An interview with Executive Director of Product Management David Dennis on Merit’s Cellular Wireless solution and the pilot project that is putting it to the test.
Throughout the evolution of broadband, it has become clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although fiber optic internet is the fastest and most reliable internet service available, it is not always feasible. In order to serve members struggling to gain connectivity, Merit developed a pilot project to test the application of a low-cost, cellular wireless solution that comes with full Merit support and wireless modem customer premise equipment (CPE).
Teaming Up With AT&T Wireless/Cellular
This wireless solution consists of a Cradlepoint device equipped with AT&T LTE cellular service. Merit has worked with AT&T to provide members with unlimited data and prioritized traffic on their network, while Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) private routing brings the traffic back to Merit.
If fiber build-outs are unfeasible based on costs or timing, Merit Cellular Wireless solutions can provide an alternative connectivity solution for members. Wireless services can also offer peace of mind as an automated, backup disaster recovery option and act as a cellular failover for a primary Merit connection. This failover can occur within 5 minutes to get an organization operational quickly in times of emergency.
While these solutions can be an effective alternative to fiber, download speeds will exceed upload speeds and users will experience a higher degree of latency when using cellular wireless technologies. These service characteristics may be acceptable in a number of situations.
To learn more, we discussed the wireless pilot project with Merit’s executive director of product management, David Dennis.
Q: Can you give us a little history on Merit and wireless?
A: Merit is proud of our long history of building reliable fiber networks that provide optimal performance. In 2016, we worked with The Quilt and the Quello Center at Michigan State University to author the first Wireless Innovations for Last Mile Access (WILMA) report. This publication provides a deep dive into the ways research and education networks can use alternate wireless technologies, where appropriate.
Since that time and out of their own innovation, we’ve seen a variety of our members embrace the possibilities of wireless and craft truly innovative solutions. I would call attention to the TV White Space internet pilots that were deployed in Alpena and Montmorency counties, Northern Michigan University’s EAN network, and a variety of LTE services being deployed by school districts in rural areas to give students a lifeline to learning.
In today’s environment, our members are tasked with maintaining quality of operations under tighter budgetary and staffing constraints. This motivated us to seek out cost-saving opportunities. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we believe that there is a place for wireless in our members’ overall connectivity picture.
Q: What are the pros and cons of wireless?
A: While some challenges exist, like asymmetrical speeds or increased latency, the advantages of wireless technologies are also clear: These solutions are flexible, low cost, easy to deploy, and they expand the Merit network footprint to include the cell tower footprint of our partner, AT&T.
Q: Why would Merit Members need these solutions?
A: These wireless solutions can be applied as a backup disaster recovery solution or in cases where fiber build-outs are too costly. Additionally, they can be used as a point of connectivity during service transitions. For example, if Merit was installing fiber on your behalf, it could be a multi-month project. We can use a wireless circuit as a temporary measure until the fiber is ready to get you connected to the Merit network.
Q: Why is Merit exploring this technology now?
A: Innovation is a core part of Merit’s mission. Throughout our history we have seized opportunities to diversify our members’ connectivity picture in ways that weren’t possible before. We have seen rapid maturity in wireless technology within recent years and believe that, with proper application and support, it can be a great solution.
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