Jab Broadband maintains growth trajectory in nascent WISP market

Jab Broadband, the country's largest fixed wireless broadband service provider, continues to look for acquisition targets as it addresses one of the problems that has vexed the communications industry for years: serving rural areas and making a profit.

Jack Koo CEO Jab Broadband

Koo

Jab provides broadband Internet and digital voice services to residential and business customers across 14 states, with Internet speeds ranging between 5 Mbps and 1 Gbps. To reach its current size serving more than 175,000 customers, the Englewood, Colo.-based JAB completed 104 acquisitions since its founding in 2006.

Looking at the rest of this year and into next fiscal year, "we'll continue to grow through acquisition activity and the consolidation of those operations," Jab Broadband CEO Jack Koo told FierceWirelessTech. "We're focused on growing organically, not only on the residential side but particularly on the commercial and enterprise side."

Similar to traditional cellular, Jab's network gets more robust as it establishes more tower density. It currently has a presence on more than 3,500 towers and more than 8,000 access points; it uses both unlicensed and licensed spectrum to deliver point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connections.

Most of Jab's spectrum holdings are in the 5 GHz band, but it also uses 3.65 GHz, 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz. As a great deal of technical innovation is taking place in LTE right now, those advancements are benefiting fixed wireless as well, such as with Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) allowing for more efficient spectrum use, Koo said.

Jab's end-user equipment is a small radio that's about half the size of a standard satellite dish mounted on a house or structure; Jab installs it on the customer's rooftop and typically has multiple tower locations to serve it.

Its two main vendors are Cambium Networks, formerly Motorola Solutions, and Ubiquiti Networks. "Our real primary advantage is a very cost-efficient, high-capacity technology," Koo said. "From a network cost standpoint, we can offer very high-speed connections at about a tenth of the cost of wireline service providers, so we use this advantage to really be the price performance leader in these underserved, rural markets."

The company currently operates five brands--Skybeam, T6, Digis, Rhino Communications and PrairieNet--and expects to consolidate those into a single brand early next year. Its services are focused on the Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions of the country.

As for Jab's business strategy, it is leading the roll-up of wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) throughout its markets. Koo figures there are probably more than 2,500 WISPs currently serving rural communities in the United States and they're providing service to some 3 million customers. "It's a large but somewhat nascent industry," he said.

Jab Broadband's plan from the onset was to consolidate the mom-and-pop shops. "It's almost an unlimited runway for us," Koo said, adding that the company's revenue has grown over the last five years at a compound rate of 43 percent annually. The company is looking to achieve 20 percent-plus increases in revenue annually.

At its most recent open public meeting, the FCC said it wants to give more priority to unlicensed spectrum--what Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the "jet fuel of innovation."

The rationale behind the FCC allocating more unlicensed spectrum is all about increasing competition and enhancing technical innovation, and that's precisely what fixed wireless has been doing, driven in part by advancements in LTE, according to Koo. "We are really on the right side of public policy," he said. "We're very much in lock step with the FCC's goals and objectives."

Like other broadband service providers, the good news is customers have an almost insatiable desire for the service, and the challenge is trying to keep up with demand, Koo said. "In the time we've been in operation, we've seen our customers' bandwidth usage increase over five-fold," driven by services like video streaming, which represents almost two-thirds of its traffic. "That trend will do nothing but accelerate… The challenge that we all have as broadband service providers is continuing to meet the speed and capacity needs of our customers, and that's no small task."

Koo said customer service also is a priority. The company, which employs more than 750 people, has two centralized call centers, one in Loveland, Colo., and another in Salt Lake City, as well as several regional local service centers throughout its markets.

Jab was named Operator of the Year by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) in 2013. This past June, it was named one of North America's Top 100 companies by Red Herring magazine.

Related articles:
FCC supports more unlicensed use of TV, 600 MHz bands
Catching a WISP of rural broadband strategy
Wi-Fi advocates clash with automakers, WISPs over FCC's 5 GHz plan

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