You may have seen some recent articles about a Shelby-based company called RST Fiber, which promises to bring their “fiber” Internet services to the Raleigh area. Did you notice anything weird, though? Oh, right: they’re not actually running fiber to houses:
Instead of running cables to each home and business, RST will use wireless transmitters for the “last mile” between its network and individual customers.
The press release was well timed to piggyback off of the Google Fiber announcement (a huge kudos to their PR team for that), and as a result it seems like a lot of media outlets have buried the lede. This doesn’t appear to be much like Google Fiber; at first blush it sounds much closer to the now defunct Clear, and the basic idea would be that you have an RF uplink from your home to… something… which is in turn connected to RST’s fiber network.
Their claim is that this “last mile” link – between their fiber and their customers via some kind of radio – can support “up to” gigabit speeds.
Some notable wireless technologies support “up to” gigabit speeds on paper. There’s LTE (aka “4G”) – the current standard used by mobile networks in the US. What else? How about WiMAX, the technology formerly behind Clear.
Is RST selling a solution based on common mobile network technology? It’s unclear to me. My initial guess was that they were simply an MVNO piggybacking off of AT&T or Verizon’s existing networks, selling their own RST-branded devices to consumers while leasing all the other infrastructure. That seems incorrect, however, since they claim to be laying their own fiber:
RST Fiber, based in Cleveland County, has spent tens of millions of dollars to lease and lay 3,100 miles of fiber optics across North Carolina, according to chief executive Dan Limerick.
Well, if they are building a network of their own, and they want to use 4g for the “last mile”… they need them some spectrum. Who has spectrum in Wake County? I asked the FCC about this, and there was no RST on my search results.
So… what exactly are they doing? Without spectrum, their options for RF tech are severely limited; perhaps their press release provides some hints:
We’re also deploying carrier-class, cutting-edge WiFi capable of delivering one-gigabit symmetrical wireless service network-wide.
Ah, so 802.11ac (5GHz “Wi-Fi”) technically meets the “up to a gigabit” requirement… but only over fairly short distances. To use 802.11ac effectively, they would need access points very close to all of their customers. There’s a blog post that claims that this is, in fact, the technology they are using, but… up to 2 miles for 802.11ac? I’m incredibly skeptical of that range, even assuming external, directional antennae for each customer.
On that blog post, somebody posting under the name of RST CEO Dan Limerick made the following claims about the service’s future:
We will be running middle miles of fiber off of our backbone over the entire network when servicing business and commercial accounts and will service the last mile with a combination of carrier class WiFi and FTTP. Our plans are to service virtually all of the enterprise customers with a fiber connection directly to the customer, not WiFi.
Bolding mine. And regarding residential deployments:
We will be offering FTTH as our lateral builds expand off of our backbone for a reasonable installation charge.
So, they have plans to service enterprise customers with fiber… and FTTH (the “H” stands for “home”) at some point as their “lateral builds expand“… but “carrier class WiFi” seems to be the near term solution for some (if not all) initial residential users.
So the tldr here is: since they seem to be using WiFi for the last mile, RST Fiber’s product is simply not comparable to Google Fiber. Maybe it will become comparable at some point, and maybe it will still beat the garbage service from Time Warner, but just because they used the word “fiber” in all their PR speak doesn’t mean that fiber is what you’ll get if you go sign up.