Broadband Primer: Terrain can present transmission challenges

Photo: A relay tower for broadband service perched atop the gift shop at the top of Brockway Mountain requires solar panels and wind power to operate it.

HOUGHTON — Pasty.Net has been a pioneer in wireless broadband service since the early 2000s, and for the past five years, ShoreWaves.Net has been serving the Copper County as well.

Both companies specialize in delivering wireless internet service to remote areas which are difficult to reach due to terrain, location, and other factors.

Understanding how the whole system works, however, can be a challenge.

“The first thing you need is a broadband source,” Charlie Hopper, founder and general manager of Pasty.Net said.

There are many broadband sources in the United States, such as AT&T, Mediacom or Earthlink.

Broadband, also called high-speed internet, refers to a type of telecommunication using a wide band of frequencies to transmit information. Because this wide band of frequencies is available, information can be sent on many different frequencies, or channels, within the band at the same time, allowing more information to be transmitted in a given amount of time.

Currently, Pasty.Net is spread across 48 channels, Hopper said.

Broadband is rated by the speed a system can transfer data. A certain amount of data can be transferred from one point to another in a given time.

Those points are called access points. Access points are locations where transmitters can be mounted that both send and receive data information.

Hopper said during the first six years Pasty.Net was in Keweenaw County, it was not possible to reach from Mount Horace Greeley to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge using equipment existing at the time.

“We had to do a relay,” he said. “We had to shoot up to Brockway at the old gift shop. We would hit the signal there, and then to the Mountain Lodge. And then, as some new protocols came about, spread spectrum, which allowed for much better fine tuning of fresnel zones, and everything from Horace Greeley to the Mountain Lodge became possible.”

In order to power the equipment at the gift shop, it was necessary to first install solar panels, then a wind power unit.

Hopper then had an engineering study conducted, which resulted in finding a very narrow space between hills that would allow a signal to reach Copper Harbor.

“There is one place,” Hopper said, “where the link through (a) little notch to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge can (get through). Now, we’re pumping 600 megabits to Copper Harbor.”