How it works

Community Based, Affordable, Rapidly Deployed Networks

Althea is a holistic, multi-stakeholder system that empowers communities to build sustainable networks, quicker and more affordably.

Instead of one telco owning all of the infrastructure and the service in a network, many different entities can participate and earn credit. This holistic approach supports digital inclusion, and enables communities to build networks in agile and sustainable ways by utilizing private property. Althea creates a bandwidth marketplace, decoupling the service layer from the infrastructure of the network, and focuses on custom, community based solutions.

From a point of high speed connection in town, neighbors can relay signals to farther out areas.

All connections are private and encrypted. People that host relay antennas can reduce their bill or get additional credit.

Local and Resilient

Redundant connections automatically failover and keep the network running smoothly.

FAQ

1. How is this different from other internet providers?

In legacy networks, the infrastructure and service is owned by one entity, often an incumbent telco where customer service is located miles away. In an Althea network, however, the infrastructure of the network can be hosted by many different people in the community and the revenue and ownership of the network stays local. This multi-stakeholder model creates more sustainable economic systems, and is modular and adaptable to best fit your community. Althea networks are also locally governed and operated, giving people choice and supporting digital inclusion.

Althea’s unique cooperative vision for the internet empowers sustainable, community governed networks.

2. Why do it this way?

Rural people should have the same access to broadband as cities. Centralized ISPs struggle to make the economics of providing connectivity to rural communities work, and often decide that the capital expenditure is not worth it. Broadband connectivity is essential to everyday life for everything from farming to education. By using private property, Althea networks lets communities build networks in an agile way, to affordably build to areas with a smaller, more spread out population.

3. Typical Cost and Speed?

Althea networks are built with our cutting edge technology to provide the fastest speed and best user experience. Using fixed wireless, in rural areas, Althea networks provide an average of 50 - 70Mbps. In urban areas, this is often 200-300Mbps. Using fiber, Althea can be Gbps. The cost structure is similar to a pre-paid phone, with a small monthly fee for service and and pay for what you use. (cost per GB averages 5 to 11 cents) Most families pay about $30-$50 a month.

4. Where is the internet connection sourced from?

We do our best to find creative options to provide the main, incoming wholesale connection. We often work with municipal, open access and local middle mile carriers. Althea’s software load balances, provides failover, and automatically chooses the best connection for you on a second-by-second basis.

5. What is a relay?

Home and business owners can host extra hardware like outgoing cables or sector antennas that broadcast connectivity to nearby neighbors and add redundancy to the network. These hosts, or relays, earn money for being part of the network, which can offset their own connection costs or even earn some additional income. This is similar to hosting solar panels and earning credit for contributing electricity back to the grid. Your local network operators help relays maintain their connections and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Extra redundancy is added in where possible, to ensure there is failover and resilience in the network.

6. Are connections secure?

All connections within Althea networks are fully encrypted using Wireguard, and we are committed to net neutrality. Relays have no ability to observe or censor your traffic and network operators must abide by Althea's traffic transparency policy.

7. Does it have to be antennas?

Althea is a platform for ISPs to utilize and networks can be built with whatever hardware works best for the community. This can include fixed wireless, ethernet cables, and even fiber.


Planning and Implementation

Step 1: Assessment (2-3 days)

FCC and other reported data is inaccurate and often does not give a complete understanding of exactly where there is a need.

Reach out to local school board and educational leaders who can give a quick perspective into the needs of the community. County commissioners, local city mayors and managers, and state representatives may have already identified “pain point” areas that need networks. Starting a Facebook group or page which solicits the voices of the community can also be a great place to get started.

Locate a local technical help for the management of the network. These local network operators are automatically paid a monthly fee through Althea’s software and we provide full tier one tech support for operators. This can often be someone already performing IT, camera installs, or computer services in your area. Althea is very easy to use even for someone with no prior knowledge of networking. We provide education, tier 1 support and dashboard tools for the network operator.

Step 2: Planning (1 to 2 weeks)

Once an area has been identified, we set up a sign-up website, like www.althea.net/clatskanie. Interested subscribers can sign up, and get easily routed to a calendar app to sign up for an installation or a call to answer questions. This becomes an easy way to manage new potential subscribers and get the word out about the new network.

Finding a wholesale connection can often be the most challenging part of starting a network, however, there are quick options that are based on using resources that already have connection. We can find the creative solutions that are the best fit for your community. A public building like a library, school, university, or city hall. Working together with the appropriate contacts you can build out a sustainable solution that can provide some revenue and utilize public space and bandwidth capacity. A public wifi-hotspot can be built alongside the network, providing immediate resources to people needing to access the internet. This may be a slower option, because in many cases public entities are overwhelmed with other aspects of the crisis.

An on-net business. Many businesses are experiencing slow downs and extra income from roof lease or providing free internet can be a welcome proposition. Contact the wholesale department of the fiber provider to negotiate a rapid provisioning of the connection for wholesale use. For an “on-net” building this can often be as little as 1 to 2 weeks. Building of the main infrastructure can take place while the service order for wholesale connection is moving through the system, so you are ready to provide subscribers with broadband as soon as the network comes online.

Current ISPs. Often it is not economically viable for the incumbent ISP to service an area using legacy methods, but they are happy to grow their network using Althea’s unique model. This can be a win-win situation for everyone involved and many ISPs are happy to discuss how this could be arranged.

Getting equipment and installing. Together with our consultants, we can plan, engineer, and source gear for your network. Most household equipment can then be purchased at buy.althea.net by subscribers, and shipped pre-configured to the network operator. Because these networks can be built from “neighbor-to-neighbor” instead of large towers or along public right of way, the system is easier to maintain, and affordable and quick to build.

At this point, you have a working network that can start quickly and grow sustainably.

How long does that take?

Other than the backhaul, an Althea network can be built in as little as a few weeks. We don’t have to worry about building permits, large cash financing, right of way, or coordinating with government or utilities.

What are the hard costs for setting up a new town?

Modeling out a typical 100 person network puts the total cost of hardware at roughly $20k, however Althea networks decentralize both the cost and the revenue, and the cost of the subscriber equipment is usually paid by the subscriber themselves. In the majority of networks operated by Hawk Networks itself, we model out a 1/2 subsidized equipment rate, so we can keep take rates higher. While it varies by network, typically an initial startup investment of $5k will bootstrap the start of the network.

Hardware

What are all of the hardware components you rely on?
What do each of them do, where are they useful, and what do they cost?

Althea’s unique software platform combines many network appliances into one package. Every Althea device is fully capable of acting as a gateway, router, and customer CPE all at once.

  • To provide maximum flexibility our most common target is consumer routers flashed with the Althea firmware. We support a variety of affordable devices, so we can deploy even in the developing world. althea.net/firmware lists our supported routers with links to Amazon for prices.
  • Althea is radio or cable agnostic. Any kind of fiber, coaxial, ethernet, or bridged radios will work to connect Althea routers.
  • buy.althea.net will give you insight into our basic gear we commonly use.
  • Large scale exit and gateway gear capable of 5, 10, or 100gbps, throughput can be found here - althea.net/enterprise