With around 200,000 customers, Rise Broadband lays claim to being the nation’s largest fixed wireless service provider. The company offers fixed LTE services alongside nonstandard fixed wireless options, running primarily in 5 GHz but also in 3.65 GHz and 2.5 GHz, in mostly rural locations in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and elsewhere in the West.
And, according to Jeff Kohler, the company’s co-founder and chief development officer, business is good.
“The economics of the business are very favorable. The reason they are favorable is because it costs somewhere between a fifth to a tenth of the cost of building a traditional wireline network, be it cable or fiber. So [fixed wireless] is a cost-effective way to reach a customer,” he said. “There is an insatiable demand for this service, as much in rural as there is in suburban or in urban [areas].”
Kohler explained that fixed wireless providers typically only need 5% market share in a given market to be profitable, compared with up to 40% for a typical cable operator. “You can pretty much guarantee that 5% of the people out there do not want to do business with their phone or cable company, for whatever reason,” he added. “And those people turn to their fixed wireless service provider because we are their alternative.”
Kohler added that, in one location, Rise is able to provide service to around 800 customers with one tower via LTE, and each one of those customers pays around $50-$60 per month for speeds up to 100 Mbps. Customers must first have an iPad-sized receiver installed on the outside of their house.
“There’s not a lot of choice out there,” he said of the rural areas Rise serves. “We have people who call us and say, ‘I will build a tower on my property if you will please bring service to my house and my neighbors, free of charge.’ That’s not unusual.”
The upshot: So will Rise and the other 2,000 or so fixed wireless internet service providers in the United States solve the digital divide? “The digital divide problem is not only just about speed, it’s about competition and choice. And we’re a long way from getting choice out to these rural areas,” Kohler said.