US Wireless Online, AIR2LAN Merge

US Wireless Online
and AIR2LAN announced Thursday that they will merge.
The two companies will retain their names as they consolidate operations.

The decision reflects the maturing of the fixed wireless broadband Internet
industry, but it also owes a lot to a personal friendship between the CEOs of
the two companies. Speaking from his office in Louisville, Ky. US Wireless Online
CEO L. Douglas Keeney said, “when I accepted the CEO position of US Wireless
Online, which was then headquartered in Atlanta, I called several other WISP
CEOs. One of those I spoke to was Jai Bhagat, CEO of AIR2LAN. As our friendship
blossomed, we realized that our organizations had no geographical overlap. We
met more often when we joined the License
Exempt Alliance
(LEA) of the WCA.”

Sheeney is the current chairman of the LEA; Bhagat chaired the LEA last year.
This is yet another instance where associations provide people the opportunity
to meet like-minded professionals—that’s "networking."

As it coalesces, the industry is maturing and changing. Noted Keeney, “there
are many good operators with a narrow geographical focus. There are between
700 and 1,700 WISPs in the United States, and there have to be redundancies
across companies, in the finance department or in the NOC. As more sophisticated
management groups look at our industry, they will find that each company has
its strengths and weaknesses.”

US Wireless Online acquired part of Darwin Networks from bankruptcy court
in May of 2001. Darwin provided kiosk access, as well as DSL and building broadband.
US Wireless Online kept the kiosk business and Darwin’s high-quality NOC, but
did not acquire the DSL and building services assets. US Wireless Online therefore
brings a high quality NOC
to the merged entity.

At the time, US Wireless Online president David Hayes said, “With Darwin came
a state-of-the-art Network Operations Center with triple redundant power, fiber,
servers, monitoring counsels and state-of-the-art fire suppression, cooling,
and air filtering. Better still, it was staffed by some of the finest network
engineers I’ve ever met. Taken together—the incredible technology in place
and the people that run it—it only made sense to migrate our Atlanta center
up to Louisville.”

AIR2LAN has focused on working with other ISPs and with roaming initiatives
such as Boingo. AIR2LAN has also developed
its corporate product line, which includes roaming and VPN
offerings.

AIR2LAN operates in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. US Wireless
Online operates in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Each serves one top-tier
city (tier one cities are also known as "NFL cities" because a list
of tier one cities tends to list only cities that have NFL teams): AIR2LAN serves
Houston and US Wireless Online serves Atlanta.

“We compete with DSL and cable,” said Keeney. “In any market, we’ll focus
first on serving business customers. When our residential products are available,
they are priced significantly below DSL and cable. Even though we have a better
product, one without a single point of failure, with tremendous throughput (some
of it capped and shaped), that can be rolled out quickly, the quality is less
important than the price. Sure, our bandwidth is symmetrical and upgradeable.
If a customer starts out at 512 Kbps, we can expand them all the way up to 54
Mbps 802.11a. Cable and DSL will max out. Nevertheless, it’s pricing that’s
driving wireless. We’re significantly less expensive, especially if you compare
us to a T-1.”

With no geographical overlap, integrating the two organizations should be
simple. “Also, we deployed in a similar manner. We use 5.3 GHz and 5.8 GHz trunk
lines for backhauls, 2.4 GHz for corporate service, and 900 MHz for residential
and SOHO
customers. Although we may move to mesh architectures or to smart antennas like
Vivato‘s in the future, right now we’re
using 900 MHz radios from Alvarion
and WaveRider
that provide robust throughputs and great NLOS
range. When we ship a modem to a customer, we’re finding that at least 70 percent
can do a self install,” said Keeney.

As to the future, Keeney said he’s looking forward to a marketing drive. “We’re
in some rural areas, and there is a successful business model working in rural
areas. AIR2LAN serves the Mississippi Delta. But we like to be in areas where
there’s advertising and unrest. The management of the combined companies comes
from packaged goods marketing. There’s nothing like a good marketing battle
to get customers buying more product.”

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