BroadBand Solutions

By Gerry Blackwell

April 01, 2003

Here is one WISP that is selling consulting services, Internet access, customer management software, and more, all while building a growing ISP. How do they do it? Here's the story.

Regional WISPs everywhere are looking for ways to get big quick. And if they're not, they should be -- it's the only way to guarantee long-term survival. Size matters.

The partners in California's SkyWeb Alliance found one way to do it.

BroadBand Solutions LLC, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is taking a slightly different tack -- it's acquiring smaller companies and pursuing a variety of markets using different business models. If this sounds like a scatter-gun approach, it's not -- there is a common thread.

BroadBand Solutions (BBS) was formed 20 months ago by successful pie shop franchisers Sam Park and Doug Powelson. They had no technology experience but did recognize the fabulous business potential of broadband wireless access. A flurry of acquisitions jump-started the company.

Not the bill, the billing

In one of those acquisitions, now president and CEO Kevin Santiago and technology officer Trevor Paskett came over from OnBravo Wireless -- a company Santiago founded and which still operates in Oklahoma. They brought them with the Customer Management System (CMS) software they had begun developing at OnBravo.

The CMS software handles all customer management functions -- billing, authentication, bandwidth management, service and support, customer relationship management, etc. -- and works in many environments, including business and residential WISPs, multi-dwelling units (MDUs), hotels, and public hotspots.

"We developed it further when we came on at BroadBand Solutions," Santiago says. "Today it's our competitive advantage. Now we're selling it to property owners and ISPs. We're currently in the process of working on deals with several ISPs to help them advance their wireless operations."

The CMS software is the common thread in what BBS is doing in various markets. Santiago sees more and more of the company's revenues in the future coming from software sales, but its main business, and still the biggest revenue earner, is providing high-speed fixed wireless access to businesses and residents in Utah. BBS naturally uses its own software to run that business.

The company owns infrastructure that includes about 50 wireless POPs, giving it a 105 mile long by 20 mile wide swath of coverage, extending 40 miles north of Salt Lake City and 60 miles south. It owns many 30 and 40-foot towers, colocates at cellular towers, and also has antennas mounted on water towers and roofs of homes and businesses. "It's quite a mix," comments Paskett.

The footprint takes in Salt Lake City, rural and small town areas on either side, plus small cities such as Provo and Layton. BBS estimates that it can reach 60 to 80 percent of the businesses in its coverage area.

The company has deployed a combination of 2.4, 5.2, and 5.8 GHz point-to-point (PTP) and point-to-multipoint (PTMP) technologies. It uses mainly Cisco for 2.4 GHz last mile infrastructure, Motorola's Canopy system for 5.2 and 5.8 GHz PTMP applications, and Proxim Tsunami products for 5.8 and 5.2 GHz PTP links.

See you, see me, CPE

While the company originally focused on the business market, recent acquisitions have given it a presence in residential areas, and BBS now believes it has found a way to expand its residential customer base quickly and profitability. The key, says Santiago, is reducing the upfront cost of wireless for end customers.

"That's the biggest hurdle in our industry," he says. "Most companies like ours have a really hard time financing that end user. [Residential customers] are anxious for broadband but they're not anxious $500 or $600 worth."

Big ILECs and others can eat the upfront capital cost of customer premises equipment (CPE). BBS can't. Its solution: set up leasing deals for CPE, charge a modest up-front installation fees and roll the rest of the hardware leasing costs into monthly fees. The company currently charges residential customers $99 for installation and $40 per month for 256 Kbps service or $50 per month for 512 Kbps.

That makes BBS competitive with area cable and DSL providers. "We're mainly targeting areas without DSL or cable and finding tremendous demand there," Santiago says. "But we're also finding we can compete even in areas that do have DSL."

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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