WavMax Expands Aggressively in the West

By Naomi Graychase

November 03, 2005

The company's plan: stay one step ahead of the demand for wireless backhaul.

WavMax Broadband, a wireless broadband service provider headquartered in Littleton, Colorado, has begun work on what it calls “one of the largest high capacity wireless backhaul projects in the United States.” As part of its plan to bring high-speed wireless to businesses (and some homes) in the western U.S., the company has deployed DragonWave's AirPair 200 in a low latency ring configuration around Denver. The company has dubbed the network “SkyFiber.”

“When I dreamt up the name ‘SkyFiber,’ it was to show people that we are doing the same thing in the air—up to 400Mbps—that people are doing in the ground. We’re going to a GB next year,” says John Taylor, CEO of WavMax.

SkyFiber is central to WavMax’s plans for expanding its footprint both in the region and nationwide. Formerly known as Hometown Access Communications, the company had focused primarily on bringing affordable, high-speed residential service to the under- and unserved areas of the market, such as suburban and rural communities. The company’s new goal is to expand its service area through acquisitions and development in order to become a large wholesaler providing backhaul for other companies.

“Over the last few years, we’ve re-tooled our focus,” says Taylor. “Now, we’re looking to be the backhaul ‘railroad’ for commercial and wholesaling. We still do residential, but that’s less of a focus than it was previously.”

In addition to providing high-capacity Internet access, WavMax also offers digital video service and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). WavMax customers can also take advantage of worldwide roaming as the result of a partnership with AirPath.

“A business customer can take their laptop on trips and roam to China or the east coast or L.A. or wherever they want, and get onto an AirPath account at no charge, because of their subscription through us,” says Taylor.

The company, which was founded in 2000, is building its network on pre-WiMax equipment, but considers itself well-positioned to benefit from the anticipated WiMax boom.

“We are sort of doing what you would call a pre-WiMax thing now,” says Taylor. “We’ve been doing it for five years. We get up to 8-10 miles on some of it. By mid-next year, we will supplement our cell sites and enhance them with WiMax equipment.”

One element of the WavMax business plan involves offering broadband services to MDUs (multi-dwelling units, AKA apartment buildings).

“We have serviced many hotels—and even resort villages—and covered them completely with Wi-Fi,” says Taylor. “We know how to do that. We have an entire ski-area town covered right now. But we are not looking to do that as our primary business.”

Mark Goosmann, Director of Corporate Development for WavMax, cites the company’s partnerships with Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) as one direction the company will actively pursue in the future.

“We’re involved now in the nation’s largest REIT for apartments,” says Goosman. “We are concluding an agreement with them whereby we’ll do entire communities of their apartments and campuses. There’s the potential for 1,500 more communities as well.”

WavMax acquired five smaller companies in 2005, and is rapidly expanding its footprint in Western markets. Taylor estimates that his network currently covers approximately 3,000 square miles, mostly between Arizona and the southern border of Wyoming. Several million dollars have been committed to a marketing effort which will primarily target resellers, and further plans for acquisitions are also in the works.

“Our 90 cell sites cover thousands of square miles,” says Taylor. “We’re building a big network. We have plenty of room to allow others to come wholesale on this, which will allow most of the revenue from that growth.”

WavMax has also been expanding its market share by going after the military. Earlier this year, WavMax acquired Arizona-based provider Outback Broadband, which counted among its customers the military personnel stationed in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

“There’s somewhere in the nature of 50 major military bases across the United States,” says Goosman. “Congress is decommissioning some bases and going toward a more lean military that is faster to deploy. They are retiring the physical assets, but not the people. They are sending them to other places like the base in Sierra Vista, and Fort Carson outside Colorado Springs.”

Taylor says he has found that “the Homeland Security Act is causing a lot of the contractors to the military bases to look for alternative connectivity as a security measure.” In some cases, he says, Wi-Fi serves as a backup in case the wired network goes down.

“We see that as a big opportunity to increase our business,” says Taylor.

Taylor’s vision for his company involves maintaining profitability by keeping out in front of the industry as demand for broadband wireless continues to grow. His strategy is to become one of the largest backhaul providers for connectivity, including voice, data, and video.

“Wireless is getting most of the technology development right now,” says Taylor. “It will remain one of the lower-cost means of getting data and connectivity to homes and businesses, so it will grow at a faster pace than wired. The big thing is, it’s going to be a true alternative to the monopolies that have been held as a last-mile solution to all of these. I can’t imagine that it will not grow at a phenomenal pace.”



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