Vivint combines licensed, unlicensed spectrum to offer high-speed Internet

Instead of slogging through local zoning and other hassles to deploy fiber, wireless ISP (WISP) Vivint is using a combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum to offer high-speed Internet service to single-family homes.

Vivint designed its antenna to be weatherproof. (Image source: Vivint)

So far, its presence is limited to parts of Utah and to San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, but if its strategy works, it will be in more cities sooner rather than later. "We want to move more quickly," said Luke Langford, general manager/wireless Internet, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech, explaining that the company is happy to leave the fiber builds to companies like Google that have the time, patience and money to do it.

Granted, Vivint has its own logistics to take care of in the markets it enters. The company rents space on existing towers and deploys radios using licensed 28 GHz. To date, the company has gone into markets where someone else has purchased the spectrum rights in order to use the 28 GHz. Langford said that often means dealing with companies that had acquired spectrum during the LMDS days, which proved to be too expensive in the late 1990s. A lot of that spectrum has been largely dormant, so they're glad to see it put to use.

The way Vivint sees it, its strategy allows it to deploy faster and reach single-family homes by establishing a neighborhood "hub" home. A home owner in a neighborhood must agree to have three radios installed on the roof; in exchange, they get free, fast Internet "forever," he said. Vivent Internet offers symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds.

The hub home can "see" the tower from the roof, where it will have one licensed radio and two 5 GHz access points that are built per Vivint's special proprietary design. The neighbors to the hub home can sign up for Vivint's standard Internet service for $59.99 a month; Vivint will professionally install an antenna on their roof.

If some of this sounds similar to what Clearwire tried to do with 2.5 GHz, there are a couple of key differences, according to Langford. For one, Vivint is establishing the hub home, not trying to shoot through miles to get to the end user's home. For another, its model calls for installing the radios at customers' homes.

The company wants to expand nationwide, but in order to enter a market, it needs to partner with someone that has 28 GHz spectrum, and it looks for light- to moderately-dense tree coverage in the areas where it deploys. By way of example, the company decided a year ago to go into El Paso, and it now covers about 40 percent of that metro area, he said.

Whereas a WISP like Webpass is targeting commercial real estate and high-rise buildings with multiple tenants, Vivint prefers to go where it can focus on single-family homes. The company says it is already serving more than 15,000 customers.

Vivint tried to use off-the-shelf hardware but discovered that wasn't going to cut it for what it wanted to do, so it acquired technology and expertise and designed the 802.11-based hardware. Its main competitors are the cable and phone companies.

The company expects to announce at least three additional cities by the end of 2015, but it isn't giving any hints right now as to where those might be.

Interestingly, Vivint started out in the home security business, where it sends people into homes to install things like security cameras. A lot of customers started asking if it offered Internet service as well. It still drums up much of its business the old-fashioned way, with sales personnel walking through neighborhoods and knocking on doors--a strategy it expects to deploy for its Internet service as well.

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