We began our WISP ((Wireless Internet Service Provider) venture in 1999 in Summit County Colorado as a joint venture with Lucent Labs in Utrecht, Holland. We had met Lucent engineers while assisting them in the homologation of a Radius based dialup access server in Mexico City. One of our Lucent friends called us and asked if we could meet them in Denver which we agreed to do. When we walked into their offices, we noticed that they had a laptop sitting in the middle of a table with no wires connected to it and it was on the Internet, albeit a primitive 1999 Internet! After issuing the requisite exclamations like “What? How the Heck is that happening”, we were soon introduced to the original 2.4Ghz Wireless chip set, designed and manufactured by ex-Nokia engineers then working for Lucent in Utrecht. During our meeting, they explained to us that outdoor wireless was a whole “different animal” than indoor wireless (the term “WiFi” had not yet been coined), and they asked if we would like to enter into a joint venture with them to define the differences and design and test outdoor wireless. We gave it 24 hours of intense thinking and discussion and reported back to them the next day, “Heck yes!”. And so, outdoor fixed wireless broadband was born in Summit County, CO in 1999.
Our Vision and Mission was then and is still now to bring the best quality, fastest Broadband service and related products to people who live on the other side of the digital divide where there are no copper or fiber optic cables.
Back in 1999, we were delivering 256 Kb down and 128 Kb up. By 2000, we were at 1 mbps down and 384 Kb up. At that time, the only available dedicated, wired connection to the Internet (available in our planned service areas) was called a T1, a 4-wire copper circuit leased to the customer by the telephone company (Telco). At that time, the Telco was US West in Colorado (which became Qwest and is now Century Link). The T1 delivered about 1.38mbps up and down. The monthly price was $1850.00, (Gasp!). So, we offered 768kb down and 384kb up for about $500 per month. Since the Internet in 2000 was mostly text, 768 Kb was an awesome speed improvement over 56 Kb dial up. In no time, we were swamped with business orders (back then, Internet was mostly a business tool).
Over the next few years, the WISP industry began to take shape. The challenge was that the hardware and software available to us was really indoor hardware with some outdoor firmware enhancements, and the hardware was available as Integrated Circuit Boards which we bought and the packaged into outdoor weather proof enclosures.
In 2000, the radios were located at the bottom of the tower and the antennas were at the top, exactly like Cell Phone towers are configured today. We soon figured out that using coaxial cable from the ground where the power, network and radio connections were and running it 50-80 feet up a tower was causing way to much signal loss and that we needed to get rid of the coaxial cable, put the radios at the top of the tower attached directly to the antennas and deliver signal and power up the tower on CAT5. So, “Power over Ethernet” was born in our lab in Summit County.
Soon, we migrated our service areas to Arizona because the trees in Summit County prevented most potential customers from receiving our signal (Trees block RF Signals above 1 Ghz and we were transmitting at 2.4 Ghz. Today, we transmit at 5, 11 and 18 Ghz). In 2004, we began building “AZCI.net”, Arizona Community Internet. We launched service in February, 2005, in Arizona City, AZ. We grew slowly at first spreading to Eloy, then to Picacho. Over the next few years, hardware was changing every 6-9 months. What we bought and deployed 9 months ago soon became obsolete. This constant obsolescence continued to hamper our ability to grow because we were constantly replacing all of the equipment in our network. But, in 2008, an ex-Apple engineer started a company in California that would revolutionize our industry by delivering world class, ready to install outdoor wireless hardware and software at price points that were 1/3 of what we had been paying. At that point, AZCI.net began growing quite rapidly. We established a growing number of Access Point locations and by 2011 we had about 1,600 customers. Our name became a stumbling block. Nobody could pronounce it and everyone had a different idea about what it meant. So, we re-branded the company as AireBeam, a name which is easy to remember and says exactly what we do.
Today, AireBeam’s network of over 125 towers and access point locations covers 5,000 square miles of Southern Arizona, in Pinal, Maricopa, Yavapai and Cochise counties. We serve over 5,000 customers and we deliver multi-point speeds up to 20 mbps and point to point speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. Our network connection to the Internet has grown to a 10 gigabit “wave” fiber optic circuit, the largest commercially available Fiber Optic circuit.
Gigabit Enabled Communities
So, where do we go from here? Well, our mission is still and will always be to the bridge across the digital divide, delivering the Broadband services and products that our customers crave. But today, our vision is evolving! Recent developments in Fiber Optic technology have given birth to what is known as the Fiber to the Home or FTTH movement. Today, the vast majority of FTTH deployments are along the Eastern Seaboard where housing density makes expensive FTTH deployments as cost effective as they can be. Google has begun to create gigabit broadband enabled cities Kansas City, KS and Austin, Texas to name a few. AireBeam is now preparing to deploy FTTH in southern Arizona. We intend to build out the first gigabit community in Arizona. We are deep into fiber plant design for our first community and we hope to break ground before the end of 2015.
When a home has FTTH installed, the home has a gigabit data pipe coming into it. The pipe can carry Voice, Video and Data. AIreBeam began offering ePhone service in 2012. In 2014, we upgraded our VOIP platform to what is known as a distributed Telephony Server platform to provide scalable capacity and server proximity to the customers served. In 2014, AireBeam began working on a new and novel way to deliver real-time broadcast television over our network as IPTV. Our delivery methods and customer premise devices are in test and are producing awesome quality HDTV at 1080i and 720p as well as standard definition at 480i. We intend to announce our IPTV product before the end of 2015.
And, to make sure that we have the capacity to deliver the fastest broadband in Arizona, in 2015 we installed a 10gigabit Fiber Internet feeder circuit in Arizona City and are working to build a 2nd 10gigabit Fiber Internet feeder to provide redundancy.
And so, the Vision continues to evolve as new technologies arrive and customer demand is created and grows. We have always seen ourselves as “Agents of Change” and continue to embrace the notion that for a company to remain relevant in an evolving world, we must agressively embrace change and be willing to reinvent ourselves rapidly and cost effectively.
Today, we know that it is possible to bring FTTH to many homes in Southern Arizona using our hybrid Wireless/Fiber network. The potential is exciting and we are “frothing at the bit” to begin this newest of ventures.