In areas where there are obstructions or interference, Vivato installed shorter range access points, called picocells and microcells. The picocells are standard Wi-Fi access points in hardened outdoor enclosures, with a reach of 300 to 500 feet (91 meters to 152 meters), and the microcells are access points with directional antennas designed to reach 1,500 to 2,000 feet to reach particular buildings in built-up areas, said Vivato's Ryan.
The low cost of the Wi-Fi clients was a key factor in Columbia's decision, according to Husted. The utility ran a small trial of another wireless broadband technology and found that it worked but represented three to six times the equipment cost to customers, he said.
The service is available now, with Columbia REA already up and running as a customer, Husted said. Service plans, all offering best-effort service and equal bandwidth upstream and downstream, will range from 256K bps (bits per second) for $39.95 per month to 1.5M bps for $259.95 per month. Multiple clients in the same enterprise will be able to share a single account.
Wi-Fi has limitations as a broadband access technology because of interference but is well suited to remote monitoring, and the combination could create a good business opportunity, said Tad Neeley, an analyst at RHK Inc., in South San Francisco, California.
"The Wi-Fi chipset is so inexpensive today that you can put it in just about any device now," Neeley said.