BellSouth and Wavelength Target Planned Communities

By Adam Stone

November 03, 2006

Property holders could look to this new partnership to get Wi-Fi as an amenity for house buyers — though maybe not at their house.

Why roll out Wi-Fi house-by-house when you can potentially sell wireless service into whole neighborhoods at a time?

That's the premise behind a new deal between telecom behemoth BellSouth and wireless services provider Wavelength. As BellSouth moves into planned communities in the southeast, Wavelength will tag along with a scheme to deliver Wi-Fi into common areas within those communities.

"This is a new strategy for us, and we see a huge opportunity there," says BellSouth spokesman Todd Smith.

It's likewise a big opportunity for Wavelength, which until now has concentrated its efforts on working with Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and other large property holders to sell its services into multi-tenant properties. The selling power of BellSouth could give a substantial boost to the firm's own sales efforts.

As planned by the partners, the Wi-Fi services would be sold as an adjunct to BellSouth's three main offerings: voice, video and data. The hope is that joint proposals from Wavelength and coordinated deployment by the partners will tempt developers and homeowner associations to sign on for the full package.

Homeowners would not feel the cost of the added service, which would be touted as an amenity while the cost of delivering the service would be rolled up into monthly homeowner fees. "It would not be a service that the residents would pay for [directly] themselves," says Smith, who would not disclose any pricing figures associated with the program.

Wavelength has a track record sufficient to give BellSouth confidence in the plan. The Greenville, North Carolina-based service provider already takes care of some 15,000 users in 17 states, according to CEO Eric Teague.

The company has tried to distinguish itself by providing not just the technological links to deliver wireless telecom, but also the service to back up its Wi-Fi offerings, with telephone support available to all end users.

"We really take ownership for the entire Internet experience, ultimately delivering the customer care and the quality that the end user appreciates," Teague says, noting that this service-management aspect is a key differentiator for a company trying to attract business from the real estate community. "We believe the solution that calls for the least involvement by the apartment owner or the property owner, that is the best solution."

The southeastern states seem a logical choice for a Wi-Fi rollout that relies on the construction of new planned communities, with three of the nation's 10 fastest-growing states located in the region. Florida, for example, picked up 404,000 people from 2004 and 2005. BellSouth's home state of Georgia rocketed from 8.1 million to 9.0 million from 2000 to 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Much of this growth is coming in the form of planned communities, making such neighborhoods a logical target for the new Wi-Fi offering, Smith says.

Once deployed, these Wi-Fi networks would not blanket entire communities, but would instead cover targeted sites.

"We anticipate most neighborhoods would be looking to deploy it in the club house, by the pool, in park-like areas with playgrounds," Smith says. "We don’t anticipate they will be covering all the parking lots and streets. It would be more the common areas where people would congregate."

Wavelength will be relying on BellSouth's muscle to help it cover all that ground. "We are looking at leveraging their existing backhaul capability to provide the Wi-Fi coverage for the common areas," Teague says. "That might be a four-acre park, or it might be the tennis court or the pool."

What does all this say about the future of Wi-Fi in emerging communities?

Today, it's a three-legged table, with the big telecom delivering voice, video and data. But Wi-Fi is quickly gaining a place as a legitimate fourth leg: not just a nice extra, but a fundamental support in the structure.

"Most of the sophisticated developers are looking for ways to build seamless technology [including wireless] into their properties," Teague says. "The pace of that is increasing with the proliferation of broadband, and Wavelength fully anticipates continuing to be an important part of that service offering."

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