When the cost of maintaining a fibre optic network soared, Toronto-based George Brown College turned to what it's calling "virtual fibre" to keep buildings on campus connected. The school deployed GE60 wireless links from BridgeWave, a California-based provider of Gigabit Ethernet outdoor wireless hardware. The deployment, completed in just a couple of months, resulted in identical performance to the previous fibre optic network, but at a much lower cost, says Andrew Riem, manager of infrastructure and operations for IT services at George Brown College. "It had the high capacity we were looking for because it would be serving an entire building which could hold 500 to 600 computers," says Riem. Before this, the school leased a fibre optic network which operated just fine, except the provider changed the billing scheme to include minimum distance, he explains. The result was the leasing cost would rise to C$20,000 (NZ$26,000) a month. Montréal-based engineering and distribution firm Trispec Communications was brought on for the deployment. Besides the virtual fibre being more cost effective, another attraction was the quick time to deployment, says Riem. And so far, since the deployment of four GE60 wireless links was completed in 2006, the network has functioned as it should and successfully supported the school's increased use of bandwidth-hugging activities like in-class video, distance learning and information-sharing applications, he says. The school has since expanded the network with two additional links, resulting in six connected buildings from the previous four. Riem notes that George Brown continues to use the fibre optic network to connect its main campuses. Had the school continued to use its fibre optic network in the same manner, the annual cost would have been about a million dollars a year, says BridgeWave's senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Gregg Levin. "Radio links that are C$20-30,000 to install is going to pay back very quickly compared to those high service costs." BridgeWave's customers tend to fall in those verticals where the business requires multiple buildings, such as education, health care, state and local governments, and network operators, says Levin. The increasing use of Web 2.0 applications is a driver behind many customer network upgrades, he says, however, a large extent of the network traffic is in fact private LAN traffic, "in other words, taking this LAN and stretching it between buildings". "So we're trying to give people a full fibre speed gigabit but in a wireless form, so when it's difficult or expensive to get fibre, they have a lower cost and fast to deploy alternative." Levin acknowledges that although the network can be subject to interference at lower frequencies, the radio links operate at a higher frequency of 60GHz. And, the antennas send out beams with only one degree in width "which makes it almost impossible to be interfered with because anyone else using the frequency is probably not going to be lined up right on top of you in close proximity," he explains. This also means that many links can be deployed and businesses can reuse their spectrum. "In the same area, there can be multiple links that are just pointed a little differently in direction, and they don't interfere with each other either," says Levin.
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