Frontier sees Wi-Fi as key to opening new business service revenue opportunities

Frontier Communications may not be a traditional wireless player, but the telco revealed during Adtran's Connect event in Huntsville, Ala., that it is seeing a growing demand to provide Wi-Fi services to local businesses.

Its recent win to wire the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, N.C., with Wi-Fi is an example of this trend.

Built on the former Lucky Strike tobacco plant, the campus is unique in that its 75 companies have their own Wi-Fi access points. It also includes a baseball stadium for the local Bulls minor league team and an outdoor concert amphitheater.

While the initial deal is focused on providing Wi-Fi, it's also a three-year deal that could enable it to upsell additional services to each of the campus' tenants.

"This is a three-year, nearly half a million dollar deal so it makes this customer very, very sticky and also opens a lot of other opportunities for us," said Dennis Bloss, VP and GM/North Carolina for Frontier Communications. "It also opens up a lot of other opportunities for us and drives ARPU in our traditional services because we're providing Gigabit redundant connectivity to this campus to drive this Wi-Fi network."

Bloss added that it could add new service opportunities, including traditional phone systems or even fiber-based services.

"This solidifies the relationship with the customer and makes that revenue stream go beyond the three-year contract," Bloss said. "It also opens up other opportunities for us, whether it be phone systems or other things to do with this customer, including we're likely to do a fiber to the prem solution on this campus for the businesses to compete against the cable provider."

While he could not cite specific other potential customers, Bloss said that they are seeing interest from a number of minor league teams across its soon-to-be 28-state footprint.

"In the venue space in the 27 states, and the soon-to-be 28 states we operate in, we're getting interest from other minor league teams," Bloss said. "Certainly if you're able to do this kind of venue with 11,000 connections simultaneous on this campus, we're getting a lot of interest from other players in the community."

Perhaps not surprisingly, there were a number of technical and business challenges that Frontier had to overcome to make the service work properly.

One of the initial issues it had to deal with was in showing businesses that resided in the campus how to monetize the Wi-Fi investment.

"I think the differentiating factor I learned is if you can take a solution to any sized customer, whether it is a Mom and Pop sandwich shop or a large venue like this, and show them how to monetize the investment, I think we can go against our competitors that have some businesses today and present a unique solution," Bloss said.

On the technical side, the issue was how Frontier would manage all of the 75 companies, with their own access points, by working with Adtran's Blue Socket division.

What's more, the service provider controls the 1 Gbps backhaul capacity with a fiber-based connection that's only two blocks from its central office.

"When we started looking at this, at any one point we could see more than 50 access points, especially on the 2.4 GHz space and almost the same battle with the 5 GHz band," Bloss said. "The space was very full so we had a coverage and interference concern, which drove the design of the network, but then also in the stadium they wanted 8,000 of the 9,000 the spectators that attend games to be online."

From a broader business opportunity perspective, Frontier is finding success in bundling Wi-Fi with other services such as cloud and managed router services for its small to medium business (SMB) customers. Despite seeing an overall dip in second-quarter business revenues, the service provider said that Wi-Fi and Ethernet represent new growth areas in the business segment.

Besides serving traditional businesses, the company is keen to cash in on how local schools will use Wi-Fi to enable students to use electronic e-readers inside the classroom, for example.

In particular, the FCC's recent E-Rate ruling to allocate $2 billion over the next two years to equip more schools and libraries with Wi-Fi connections could drive new opportunities to pursue in local school districts.

"With the upcoming E-Rate program, which will provide funding for Wi-Fi deployments in schools, this is a tremendous opportunity to take this to another level and put solutions in there," Bloss said.

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