Hooked up, but not tied down

New wireless Internet service being offered in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

Larry Glackin would like to make it easier for Juneau residents to take an afternoon off work.

His company, Ice Communications Inc., is poised to offer broadband wireless Internet service in downtown Juneau, Lena Point, and most of Douglas. The company hooked up its first customer in Juneau on Oct. 15.

The wireless service, which will be offered at speeds as low as 64,000 bits per second, or 64K, and as high as 256K, makes Internet service on a laptop computer portable.

"We can make it so people who are in town on business and want to take an afternoon for fishing will still be able to connect to the Internet while they're on the water," said Glackin, who runs the company with Lori Glackin, his wife, and Todd Rafferty, both vice presidents of the company.

Broadband wireless Internet uses radio waves to connect laptops or personal computers to the Internet. Antennas often are installed on the homes or office buildings of subscribers. Laptops are outfitted with a card to receive the signal, and sometimes are connected to a small antenna.

Once a building is outfitted for the service, any number of computers in the building, as long as they have the proper equipment, can connect to the Internet simultaneously.

Laptops will have uninterrupted Internet service as long as users stay in the coverage area, which Ice Communications plans to extend in coming months, said Rafferty.

"We'd eventually like to have all of the northern part of Southeast Alaska covered," Glackin said.

The company's success in expanding its coverage area depends on how many access points - from which the Internet signal is sent - can be installed. The company has two access points now: one on the KTOO radio and TV building in downtown Juneau and the other at Lena Point.

A disadvantage to broadband wireless Internet service is that the connection depends on the user being within line of sight of the access point, said David Morris, a spokesman for General Communication Inc., which offers dial-up and cable Internet connections in Alaska.

"In Alaska you have a lot of terrain challenges when it comes to line of sight," Morris said.

Ice Communications recognizes it can't provide Internet service in every Juneau home.

"We're trying to make it so the majority of people can get the service," Rafferty said.

The installation fee for a laptop or personal computer in a home is $250. If multiple computers in a home are networked, or connected to each other, one installation will provide Internet access to all computers. Ice Communications can set up a wired or wireless network in a home for an additional fee. Additional laptops in a home installation are $149.

Monthly charges for the wireless service depend on the connection speed. The lowest possible speed, 64K, is $25 per month; 128K is $35 per month, and 256K is $65 per month.

"One advantage to our system is that the speeds are almost equal for both downloads and uploads," Larry Glackin said.

Uploads, such as sending an e-mail or photo online, usually are much slower than downloads, such as reading e-mail or surfing the Internet.

Larry Glackin started Ice Communications three years ago in Haines. The company originally offered dial-up Internet service through a modem, and entered into the wireless Internet market two years ago.

"We pioneered wireless Internet in Alaska," Glackin said. The only other wireless Internet provider in Southeast Alaska is mitkof.net, a Petersburg-based company.

Ice Communications provides Internet service to the Haines public schools and the Haines city offices.

"What we like the most is the speed," said Scott Hansen, an administrative assistant with the city of Haines. "It's been very consistent ... and it's also been very flexible. If we wanted to expand, the ability to connect new offices with wireless is apparently very simple."

Once a strong reception was established between the access point and the city offices, the only interruptions the city has experienced that were directly related to the wireless technology resulted from atmospheric conditions, Hansen said.

"We have to be careful of snow piling up around the antenna," he said.

Glackin said Ice Communications is expanding to Juneau because of its larger market.

"There are endless possibilities for this technology," Rafferty said.

Some potential uses are police cars sending live video feed to dispatchers, ambulances sending live video feed to doctors, and cameras set up in dangerous waterways so boaters know when the weather is bad.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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