Althea networks are maintained by organizers in their communities, who work with local partners that host infrastructure that relays bandwidth. Organizers don’t get paid for forwarding bandwidth, but they can collect a $10-$20 (these rates can be changed) fixed monthly payment from every router on their network. This money allows them to spend time helping people with technical issues that arise, and get more users onto the network.
Setting up an Althea network can be separated into several phases:
Planning and Outreach - This phase involves locating an ideal site for the gateway, which is the role in the network of connecting a wholesale fiber connection (backhaul) and the initial broadcast point. This phase also involves community outreach and cultivating pre-registrations so a user base will be available upon buildout.
Building - Network organizers build the sector antennas at the gateway and install connecting line-of-sight antennas on users homes. Althea networks are versatile, and equipment can be purchased and run by organizers or they can work with local partners and users to purchase their own.
Growth - Organizers partner with local home and business owners to become relays. Relays get paid automatically for forwarding bandwidth to neighbors, providing a natural incentive for growth and redundancy. Throughout the the phases, Althea organizers play the role of curator of the network, helping to install new users, providing support and encouraging growth. Often the organizers will elect to run some of the infrastructure, like the gateway node, themselves to bootstrap the initial deployment and increase their own profitability.
Whether you choose to run some of the infrastructure yourself, or encourage local partners to do so, it’s important to understand the roles within the network.
Gateway - An Althea router that is connected to a wholesale internet connection (backhaul) and broadcasting to relays and subscribers within the network. Paid by the GB for forwarding bandwidth.
Relay - An Althea router that receives bandwidth from another Althea router and then forwards it along. Paid by the GB, often at a lesser rate than that of the Gateway node. Relays can use their router for their own internet connection as well as earn money by forwarding bandwidth to neighbors.
Subscriber or End User - Households and businesses that receive internet connection from a relay or gateway. They pay by the GB of use.
During the planning phase, it’s important to evaluate the viability of a network both in terms of the topology and market. A viable and sustainable network will have the ability to access backhaul, reasonable geography for line of sight antennas, and a good market fit.
Locating backhaul involves a quoting process from local fiber providers or finding a strategic partner. Costs can vary, so start by obtaining multiple quotes from fiber providers and researching municipal fiber and open access options. A good place to start is to search the larger providers like Zayo in the US or TeleMex in South America. You can also contact your municipality’s IT department, as they will have a good idea of what is available in both the public and private sector.
Home and business connections are traffic shaped for many users and do not allow for resale, so shop for a dedicated bandwidth connection, called “DIA” or dedicated internet access. For larger networks, transport could be considered, which is a point to point connection to a data center. Most connections are sold with a two to five year lease, and a MRC, or monthly recurring cost. There may be one time costs associated with the build out of the connection, termed NRC, or non-recurring cost. It is also sold by bandwidth throughput, such as 500Mbps or 1Gbps. The desired throughput for subscribers and the amount of subscribers you hope to reach will determine your needs.
Beyond traditional fiber, there are a variety of creative options that could be considered. A strategic partner, like a nearby WISP, medical center, or university, may may be a good option to get started.
Find out more about obtaining backhaul with this helpful video, or contact us for suggestions.
Most Althea networks will use line of sight antennas for the gateway and relays to propagate the bandwidth. Althea is agnostic to the means in which bandwidth is forwarded, so in very dense housing situations you may elect for ethernet or coaxial cables to relay between homes, or in the case of a MDU (multiple dwelling unit) between apartments. There are also options to use licensed spectrum for non line of sight or near line of sight antennas, however, this is often a costly approach.
Most countries leave the 2.4 and 5Ghz spectrum available for unlicensed use and their are a variety of inexpensive radios and antennas that can be used. The gateway and relays will use sector antennas, which are directional antennas that allow for multiple connections. These antennas need line of sight to connect, so it’s important to find either a good location that can reach enough locations to make investment in the equipment viable. This location doesn’t have to be the gateway. One of the benefits and differences of an Althea network is the ability to propagate bandwidth in a flexible way by using multiple relays to reach areas your gateway can’t. You can see this flexibility demonstrated in our Clatskanie and Medellin networks.
A great way to get an idea of the line of sight of your antennas is to use Google Earth’s viewshed feature, which estimates the line of sight capabilities of different locations. You can learn how to use this feature in this short video.
Start by evaluating the current broadband market in your community. In the US, broadbandnow.com is a good resource for the current ISP choices and their prices. Based on the current offers in your area, determine whether you can compete on price, speed, or local service. You can also get a sense of approximately what fees for bandwidth and service the market can support. With this knowledge, you can build a viable economic model. This blog post and our case studies can be helpful planning tools. Understanding how Althea’s metered pricing works can also be helpful to building your own unique model.