Town saved by superfast broadband 2,400ft above sea level

* Update. We have made some corrections to the original story.

Start up Bluwan is a hero for a small town in the mountains 2,400 ft above sea level, which had no broadband internet and had given up hope.

The French town of Le Sauze-du-Lac had residents without broadband because it was thought wiring up the community was beyond expensive – with fibre deployment estimated to cost around  £26-30 million (€30-35 million). When France completes its switch over from analogue to digital TV, the town might lose its TV signal too.

However, woes were answered by Bluwan, which put forward a way to get broadband through a wireless technology spun off from French military research.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bluwan offered the citizens internet at 100Mbit/sec. It said it could also deliver both high-definition and standard-def TV in a pilot scheme costing the local authority €80,000.

Bluwan said it would use an unused part of the radio frequency to deliver the internet through the air, which it originally named “Fibre Through The Air” (FTAA).  

The technology stems from the Gulf War. In 1991 American fighter planes were misguided in their targeting systems and were hitting British troops.

This sparked François Magne, a researcher at French defence company Thales, into action and he came up with a system that could do real-time video analysis and create a high-speed broadband connection that would easily analyse video and optimise targeting systems.

According to Shayan Sanyal, Chief Marketing Officer for Bluwan: “It worked. So in 2005 he went to Thales with a proposal to spin this technology off for civilian purposes. The EU had just normalised a very close frequency to the one the system used and François [Magne] saw potential to use this to deliver high-speed broadband very cost effectively to areas where fibre was not possible. So the company was born,” he told the WSJ.

Bluwan took this idea to Gap, which has the closest high-speed fibre connection and is 15 miles away.

Hooking up a radio transmitter, Bluwan will beam that internet connection up the mountain which dominates the town. On that mountain is an existing TV mast where Bluwan will install its own technology. Its receiver picks up the beamed internet signal and then re-broadcasts it over the whole town.

To ensure citizens of the town will get their fair share of access Bluwan will fit each house with a transceiver mounted on the roof to pick up the signal and deliver internet traffic to the home. 

FTTA will use the 40.5 – 43.5 GHz frequency to beam all the bandwidth across. According to the company the technology stamps all over LTE and Wimax, which both offer 20MHz of bandwidth, whereas FTTA will offer 3GHz. Compared to 300 Mbits/sec for 4G, Le Sauze-du-Lac, citizens will get around 10 Gbits. This is because Q-Band is allocated in 500 MHz chunks.

And because the bandwidth is so generous, not only will FTTA deliver high-speed internet, but it will also bring 30 High Definition and up to 120 Standard Definition digital TV channels to the home.

However, there’s always a catch and in FTTA’s case it’s all about line of site. If residents are unable to see the broadcast tower or a re-broadcast relay, they won’t get a signal. Residents will also have to forgo accessing the net on their mobiles as the technology is only suitable for fixed access.  There is also general worry about high frequency transmissions and health concerns. So far, Bluwan has conducted trials in Paris and in three cities across Slovakia.