EDGE FiberNet was one of three finalists in the NYCx Governors Island Connectivity Challenge to bring bring high-speed, low-cost wireless service to Governors Island in 2018. Ted Flomenhaft, the company’s CEO, spoke with TechRepublic’s Dan Patterson in March about the company’s history and future plans of building networks in New York City. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Flomenhaft: EDGE (FiberNet) is a telephone company. We’re a facilities-based CLEC technically, and we were founded in 1996. Our offices were on John Street, and on 9/11 most of our network, our clients needed to move, as a result of the debris in the downtown, and we moved to Dumbo, where we brought in our own dark fiber and lit it ourselves. We had the only high-capacity, high-availability circuit in the neighborhood. We decided to go into the internet service provider business, where we became the dominant high-speed internet in Dumbo.

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We rely on vendors, rely on our assessment of vendors as technologies, because our network is a high-speed switched infrastructure, which is fiber-optic-cable-fed. At the end points, when we distribute services using wireless technology, we source the best technology in the field.

For the kind of backhaul that supports Wi-Fi, we’ve determined that a company by the name of IgniteNet is by far the best backhaul supportive of Wi-Fi, and what differentiates the technology in Wi-Fi is, Wi-Fi companies by-and-large are talking about mesh technology.

We believe mesh technology is very limited and is limited because it dedicates the best bandwidth, your 5GHz spectrum. Wi-Fi is 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum; if you dedicate your 5GHz spectrum to distributing services backhaul to your various Wi-Fi devices, we believe that that will contribute to a tremendous amount of interference and limited use of your Wi-Fi resources.

IgniteNet has a 60GHz technology, which is very low-cost; 60GHz technology is very high capacity, it’s zero-interference. They’re the first to break the $1,000 per unit price barrier. Their units cost $500, $550, and their units support both 60GHz backhaul and 5GHz Wi-Fi distribution, or that 5GHz can be used for redundancy, if you want to use it that way, all in the same low-cost unit, whereas Cisco products of the same power, and Ruckus’ products of the same power, and Aruba, these are the very high-end Wi-Fi. Distribution products cost upwards of $1,500 and in some cases, upwards of $2,000 per unit, and those units dedicate a good portion of the 5GHz portion of the radio entirely to feeding services to the other radios, rather than distributing services to hand-held devices, laptops, and users that need to use that spectrum for service.

Governors Island is a blank slate. There’s practically nothing here in terms of connectivity resources, so unlike other situations where you need to integrate legacy technology and legacy infrastructure into your plans and create an evolutionary plan, which really hinders your ability to reach-for-the-moon in terms of your design.

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A blank slate permits you to simply embrace the very best that technology has to offer now, with a unobstructed migration plan, to innovations we know are developing in the future, like smart city and sensor technology and internet of things, smart everything.

This is a unique opportunity to deliver the best possible network and the best possible migration plan.

There are lots of logistical challenges. On Governors Island, the biggest logistical challenge are trees. We love our trees. We don’t want to disrupt our trees but there’s a canopy of trees, and 5GHz and 60GHz technology don’t like trees, so one of the challenges is to arrange line-of-site, and we want to use wireless distribution that is unobstructed by trees.

Careful planning, redundancy, and working with the arborists who want to protect the trees, protect the canopy, and working out a smart workaround to when you encounter those kinds of logistical challenges.

There’s a big problem with wireless. All Wi-Fi now is 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and that spectrum is becoming increasingly crowded. The devices distributed are becoming increasingly powerful, to overcome the interference of other more powerful devices. This is a race to the bottom, and unless there’s another spectrum, for instance, 5G technology, which is a much lower-band technology, Wi-Fi is quite limited. Eventually, 5G, 5GHz Wi-Fi technology has a limited connectivity density.

My vision of the future is, the immediate future, is not using mesh, but using 60GHz distribution of backhaul to Wi-Fi devices. Unless you’re in a very isolated, moderate-use scenario where you’ll have sufficient availability for your users and you can peel off sufficient amount of capacity for your backhaul.

(Note: Flomenhaft is also the CEO of IgniteNet, which is partnering with EDGE FiberNet.)

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