Today US Internet begins testing an upgrade to its spotty municipal wireless internet network in Minneapolis. If the upgrades work, the northern part of the city currently missing the roll out of fiber internet will be able to buy broadband-level, 25 MB wireless internet for $25/month.
That's good enough to stream Netflix, according to USI co-founder Travis Carter.
USI is beta testing its new system downtown, because downtown is the hardest place to get commercial wireless internet to work well.
"It's that old theory: If it works well where it traditionally has not, then it will work really well everywhere else," says Carter.
Once the kinks are worked out downtown, Carter says USI will start installing its improved wireless network in the northern part of northeast Minneapolis and work west into north Minneapolis. Then it will move south to meet up with its fiber network, which started in southwest Minneapolis/Uptown and is moving east.
Sorry St. Paul; any expansion over your way is still at least a few years away.
Carter says a new concept called time-division multiplexing (TDM) should allow USI to reliably offer speeds of 25 MB download, five MB upload through wireless nodes placed every other block.
Here's how he explained the difference between TDM and the old wireless network:
"Imagine everyone in your node sitting in a circle and we're passing a bucket to fill up with internet. Before the idea was everyone had the bucket until they filled it. So if a guy was really slow, everyone would have to wait while he took forever.
Now everyone gets the bucket for a second, then it goes to the next guy, then it goes to the next guy and so on. So your signal really determines how much capacity you get."
Carter asked for beta testers on Reddit over the weekend and was overwhelmed with the response.
"I put it out there just to get a feel for if there was anybody interesting in helping and I just got inundated with emails," he says. "I have about 50 who have expressed interest so far and they keep coming in. I was hoping for three or four people; that would've made me happy."
Send news tips to Ben Johnson.