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WI-VOD's Broadband Strategy for Arizona

If it's half desert, half mountains, spread out for miles in every direction and sorely in need of broadband, it must be… Arizona.

The geographically diverse state just picked half a dozen primary contractors to deliver high-speed connectivity to its widely dispersed population. At WI-VOD (short for "Wireless Voice Over and Data"), a Virginia-based primary contractor, CEO Allan Meiusi says his firm's wireless offerings will help overcome many of the state’s obstacles to broadband connectivity.

"This is some of the hardest and most difficult soil to lay cable in, and so laying out new wireline capabilities is just very costly," Meiusi says. "That creates a real opportunity for wireless."

The state expects to spend $300 million on the combined wireless and wireline project over the next three to five years. The broadband network eventually will cover 120 state agencies and 250 communities.

Meiusi estimates this could translate into anywhere from $12 to $35 million worth of work for his firm, depending on how aggressively he decides to pursue the various contract opportunities that become available through agencies and communities.

Analyst research suggests the opportunity could be significant, given people's apparent eagerness to embrace broadband.

Ina Sebastian, research associate at Jupiter Research, points to a recent survey in which 55 percent of metropolitan and rural dwellers said cost was the main barrier to their having broadband. That's hardly surprising. What is more telling, though, is the 48 percent of respondents who said they don't have broadband because it's not available. This suggests that if Arizona succeeds in its statewide rollout, there could be a significant demand for services.

This in turn could be a boon for WI-VOD, given its particular business model. In addition to rolling out wireless broadband in Arizona with the help of six subcontractors, the company plans to remain in the game as the service provider to all those potential new customers. "We want to be the service provider; we want to be the alternative telco," Meiusi says.

While those who deploy wireless typically do not stay on to operate – it's a separate set of skills, after all -- Meiusi says the company's practice of forging partnerships helps to give it credibility in both realms. "We have intimate knowledge of the technology, we work on the configuration ourselves, but we also bring on whatever expertise we need to give us the one-up in order to deliver the service the way that we want to deliver it."

While partnerships helped WI-VOD to win the Arizona award, Meiusi says extreme specificity also helped to carry the day. "A lot of people have template answers that go into every RFP," he says. "We really delve into each RFP individually, and we make the answers very particular to that RFP."

In this case, that meant, among other thing, a detailed explanation of the ways in which WI-VOD's expertise could dovetail with the state's needs.

Meiusi will need to use all the expertise he has on hand if he is to surmount the complexities of a statewide deployment in Arizona. For one thing, the distances between many remote communities may limit access to power sources, which can make it difficult to achieve wireless connectivity.

Thus, Meiusi plans to attach equipment directly to existing power poles, and also says he will turn to the sun for help, with solar generators keeping his connections humming. "In the Arizona market, solar has performed phenomenally well for us," he says. "It’s never affected by brownouts; it is just rock solid."

Then there are the bureaucrats, the multiple administrative bodies that will have to grant right of way for the network. "If we want to put a node next to a highway, we may need grants from four or five different agencies," including state and federal transportation departments, county zoning offices, building and permits departments and so on.

Meiusi says his best remedy is the work-around. His team will aggressively scout out positions that will help avoid that tangle, for example, by mounting nodes onto private houses and using 32-foot antennae, as opposed to the 36-footers which might trigger the right-of-way process.

Of all the hurdles in this statewide deployment, Meiusi says, "that is really the biggest evil."