Free WiFi

Executive Summary
The goal of this proposed project is to provide Hayden Island residents, visitors and shoppers with “free” WiFi while providing a “hot” communications back-up for emergencies. Here’s a shorter PDF version of this paper.

This paper proposes four WiFi hotspots on Hayden Island that can provide “free” internet access. No cellular or land-lines are used. No landline power required. The hotspots are solar powered.

This $12,000 system is designed to work after a major earthquake, using satellite internet connected to four hotspots. Ad revenue is anticipated to cover operating expenses of $200-$300 a month.

It’s modeled for maximum sustainability. It does not require ANY subscription revenue. Advertisers pay for the service.

Project Overview
This proposed project would use Hayden Island’s RV park WiFi network as a model for the whole island. It differs in that it provides internet access using a consumer satellite rather than a DSL or Cable modem. Primary service would use Gigabit fiber to the central hub. The satellite would provide back-up. Digital signage provides the revenue.

A satellite-based internet terminal on the roof of a hotel (or a tallish building like Best Buy or Home Depot) would enable 4-6 hotspots to be connected to the hub wirelessly. The system would operate without land lines, cellular connections or AC power and provide emergency information and communications after an event like a large earthquake.

The $99/mo ViaSat satellite internet service is cheaper than cellular data and works when cellular is down.

Satellite internet access is still relatively slow and expensive compared to virtually all other options, including Comcast, CenturyLink, Stephouse Wireless or Google Fiber. Those providers would supply our primary feed.

Satellite internet has one thing landlines and cellular don’t offer: it will work if there’s no power or landlines are down. Satellite internet is used as a backup to the landline. A load-balancing router automatically kicks in the satellite link if the landline goes down.

HughesNet Gen5 is the first and (so far) the only U.S. satellite Internet service to offer 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload – from coast-to-coast. Plans range from 10 to 250 GB/month with the same 25 Mbps speed on every plan. If monthly plan data is exceeded, service continues at a reduced speed until the next billing cycle.

A second innovation is cloud control of remote access points and seamless roaming. This provides users with the highest level of security, and the convenience of freely roaming between hotspots without having to “sign in”.

A third innovation is digital signage. It provides the revenue that makes the free WiFi network sustainable. A 16″, USB 3.0 powered portable LED monitor ($150) may be driven with a low power Samsung Chromebook or Lenovo Flex 11 ($270), running Chrome Sign Builder, a digital signage utility, allows you to schedule and display content across your managed Chrome devices. An 18.4″ Samsung tablet with LTE connections ($350) might be another option.

Combining satellite hubs, cloud-controlled hotspots, and digital signage, this solar-powered WiFi hotspot system should be available through the apocalypse AND make money.

Self-sustaining operation
Ad revenue is expected to pay for monthly operation. Monthly operating costs are estimated to be $200 – $300. With a dozen different advertisers, each paying $20-$80/monthly, revenue is expected to cover operating costs. A 501(c)3 WiFi operating company would provide the public service elements and enhance funding opportunities for a demonstration project.

Ad revenue would be provided with digital signage using screens like Samsung’s $450, 19-inch Android Table which might generate $100-$200/month for each hotspot kiosk. Additional revenue might be generated through an associated website.

Digital signage might be a better model than a touchscreen tablet operated by users. Let people use their own phones to search for information.

Ad revenue in this budget system is estimated to generate a total of $200-$1000/month for four hotspots ($50-$250 for each hotspot per month). A modest goal.

This proposal combines a high capacity satellite terminal with four, solar-powered hotspots at strategic locations around the island. Perhaps two Kiosks would be located on the West side (at the shopping center’s street furniture and near Jantzen Beach Moorage or the business park), while the two on the East side might be located at the Red Lion or Oxford Suites, with another near Columbia Crossing or Lotus Isle Park.

More Kiosks could be added after their cost/effectiveness is proven.

The total front-end cost for the satellite terminal and 4 self-contained hotspots is estimated at $12,000. If spread over 3 years, that would amortize at approximately $350/month. It would demonstrate sustainability if, after 18 months, each Kiosk generated approximately $150/month ($600/month total). A grant covering initial front-end costs would show the viability of the self-sustaining model.

Hayden Island, Portland’s only island community, is strategically important. It is the foundation for the Interstate-5 bridge, connecting Vancouver WA to Portland OR. It is also home to some 2,000 permanent residents and some 10,000 people (when visitors to the Jantzen Beach Shopping Center are counted).

Numerous studies suggest the island will be cut off, without access to transportation or communications for a period of weeks in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. More prosaically, an iPass survey found 74 percent of business travelers would chose Wi-Fi over cellular data while 87% of hotel users were frustrated when Wi-Fi is not available.

Needs Addressed with this proposal.

  • Provides a self-sustaining model for communications that operates independently of land-line power, as well as cellular and internet connectivity.
  • Delivers life saving communications for public service workers and the general public.
  • Utilizes state-of-the-art satellite and WiFi gear for greatly improved cost/effectiveness.
  • Provides residents, visitors and shoppers with a “free” amenity while providing a “hot” communications back-up for emergencies.

Fiber-fed Hotspots
The free LinkNYC WiFi kiosks in New York City are an interesting model. Flat screens provide ad revenue. Each Kiosk is supplied AC power and Gigabit fiber. The big screens provide only digital signage, while a small tablet on the side enables web surfing and usb plugs provide cellphone charging.

NYC’s WiFi access points use the Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 802.11ac wave 2 4×4 access point with Qualcomm VIVE 11ac Wi-Fi silicon providing multi-user MIMO technology, supporting hundreds of simultaneous connections. The kiosks will also incorporate a 3G modem to support 911 calls and emergency services.

The Ruckus Cloud Wi-Fi Management system, used in NYC, allows one person to manage hundreds of hotspots, such as their ZoneFlex T710, an outdoor Wave 2 hotspot, inside the kiosks. Cloud-managed WiFi provides seamless roaming.

Digital Signage
Digital Signage is the revenue generator. There are many different systems. You can use large screens, dongles like FireTV, or tablets. A large 42″ monitor would take lots of juice. Our restricted power budget might use a 19″ Android tablet or a 12″ Android tablet with an OLED screen like the Samsung Chromebook which is bright in daylight and power efficient.

Chrome Sign Builder makes it easy to show restaurant menus, images, and YouTube videos and playlists, which can be edited by anyone who has access to the presentation. You create schedules and specify the URLs for contents. Chromebooks use about 15 watts of power. A 27″ monitor powered by USB Type-C or 19″ tablet would sit behind heavy Plexiglas and power down in the evening.

How much revenue would each kiosk generate? Let’s say $125/month ($500/month for 4 hotspot/kiosks).

Cellular-fed Hotspots
The average home broadband subscriber uses 100 GB per month, which would cost hundreds of dollars a month if provided by LTE connections. It’s too damn expensive.

Metro PCS, using T-Mobile’s network, may have the best data plans, offering 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot, available on any of their phone plans. Metro’s $60 unlimited smartphone LTE data plan delivers full available speeds to 8 GB of hotspot data per payment cycle, then speeds slowed for remainder of payment cycle.

A solar-powered tablet, for example, might deliver only advertising on the screen but provide free WiFi via its mobile hotspot feature. At $10/month per ad, times 6 ads, it might break even ($60/mo). But a cell-fed public hotspot also might blow through 8GB in a week or two.

The big four carriers now offer unlimited plans with unlimited talk, texting and data. Prepaid plans are available from Cricket (AT&T), MetroPCS (T-Mobile), and Boost (Sprint).

Boost Mobile’s $50/Month Unlimited Plan has prepaid unlimited voice, messaging and high speed data, but like all “unlimited” plans it’s not really without limits. Video streaming is degraded to 480p resolution, and hotspot is throttled to 128 Kbps after 8 GB is used.

But never say never. Non-profit Sprint based unlimited plans from 4GCommunity is open to all with no qualifications and costs $250 for the first year (includes a mobile hotspot device) and $168/year afterwards. PCs for People, offers unlimited mobile internet service on Sprint’s 4G LTE network for low-income individuals for only $10 a month. A similar plan is available via the Calyx Institute.

Netgear’s AirCard 790 mobile hotspot, for example, could be enhanced with a $25 external LTE antenna. The whole thing could be powered by a $50 30Ah Portable battery and kept charged with a $60 5V/20 watt panel. That totals about $350.

But if each cell-fed hotspot costs $50-$100/month, it’s unsustainable, (at $200-$400/month for 4 hotspots). That’s more expensive than nearly all the cable, DSL or satellite options. A 50 GB satellite plan at $100-$130/mo delivers 5 times the data of an 10 GB cellular plan. And cellular wouldn’t have the emergency back-up component, which is the prime motivation for this proposed concept.

The MulteFire Alliance lets anyone create their own LTE network, and operate in the unlicensed spectrum (5 GHz or 3.5 GHz). This means Hayden Island could create a private LTE network, leveraging narrowband LTE IoT technology. Tracking vessels, pets and property over a 15 mile radius would consequently not require cellular overlords. It may take 5 years before businesses along the river (like the Ports) get clued in.

Satellite Bottom Line
Bottom line: satellite data (at least for Viasat-2 and Hughes Jupiter-2), should cost less than cellular. Digital signage generates monthly revenue, and the satellite will work if cellular goes down. The incremental cost of adding satellite data is relatively small, adding 10%-20% to the system cost over a single land line.

HughesNet’s Jupiter-2 will standardize on a peak of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. A 20 GB Plan costs $69.99/mo, a 30 GB Plan – $99.99/mo, and a 50 GB Plan – $129.99/mo. Sharing 50 GB and a 25Mbps speed over four different hotspots isn’t ideal ($30/mo for 12GB x 4 hotspots), but it’s half the cost of previously available satellite internet, cheaper than cellular and provides redundancy.

In addition, every one of these plans comes with 50GB of monthly “Bonus Bytes” that can be used between 2am and 8am for system updates and bulk downloads. Jupiter-2 is available now.

The viability of a community-based 501(c)3 providing shared hotspot service may make sense if (1) WiFi can be delivered to the end-user, (2) operations can be sustainable even in post-apocalyptic conditions, and (3) modest non-profit funding can be secured.

System Description
The satellite hub links to four remote solar-powered WiFi hotspots using a wireless bridge in the 5GHz band. Hotspot coverage area can expand with additional meshed hotspots and automatically connect together.

Today, ViaSat’s Exede Internet service delivers about 12 Mbps to individual users with a 25 GB monthly allowance for around $99/month using the company’s first generation, 140 gigabit-per-second satellite. Cost is headed down while speed and capacity are headed up using ViaSat 2, in May or June, 2017.

ViaSat-2, scheduled for availability in late 2017, will have similar capability and cost of the Hughes Jupiter 2, making satellite-fed hotspots practical

Jupiter-2 and ViaSat-2 represent a huge increase in satellite capacity.

High Throughput Satellites (HTS) provide small satellite terminals such as the Hughes Jupiter and Viasat-2 with more bandwidth. High throughput satellite platforms should provide enough throughput to enable satellite-fed WiFi hotspots for emergency communications, even when the lights go out, as well as delivering a low-cost, high-value service for both visitors and residents.

Today, satellite data caps are the most important metric, not raw speed. If one satellite terminal is shared by four hotspots, a minimum data cap of 50-100 GB/month may be necessary.

However, satellite data might be considered a backup.

Landlines may be used as the primary feed for this system. Satellite data would only provide back-up. A load balancing router ($85) automatically selects the best internet source according to the load – which would be landline 95% of the time.

Providing both a cable ($80/mo) and satellite connection ($120/mo) to the hub would cost a total of ~ $200/month.

Satellite-fed Hotspots
The Hayden Island Network (HI-NET) uses proven WIFI technology and architecture. It has been used by RV Parks and campgrounds around the country for years. We use basically the same architecture but add a satellite terminal for redundancy. A wireless bridge links the internet/satellite hub to WiFi hotspots up to a mile away.

As LTE has become ubiquitous, only a few businesses remain in the RV data satellite business, supporting mostly mobile tripods using StarBand or HughesNet (for about $1000). The RV DataSAT 840, using Hughes, is the only push button satellite RV system now available but it costs about $6500 installed at

Mount a Viasat antenna on a van and you’d have WiFi to go – anywhere. C-COM has mobile auto-deploying (iNetVu®) antennas for Viasat (EXEDE) for vehicular satellite broadband.

Stick it on top of an old $800 van. It’s not going to be a daily driver and you’ve got secure storage and a generator with 20 gallons of gas.

Of course 25 Mbps divided over four hotspots is only about 6 Mbps each, so users can’t be watching a lot of You Tube or Netflix – without supplementing the satellite hub with fiber or cable. Previously, data caps on satellite terminals made multiple hotspots too expensive and impractical. Now they can work – in a pinch.

These satellite-fed hotspots deliver a low-cost, high-value service — even when the lights go out.

Satellite terminal
The $400 ViaSat Surfbeam 2 satellite terminal (datasheet) uses a 1 meter (3 ft) dish. It draws about 80 watts and would feed two sector antennas (East and West) on the Island where the solar powered hotspots are located. The similar HughesNet Gen 4 system offers 50-100 GB/month for about $90/month.

The ViaSat SurfBeam 2 Pro Portable Terminal (above) is a much more expensive ($10K) and portable version of the consumer ViaSat Excede terminal you can get on eBay. ViaSat-2, scheduled for launch in 2016/17, will have 2.5X the capacity, making satellite-fed hotspots practical. They provide independence from landlines, deliver a “hot” communications back-up for emergencies, and can provide a “free” amenity for islanders.

The satellite terminal feeds two Ubiquiti backhaul radios that connect to the four remote WiFi hotspots. The satellite hub would be run from AC grid power most of the time with a small Honda 2000 Generator providing power in case of a power outage. It’s quiet and uses about 1 gallon of gas in 8 hours.

WiFi bridges
The Ubiquiti-based WiFi network, built by TenGo for the Jantzen Beach RV Park, is a pretty good model. It connects to remote hotspots through point-to-multi-point (sector) antennas and could be extended to reach most of the island by using larger antennas.

To feed the hotspots, Ubiquiti’s Multi-point hub might use two Rocket5ac Prism radios with two sector antennas on a roof. That should reach several miles when paired with a Ubiquiti’s one-piece Nanostation M5 at the receiving (local hotspot) end. Ubiquiti’s airMAX PtMP Titanium Sectors feature advanced RF isolation and variable beamwidth.

Portland’s Invictus Networks is a national distributor with lots of expertise on Ubiquiti gear. Here’s an in-depth video walking through a Ubiquiti Point to Multi Point setup. A Ubiquiti 5GHz Nanostation ($80) receives the 2,500 ft backhaul. This proposal should probably budget at least $1000 for installation expertise, although that amount is not in the budget. In addition, the Ubiquiti backhaul gear might be dropped in favor of a one-piece Wave-2 MIMO hotspot that combines both local hotspot coverage with an internal backhaul radio to simplify installation.

The Ubiquiti bridge connects the remote hotspots to the central hub. The Ethernet cable from the receiver plugs into the local hotspot, such as an OpenMesh hotspot or Ubiquiti’s Amplifi hotspot.

WiFi hotspots
We are low balling the freestanding hotspots at ~$1500 each (depending on solar and platform options). The free-standing hotspots would include a wireless bridge ($100), the local hotspot ($250), a $450, 19″ Android Tablet (for digital signage) solar panels ($300), charge controller ($50) and a battery ($350).

Outdoor hotspots might resemble a garden sculpture, propane-powered deck heater or street furniture with a solar panel providing protection from the rain. The base houses a 100-200amp/hr deep-cycle battery for power.

Google’s new WiFi hotspots ($129/each or 3 for $299), features Expandable mesh Wi-Fi using 2×2 Wave 2 specs with simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz / 5GHz) for 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with TX Beamforming. Their mesh network links the different hotspots together and determines the best path for your data.

Open Mesh access points like A60 with support for 50-100 simultaneous users is available in a 3×3, 450+1300 Mbps MIMO configuration and can be installed indoors or out. Includes a license for CloudTrax, their cloud-based network controller. You can check the status of your access points, see connected users and their usage, and update network settings. No on-site server required. Google’s new WiFi hotspots ($129/each), have similar specs and may be substituted for the Open Mesh product.

Every Open Mesh access point is automatically mesh enabled. You can add additional units wherever you need them. All access points work together to form a self-organizing, self-healing wireless network with seamless roaming between devices. Their third party software includes Facebook WiFi and MediaShift ads for additional, on-line revenue.

Videos and other information could also be stored on the hotspot. YouTube Go can save videos locally, on the hotspot SD card. Dozens of hours of news and videos could be ready to go, as well as thousands of downloads from the royalty-free Internet Archive including Old Time Radio and e-books and texts.

Solar Operation
Complete independence from grid power is a challenge. The local access points currently use about 15 watts of power while the satellite terminal uses about 80 watts. A 200 amp/hr deep cycle boat battery ($400) could power a hotspot with backhaul and a large screen for about 24 hours (8 amps x 24 hrs = 192 amp/hrs). A timer could automatically shut the system down from 1 am to 6 am.

Much more solar and battery capacity would be needed for the satellite terminal, which may require four, 300 watt panels to keep the batteries charged. This proposal does NOT provide solar or batteries for the hub. Instead, a small generator provides emergency power.

Hotspots use less power. If our power draw is one 27″ monitor powered by USB Type-C (~30 watts) and one MIMO hotspot (~15 watts), then it totals 45 watts, equivalent to ~ 12 volts x 4 amps (P=IE).

A 12 Volt, 200Ah battery has a capacity of 200amps x 12v = 2.4kWh of electrical energy (P=IE). To get this battery charged in 5 hours you need power output of 2.4kWh/5 = 240 Watts of solar. One 240 watt panel delivers ~ 12 amps. But we’re using only 4 amps most of the time. We can keep the battery topped off all day. Genasun charge controllers have low RF interference, important for this application.

If our 40 watt load runs 14 hours (8am – 10pm), that = 840Wh of the 2.4kWh battery. Our daily load, therefore, should consume only about 1/3 the battery capacity and our solar panels should quickly charge the battery. One, 12V, 200a/h battery should work, but we’ll use two, 12v, 100ah Trojans or gell cells (the power equivalent).

Qualcomm’s Wave 2 MU-MIMO chips are expected to lower power requirements. A newer one-piece Wave2 hotspot may also eliminate the need for a dedicated wireless backhaul device, lowering power and equipment costs.

Manufacturers of the Connected Table (specs) use a 530 Watt Solar array feeding into a 12 volt, 225 Amp-Hour Sealed Gel-Cell battery. They provide four AC electrical receptacles and 8 USB charging ports with a Daily Energy Production of 2.1 kWhrs. It provides power for up to three days during inclement weather and provides shade in the daylight and LED lighting at night. However, the Connected Table costs $17,000, more than the entire budget of this proposal.

Perhaps local universities could design an alternative solution, with an incentive provided by mall operators or through grants (with in-kind matching by local home supply stores or marine businesses). After all, a picnic table with umbrella, the solar panel, charge controller and battery may cost $1000-$2000. You can buy logs cheap on Craig’s List and they could make a very attractive, organic kiosk.

Advertising Revenue
Could “free” WiFi be self-sustaining? Who knows. The goal is to pay for operational costs ($200-$600/month). With 100+ businesses in the Jantzen Beach Mall, it seems like a good bet.

Digital signage may generate the most ad revenue. Google’s Bluetooth Beacons could pull in passersby and make it interactive and useful.

Selling ads on a Hayden Island website could supplement revenue from the big screen. The web site would feature topics like eating, events, destinations and social media, with a goal of 5000 page views/month.

Our goal is to generate $1000/month from 4 kiosks and $500/month from the web site, or $1,500/mo total. It should pay for itself in 12 months.

The system manager gets free advertising space. Fiber would provide the primary internet connection. The satellite would always be available as a backup or to supplement the (wireless) fiber feed.

Community Evaluation
Portland’s Community Centers, Parks and Fire Stations might be provided with free WiFi. Google Fiber could provide plenty of bandwidth to the wireless hub.

As a public agency, PBEM cannot support any activity that might be perceived as endorsing a business. However Neighborhood Associations can, and their endorsement may bring a 501(c)3 tax status, a vital incentive for donations.

A stand-alone 501(c)3 organization might assure continued support and a complementary mix of public service and commercial interests.

City-wide, municipal wireless projects failed big-time 10 years ago. Today, however, Google fiber, MU-MIMO, and insatiable consumer demand are changing the landscape. Portland’s Google Fiber, at $70/mo for 1Gbps, provides enough bandwidth to feed dozens of smaller nodes, each with 50-100 Mbps wireless backhaul. Fiber and newer (5G) wireless technologies are increasingly cost/effective.

Portland’s Fiber-to-the-Premises Feasibility Study and Seattle’s Fiber-to-the-Premises Feasibility Study have more documentation. While MU-MIMO links and fiber hubs won’t enable a solution for everyone, other neighborhoods could learn from Hayden Island’s model.

Since “free”, unlicensed 5GHz spectrum will soon be taken over by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile for subscription cellular service, the time to act is now.

Proof of Concept
A proof of concept might utilize the same gear, testing a 5GHz Rocket5 ac Point to Multipoint radio ($120) plugged into a 90 degree sector antenna ($120), and paired with a one-piece 5 GHz Nanostation ($85), plugged into a Ubiquiti Amplifi hotspot ($299). A contractor like Invictus Networks might test the system at 8 different points around the island and produce a report for ~$1000 in the spring of 2017 after ViaSat 2 is operational and price points are established.

Project Summary
A new generation of consumer internet satellites can deliver wireless backhaul to four public hotspots. Solar-powered hotspots eliminate landlines, cellular service and even shore power electricity. Self-sustaining operation could be enabled through advertising. Monthly revenue from advertising is estimated at $200-$1000/month. Additional solar-powered hotspots could be easily added for $2000-$5000 each (depending mostly on Kiosk design) with the local owner and kiosk manager splitting revenue.

Grants or donations totaling approximately $12,000 would likely cover the front-end costs (less labor). Solar panels may be supplied via in-kind contributions by local companies like SolarWorld and SoloPower. Marine companies may help with electrical work. Realistically, another $3K probably should be added to the budget for labor and spare parts, but costs may also be reduced by $3K-$5K through in-kind contributions.

Potential grantors might include Meyer and Murdock foundations, Jantzen Beach Shopping Center, the City of Portland, private moorages and condominiums. It could be operational by summer, 2017.

The design and building of four city-scale advanced wireless testing platforms could start in the summer of 2017 after satellite data prices and speeds are more clear. In FY 2019, ViaSat 3 and the LEO OneWeb constellation should be available, as well as 3.5GHz consumer premises equipment. That may make 100 Mbps service to the home/boat for $20/mo a real option.

In Kansas City, Alphabet is testing antennas on street lights. This initiative could upgrade the WiFi Kiosks hubs described here with (5G) 10 Gigabit wireless backhaul (on 28GHz) and enable 100 Mbps end user speeds using the new 3.5GHz band. Intel’s Cloud Radio Access Network, would move cell tower electronics to the data center, lowering cost.

Enabling wireless to compete with fixed wire-line providers like cable and fiber is the ultimate goal. A revenue model might be more akin to software as a service, similar to Bloomberg, and not based on GB/month or advertising.