Neural Connect Networks was one of three finalists in the NYCx Governors Island Connectivity Challenge to bring high-speed, low-cost wireless service to Governors Island in 2018. Founder Tyler Kratz spoke with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about his company's involvement in the challenge and strategy for deploying networks. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Kratz: There's really, kind of, three reasons (we were attracted to the challenge.) This is our neighborhood. My company owns and operates the Wi-Fi network on the Staten Island Ferry. We have networks in southern Manhattan, and we're also putting more networks in St. George. So, the empire outlets that's going in. So, this is our back door. This is our neighborhood. So, that's number one.
Number two, we think that this is a very unique opportunity because it's greenfield deployment. We can deploy amazing technologies without having to worry about legacy systems, and have to worry about RF interference. It's very unique, right? You have something that's this close to very populous centers, but yet has nothing to interfere with legacy or RF.
Thirdly, and it's a challenge for our company to say, 'We have carte blanche here. We have this amazing opportunity. What can we do? How can we show the best of the best right now?' So, it's really kind of the three reasons that we were attracted to the 'moonshot.'
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As for why our technology is unique, I can't speak about our competitors, but we actually deployed four networks. We didn't deploy just a Wi-Fi network. We did deploy a Wi-Fi network, and we think it's great. We use Ruckus gear, and I was getting 450 megabits per second on iPhone. It's pretty good stuff.
The second network that we had deployed is CBRS. We were given a STA from the FCC, so a temporary license. We got very lucky, it was fastidiously adjudicated and granted. And, to the best of our knowledge, it's the first time that CBRS has been deployed in New York, certainly with the city agency. That's 3.5, that's going to be good stuff in the future. Everyone's phone is going to have it on it. So, we deployed that network.
Third one is IoT. We're using Allora technology. And, that's just for any IoT device. So, you walk around and we're covering half the island with that.
And, then, the fourth network is a small cell, so a licensed carrier. I'm not sure if you've been using your phone out here, but it doesn't work all that great. So, when you were by our installation, you get five bars, and it was pushing 50 megabits per second on one of the carriers. So, those are the four networks.
And, why is that unique? We want to use best practices. But, more than anything, it's the combination of all four. People don't care if they're on 3.5 or on 2.4 or on Wi-Fi. They want their phones to work. And, the way to do that is combining these networks, doing them at the same time, make sure that things are coordinated both for aesthetics and also to make sure the technology works seamlessly.
SEE: The race to 5G: Inside the fight for the future of mobile as we know it (TechRepublic)
Attachments are a real issue. We operate Wi-Fi networks in business-improvement districts. Downtown Brooklyn's our network. And, if you want to go in the poles, you have to have a pole franchise, right? Or, you can gift it, but you can't make money or revenue; makes it difficult to justify that kind of investment. So, the attachment is a real issue. You look for pole attachments, or if not you got to deal with private property. It's a street fight. You got to go out there and you got to cut these deals. It's very, very difficult, anyone tells you otherwise isn't being honest or isn't that bright.
One way to do this is, you go to rooftops and you use wireless technology to move a lot of data around. I think all three companies here show that you can bring a lot of data on there very easily. For my money, this is the most wired place in the world right now. With these three networks operating, our four networks on top of the other two Wi-Fi networks. So, per capita, or per square footage, this is literally the most connected place in the world for this week. We were allowed a week and a half or so to deploy it. The rest of the city is not going to operate like that. But, using wireless back call is a way to really cut down the time and get it out there.
But, technologies like CBRS are really going to change things. You need perhaps 20% as many as Wi-Fi. So, since the attachment points very well might be the gaining factor, deploying 20 or 25% as many as the Wi-Fi APs goes a long way. Cuts down on how many you have to put out there. But, it's going to be a difficult task when you especially get in these urban areas. And, that's why you have gap in, you know, these urban canyons are very difficult to conquer. And, then so in the outer boroughs, you know, the financial economics haven't been played out the way that everyone would like it to see as in Manhattan. So, it's a very difficult job.
We're talking about Wi-Fi and ideas to people and our clients are concerned that it's going to be so polluted that in three to four years it's not going to be of the quality of service that is going to be interesting to them. Hopefully it's longer than that. But, there's a finite amount of capacity that these frequencies have, and it's unlicensed. 3.5 is still being worked through. But, the regime is going to involved light licensing and some coordination. That's going to be in everyone's phone within 36 months, okay? And, they're going to sell these frequencies hopefully next summer, or there around.
SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
So, the chip sets are going to start supporting different technologies that are really going to aid this. The Wi-Fi, once again, is very polluted. We're deploying in a very dense business improvement district, and it's tough. The quality of service isn't there. So, technology is really the way out of this. You can densify to some point, but you're causing interference on yourself at some point, too. So, the way forward is definitely different spectrum, different technologies, be that CBRS, be that millimeter, be that 5G. 5G there's plenty of spectrum available, and as they deploy that hopefully for a while, it will be a clean experience. And, that will be something that either, if not a permanent solution, it might be a five-year, ten-year stop gap.
We come out here and in 10 years we deploy $50,000 worth of kit, but all anyone wants to talk about is this $50 wrap. We're very sensitive to the ecological nature and the historic nature of the island. We took a photo of the brick, we send the file to a guy and he prints it. Sends it to us. And, you wrap it. It's simply just a representation that we're here to make sure that we conform to the aesthetics. We care about the ecology of the island, it's very important. We have a network up in the Greenway of Boston, and when you're operating a park like that, a park like this, you don't want ugly equipment there. Everyone wants this great technology experience, but at the same time, you don't want it to be a blight. So, this is just simply saying we understand that portion of it and there are ways we can address that."
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Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.