Downtown GR Becoming Unwired

June 27, 2003
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ALLENDALE — Downtown busi-nesses and residents now have high-speed, wireless access to the Internet available from Michwave Technologies Inc.

The nearly three-year-old company based in Allendale recently installed its 11th wireless point-of-presence tower on the roof of McKay Tower, a 16-story office building situated in the heart of downtown on Monroe Center.

The installation was completed ahead of schedule and filled the firm’s wireless gap in the area. Michwave Technologies had anticipated to start the service on July 1, but had it up and running by June 16.

“It was an addition to a network that covers all of the greater Grand Rapids area. Initially, the center of our hub, our wagon wheel, was Grand Valley. We went from there to Holland, Three Mile, and 92nd Street,” said Steve Langeler, vice president of operations for Michwave Technologies.

But now the McKay Tower location has become the network hub for the firm, a family owned and operated company that started doing business in 2000.

“We’re using that site not only to access the downtown area, which wasn’t a high request area for us, but it gives us a redundant connection between the rest of our towers — a better connection than what we had before,” said Langeler.

Langeler said it took his firm about three days to make the installation. But he also noted that the company wasn’t completely done with it.

Michwave Technologies plans to expand its service even further there by adding equipment that would give subscribers access away from their offices and homes and let them roam downtown with their laptops and surf the Net outdoors.

That type of wireless service isn’t available downtown yet, and it will take awhile before Michwave Technologies can make it available.

“We’re debating how we can do that so it’s economically viable for us and the customer because controlling the cost on that gets kind of tricky,” said Langeler.

It also gets tricky trying to keep non-subscribers from pirating access to a roaming wireless service. If too many can get it for free, there isn’t a reason to pay for it or for a firm to even offer it.

So how does this wireless work?

The bandwidth is delivered by radio frequency, which is different from the standard wireless LAN method. Broadcasters have used a version of this technology for decades for remote broadcasts away from the studio. And proponents believe it is more reliable and flexible than LAN, as it offers multiple speeds of access for the user.

To get unwired, Langeler said all a subscriber needs is a radio antenna mounted on the roof. Michwave Technologies can install one for $400 to $1,000, a cost it is willing to spread out over time. The service runs $50 a month for residents. Businesses can get it starting at $100 per month.

“We turn the radio on so they have access and there is an encryption that goes on there, too. We set up their system so they have a link to our system up on McKay Tower,” said Langeler.

“If someone has a T1 line in their office, we can give them T1 speeds or faster. We can give them 6T1 speeds, if they want. Our capability is about 8.5 megs. The radio is rated at 10, but by the time the overhead is in there we’re seeing that 8.5 is probably the best.”

The Bull’s Head Tavern at 188 Monroe Ave. NW is already using the Michwave wireless service, and the Bean Tree Bistro in Grandville has access available for customers.

Michwave Technologies also offers a high-speed, wired Internet service, virtual private networks, Web hosting and design, e-mail services, and multi-building LAN connectivity and integration.

More information is available by calling (616) 892-5779 or visiting www.michwave.com.

Before the downtown installation, Michwave had already developed the largest wireless access map in the area. It was Jonathan Langeler, Steve’s son, who came up with the idea for the business after he graduated from Davenport University a few years ago.

“We were looking at what the potential was for the demand. We saw that a lot of people had dial-up, but didn’t have another option,” said Langeler. “My son actually started the business. It kind of fell into his lap. So we did our homework and got the thing started.”

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