rise with distance from the central sites, so you need a concentration of customers and infrastructure to be practical.

    Line-of-sight radio is similarly dandy for rural areas. It's limited by obstructions rather than distance, but in the absense of urban obstructions the costs are approximately constant out to the horizon. That's quite a distance if the central site is elevated - either by a tall structure on flat land, or a tall peak where things are bumpier. So you can collect enough customers in a sparsely-populated area to support a POP. If your area starts to populate, drop power and add more antennas, until things are thick enough to switch to providing DSL.

    (Now we just need solutions for people scattered in dense forest, deep mountaion valleys, spread WAY OUT on deserts, on small islands far from land, or moving about on the roads, skies, and high seas...)
  • by toofast ( 20646 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @01:44PM (#793810)
    Damn, yet another article that confuses kiloBytes and kilobits... At least, I sure hope it's a confusion, because 128 KBytes/sec is not slow at all.

    On another note, I'm just wondering how much money there is to be made servicing rural areas. I don't mean to discriminate, but there can't possibly be hundreds of thousands of subscribers (that wouldn't be rural, huh Jim?). But they have interesting technology ideas for what's involved.
  • by Wag ( 102501 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @01:45PM (#793811)
    Gain access to the net and clean out your colon at the same time. Cool.
  • Great, more Limbaugh fans. Actually, coming from rural America myself, I am glad to see the technology making inroads. I can see how this is effective for flatland areas, but what can be done for mountainous regions?

    I'm wondering if the technology allows for repeaters, essentially maintaining line of site through a third antenna. In Montana, where mountains can run down the middle of communities, the community antenna could be LOS with the mountain top which could then feed out to the rest of the community. If this is possible, what are the potential weather effects on one's internet connection.

  • Kansas.

    The parts of Kansas I've driven through had gentle rolling hills (either wheat or sunflowers as far as the eye could see) much like southern Iowa. Northern Iowa is much more flat than that. Kansas is close, but overall, I'd say that Iowa and Nebraska are more flat than Kansas. Just about every other state I can think of has exceptions with more terrain.

  • Just disguise it as a crack house or abandonded warehouse - it'll fit right in.
  • by sid crimson ( 46823 ) on Friday September 08, 2000 @03:29PM (#793819)
    Okay...

    Let's assume several people/businesses get the more expensive packages and the server infrastructure are rolled into the $10 mil, AND they get all 4000 customers right away... shall we call it $2.5 million/year?

    That means if they accrue NO extra monthly costs (bandwidth, hardware failure, tornado, wages) they can earn what they've spent in 4 years.

    But, what do these guys want to make? $50K/year seems low for that kind of effort, but maybe not in Iowa.... but let's stick with that. That's probably $450K/year including taxes, SSI, insurance...etc etc.

    Bandwidth for 4000 people at 128K... assuming no-one is downloading pr0n movies or their favorite warez & ISOs they would need about 2 T1s? If they offer their own news servers then add another T1. So... $40K/year?

    Office space... $15K/year.

    Staying up all night recovering from their first crash? Priceless.

    So I've tallied about $500K each year. There's a lot I left out, too, still they could be completely in the black in 15 years. Will there be a need for them for 15 years?

    I dunno, but I guess I can see the possibility of success, especially if they're the only game in town.

    -sid
  • There was an article in the paper here a year or so ago about how a number of the small towns here in Minnesota are actually better off than even the big cities because of their size and the fact that they're served by a smaller telephone company, which is not surprisingly often a coop.

    The size was important -- you needed enough businesses with data communications needs, but not enough that you get too much technological inertia. In other words, if all you have is a bar, gas station, country store, and feed & implement you don't have enough. If you have too many customers, it's cost prohobitive to implement new technology without quickly phasing out the old, and difficult to phase out the old with so many customers using it and not wanting to change (win 3.1 anyone?)

    Even more important was being served by a small telephone coop that was responsive to customer needs and able to use technology to stimulate local businesses. Big telcos see high tech investments in rural areas as a money sinkhole because they can't see the forest for the trees. Smaller entities have less capital to be concerned with, lower labor costs and better understanding of the local markets.

    Stimulating technology in rural areas was one of the interesting things; if I recall correctly a 2-drugstore operation (one in one town, one in the next town over) was totally linked with computerized inventory because the data services were so cheap. Something that in most towns would be done on pencil and paper.

    Anyway, it can work the other way around.
  • This is a pretty cool idea. I don't think a lot of people realize exactly how much technology goes into farming. Stop by a John Deere dealership and look at the tractors. I'm talking the nice big ones. You'll see everything from GPS units, Satellite hookups, and Weather computers. Some measure moisture and exactly how much seeds to plant, etc. I've been in one that gave the guy a view of his field from above so he knew exactly where to plant or what needs more water. 90% of the work is still done by hand, but at least it keeps the mistakes down and increases productivity.

    As for Iowa being flat...I can tell you after having been a runner for 16 years in this state, it ain't flat:)

  • "Many Iowa residents have been left behind by high-speed Internet providers simply because of where they live," said Pederson. "Without high-speed Internet access, we can't expect many of those communities to survive."

    Well, it has been a while since grade school, but last I remember, the basic necessities were 'food, water, shelter'. The Internet is pretty cool, but I don't think the sudden removal of 24-access to pr0n is gonna finish off a handful of farmers.

    I don't know, if I go five or six minutes without access to pornography, I just about curl up and die.

    The amusing thing though is that they think that because people don't get something they've been surviving without for aeons they, likewise, will curl up and die. It's an awfully arrogant attitude. However, it will be beneficial if I ever have the misfortune to be stuck out in the middle of the midwest, and need to check out bangedup.com [bangedup.com] or something.

    Sometimes, you just have to get your fix.

  • Southeast MN - One bigish almost city - Rochester. Big IBM site, Mayo clinic... that alone helps skew the results 8^)

    (just another highly edyoomikated Minnesotan (formerly from NJ)
    --
  • heh I agree that Katz is even worse. But I do think there is plenty more relevant news than Katz, this piece, and the various rants. I mean, come on wake up slashdot it's "the world".
  • Hey, Ma! The net went down again! Oh, it's coming up again! Going down again, dadblast the consarned, confounded luck!

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