How much will this whole thing cost? Well a lot of that depends. There are two parts: the fees we pay to build the basic infrastructure, which can support from 1 to hundreds of users; and the costs to run the network each month.
Building the Network
Before we get started, we have to do a little bit of design. This includes a lot: estimating how much bandwidth we need, how many antennas we need on the tower, and how much power we need (since it’s solar powered during the day, every watt counts).
The harder part is for people who can’t see the tower. If you live way up the Duckabush or Dosewallips, that means you. It also includes people in higher density areas (Lazy C and the Duckabush flats).
For every case, there’s a technology that can provide service to you, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all decision. Careful planning around terrain and the number of users is required to ensure you all receive the service you want.
So, before we plug in the first wire, we’re hiring a professional engineer to research and build the network.
At its simplest, the network requires a one-time payment to buy and install all of the equipment. Although you can save some money if you buy a slower radio, most of the cost is actually in labor and installation. (Adding a new antenna to cover 30-50 homes costs $300 in equipment, but several times more to mount and install.)
Our largest one-time charge is to build the main wireless link to our upstream Internet provider in Kitsap County. It’s expensive because we’re actually building two towers, the wireless equipment to connect them, and paying for an FCC license to ensure we have enough bandwidth.
The second biggest expense is the equipment that we’re installing at Mt Jupiter. That includes our antennas and the extra batteries needed to ensure the network stays online for days even if there’s a storm that knocks out the diesel and solar cells.
Monthly Network Costs
Once it’s all plugged in, there are monthly costs to keep it all working. That includes paying for our lease on the towers, the electricity to power it all, our bandwidth from the Internet provider, and support costs like credit card fees.
We’ve also got to plan for periodic maintenance and upgrades on our equipment as we sign up more people and equipment reaches the end of life.
While some of these fees are variable (e.g. they are directly related to how many users we have), most are not (rent is fixed, regardless of users). That means we need to be sure we have a good user base that can sign up at launch to ensure we don’t run out of money too quickly.
Although we’d love to talk about prices, it’s still too early for us to know for sure. The primary driver is understanding how many people are interested and where they live. If everyone in the Lazy C wants to sign up at once, it’s less expensive than providing service to a few people all over the valley.
We have a very good understanding of most of our costs. Our preliminary estimates showed that with 100 subscribers, we can barely pay our monthly bills (after all costs) if we charged $100/month/user (including tax).
While we think the price is fair compared to an LTE connection (which is $120-200/month) or mid-tier satellite service ($100/month), we don’t like it. On the upside, you won’t be slowed down in the evening like satellite, or have small data caps like LTE connections.
Our goal is to be competitive with the entry packages from every provider, without the restrictions. That means lower installation costs and lower monthly fees. As we learn more about how much interest there is, we’ll be releasing more details on pricing.
We’re also looking at how we fund our one-time costs. We may seek some people to buy “shares” of the network up front, try to get a loan or grant, or seek federal assistance. Much of that will be driven by how many people we can service. The more people on the network, the less expensive it gets for everyone.