Conducting a demonstration of “white space” transmission in Thurman at the home of Eric Lohrey, broadband network engineer Fred Englemann (left) examines performance data on his laptop while Thurman town supervisor Evelyn Wood (right) observes. Those attending the demonstration said they were impressed by the speed and capability of the wireless transmission of Internet videos, voice and data. A similar public demonstration is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 14 at the Thurman Town Hall, and all are invited. Photo by Sally Feihel
In a demonstration Monday Dec. 30 of “white space” broadband technology, a group of local residents at a hillside rural home fired up a laptop computer, a smartphone, an iPod, and a Kindle tablet, all connected to the Internet and they simultaneously downloaded movies, videos and email, while holding a videoconference.
The result? The streaming video and movie didn’t stall or hesitate, and data transfer was lightning fast — some said better than their high-speed cable service in metropolitan areas.
The demonstration was conducted by network engineer Fred Englemann, who is contracted to build a “white space” broadcast system deep in rural Thurman. The results discredited rumors circulating in town that “white space” broadcast would be slow and impractical.
The demonstration was accomplished under more challenging circumstances than called for under pending system plans. The signal was broadcast farther than two miles, twice the distance specified in the network construction plans.
The contract calls for providing 80-plus households in northern Thurman, homes that are far beyond the reach of DSL or cable.
Streaming video, but no stalling
Signal tests performed at the home indicated no data loss nor dropped signals — and fast upload speeds.
This is the first phase of a project launched by the Thurman town board to connect the citizens of the sparsely settled town to the Internet.
The project received a $200,000 state grant to build the network and subsidize about half the cost of each household’s receiver and signal processor.
Thurman Town Supervisor Evelyn Wood was present for the demonstration, held at the house of Eric Lohrey.
“I was very impressed with the demonstration,” Wood said. “We had phones, tablets and a laptop all accessing the Internet at the same time, and everybody was doing something different: streaming video, Netflix, FaceTime, YouTube, and there was no time lag, no stalling,” she said. “The tests that were conducted showed that speeds exceeded DSL capabilities — and there was no data-packet loss.”
She said it was “exciting” to see five devices working online at the same time with no hesitation.
“To hear people say what a difference high-speed Internet access will make in their lives — it’s very meaningful,” she said.
No more slow dial-up
Of the 400 homes in Thurman, about 300 of them have no Internet access, except for dial-up, which is extremely slow and virtually unusable.
Shiela Flanagan, proprietor of Nettle Meadow Farm which supplies gourmet specialty cheeses nationally, was present to see the demonstration. For years, she endured dial-up — it forced her to spend 10 hours per day downloading data for one national client — Williams Sonoma, and the incredibly slow Internet connection, she said, forced her to drop them as a customer.
“I was impressed,” she said of the white-space demonstration. “Everyone was using different computers and other devices, and the transmission was extremely clear.”
She said that she tested the white-space signal’s speed by uploading information to send six packages via UPS.
“On dial-up, it would take two hours to send six packages, but on the white space, I could have done 20 packages in 5 minutes. We certainly are very excited about this technology. The lack of high-speed Internet access is the single thing that’s holding our business back from substantial growth.”
Wireless broadband could grow jobs
Flanagan said she anticipates that white-space wireless Internet access will provide a dramatic change in not only her business, but the lives of townspeople.
“This will allow us to expand our business, create an Internet store, and provide another local job,” she said. “And this won’t cost the town taxpayers anything.”
Town officials noted that a $200,000 state grant will pay for the engineering and construction of the white-space system’s first phase of 80+ homes, plus it is to pay about half of the $650-or-so cost for the receivers and other equipment that the homeowners are to purchase.
Sally Feihel, who during the demonstration streamed an episode of a classic Andy Griffith Show on her iPod — while a videoconference was underway and someone else was downloading a movie — said she was surprised with the capability of the white-space transmission to accomplish so many tasks simultaneously.
“It was fast and didn’t skip a beat,” she said. “I was quite impressed.”
Also attending the demonstration was Wini Martin, co-owner of Martin’s Lumber. She said she was very pleased with how well the technology worked.
“It was just awesome,” she said. “After this system is up and running, I’ll be able to have my grand-kids watching YouTube while I download a movie on Netflix. Also, I want to want to promote our business in a broader way — This technology is great.”
Children’s education also a concern
Her husband Gary said that a reliable, fast Internet connection was vital for employment, commerce and education in rural communities like Thurman. He noted that of the 400 households in Thurman, about 300 of them are now without high-speed Internet, he said.
“White-space technology appears to be an extremely powerful engine for use in rural communities,” he said. “The Adirondacks are starving for jobs, and Adirondack businesses need high-speed broadband access,” he said. “I’m dismayed about the rumblings around town against this technology that we must have to survive.”
He added that as a school board member for 10 years, he was well aware how the town’s children needed high-speed Internet access to stay competitive in today’s world.
“Not having broadband puts our kids at a disadvantage,” he said. “This white-space technology gives them a fighting chance.”
Engineer: broadband is vital
This demonstration was conducted at the off-the-grid home of Eric Lohrey on Garnet Lake Road. He’s a civil engineer who works for clients nationally from his house. He said that the demonstration proved to him that white space offered advantages to his present satellite broadband link.
Lohrey said a white-space connection would allow him to conduct face-to-face consultations with other professionals around the nation.
“Satellite is functional, but not up to the speed we need,” he said. “I’m looking forward to video-conferencing with engineers in California.”
Lohrey said that white space has no data caps or throttling, and no extra charges for extensive uploading and downloading data, a necessity in his business. Lohrey conducts engineering and design work of airports, bridges and highways for a variety of clients, he said.
“White space will make a lot of difference to me,” he said. ”With white-space broadband, there will be substantial savings plus the ability to keep up with technology in the engineering field — I use a lot of web-based tools. As time goes by, more and more functions are done over the web, and you need a decent connection to use them.”
Wood said she was pleased with the engineering of the system, the progress of the project to connect Thurman households, and the results of the demonstration.
“This project is really about the needs of the people here in town and meeting those needs,” she said. “They want to be assured they can have broadband access, and that it’s fast and reliable.”
A similar public demonstration of white-space technology is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 14 at the Thurman Town Hall, and all are invited.