On July 28, members of the Association met with leaders in technology to discuss solutions to improving internet and wireless service in the Ranch.
Acting Manager Ivan Holler, Board President Ann Boon, and Treasurer Kim Eggleston attended on behalf of the Association. Manish Tripathi, Sr. Director of Technology at Qualcomm, gave a presentation. Tech leaders Rob Strickland and Fred Luddy attended to provide consultation. Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Howard Wright hosted the event.
Holler opened the meeting by going over the issue at hand and what’s already been done. The Covenant is made of large lots and telecommunications companies are hesitant to invest in low-density areas. The Association created a “broadband” committee in 2011 which received proposals from Cox and AT&T.
Cox proposed $12 million for a broadband infrastructure project, which included overhead and underground lines. The Association would also not own the infrastructure. AT&T proposed that the Association commit to 1,700-1,800 subscriptions, then AT&T would sell those to the Association at a bulk rate which the Association would sell back to the community. There was no guarantee that the Association would be able to sell back all the subscriptions.
As for the wireless situation, AT&T has a distributed antenna system (DAS) within the Ranch, which may expand. Verizon is also present in the Ranch with a few omni-antennas, one located on the fire station. But as many Ranch residents know, there are gaps in the coverage due to terrain. Service could be fast in the Ranch if these options were expanded, but data caps make it an unlikely solution for in-home internet.
The committee did not fully explore building an independent fiber-optic infrastructure through a contractor. Holler stated that they did not want to get into a project outside of their core competency. However, the Ranch could own the infrastructure and it would be the most future-proof solution.
Steps towards a solution
Manish Tripathi leads Qualcomm’s Engineer Service Group (ESG) and his team is sent around the world for infrastructure projects. He discussed how the Ranch can harness the latest technology to improve wireless service in the area.
Low-density housing and restrictive zoning both make a solution more difficult, but zoning could be a bigger hurdle. There are two entities that approve zoning, the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) and County of San Diego. The CDRC only considers the aesthetic effect of projects while the County issues a use permit.
Two solutions for wireless service were discussed; Outdoor distributed antenna system (DAS), and Small Cells.
Outdoor DAS works by feeding remote units (similar to a cell tower, but much smaller) from a base station through fiber-optic cable. A single remote unit can provide one to three square miles worth of signal. A base station can consume anywhere between 3 watts to 40 watts of power. A fiber-optic network is required as backhaul for DAS, which is extremely limited in the Ranch.
Backhaul is the source of data and signal that is sent out by an emitter into the airwaves.
A small cell works similar to DAS, but does not require a base station. It can use fiber, ethernet, or another wireless source as backhaul. A single small cell unit can cover anywhere from 0.3 to 2.7 square miles and only requires 0.5 to 5 watts of power, but the strength of signal is terrain dependent.
Small cells and remote units can be attached to overhead utility poles. A number of residents can also volunteer their property to host these units for all of the Ranch.
Either solution can work for the Ranch in the long-term if fiber is used as backhaul. The Ranch can build a fiber-optic network for high-speed in-home internet access then use that infrastructure to feed either wireless solution. Wireless networks alone cannot make up for the lack of wired infrastructure when in-home internet is one of the largest problems, because of wireless data caps.
The business of connectivity
Fred Luddy, founder and Chief Product Officer of ServiceNow, stated that the Ranch’s investment into infrastructure is prudent:
“If we’re talking about $12 million, that’s only six to seven thousand dollars a house and you can spread that over a number of years. We should really drive to get some kind of broadband to homes as soon as possible.”
“People are going to be using many different devices to communicate. It’s all going to blend together and if you don’t have broadband, I think you’ll be sunk as a place to live.”
Rancho Santa Fe will fall behind in the near future if it relies patch-work solutions alone. Tripathi confirmed, “You need quality backhaul at the end of the day.”
Rob Strickland, founder of Cricket Wireless, mentioned that having a company engage in an infrastructure project is about more than just money. Companies will want to build off of existing networks in the surrounding area and work its way into where the new project will take place. Companies will also want expand to new markets in the surrounding area. He advised the Association to look into which services have a strong presence close to the Ranch.
The future of consumer demands will exceed the bandwidth capabilities of today. With the rise of video streaming, 4K video resolutions, and the increasing sizes of downloads and files, a significant investment is needed to ensure the Ranch won’t be saddled with outdated technology.
As Wright put it, “there’s not enough oxygen in the room for everyone to breathe.” The Ranch does need technological sustenance as soon as possible, but a short term solution should lead into a long term solution.
It was only the start of solving the technological problem Rancho Santa Fe faces, but the meeting laid significant ground work. The Association will have to create a rough timeline for projects depending on which solution it wishes to pursue, then consult with providers to make it work. The Association will draft a problem statement and move closer to a solution at a meeting set for Sept. 11th.