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TowerStream Launches Shared-Infrastructure Subsidiary

TowerStream has formed Hetnets Tower Corporation, which will offer wireless carriers and others a range of shared infrastructure services and access for mobile wireless Internet services.

“We are excited to launch our new subsidiary, Hetnets Tower Corporation,” said Jeffrey Thompson, Tower Stream president and CEO, during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call. “The explosion in mobile data in urban markets is driving a migration to small cell architecture, and the major carriers are presently focused on the densification of their networks.”

TowerStream’s fixed wireless infrastructure includes 1,500 rooftops with 3,000 Wi-Fi nodes. “Our fixed wireless, backhaul network and street-level rooftop locations enables us to quickly deliver solutions to the challenges associated with small cell deployments,” Thompson said.

Since 2010, TowerStream has been exploring opportunities to leverage its fixed wireless network in major urban markets to provide other wireless technology solutions and services. With the rise of mobile data placing a tremendous demand on the networks of the carriers, TowerStream concluded that its Wi-Fi network can serve carriers’ data offload needs.

“Densification is now the focus of the carriers. The densification calls for very large quantities of small cell and Wi-Fi antennas. We will align our rollout with the surgical approach and roll out with them as we sign each anchor tenant,” Thompson said. “Our buildup over the last 1.5 years has given us a significant first-mover advantage and has put us in a leadership position in small cell wireless shared infrastructure.”

The strategy of the wireless carriers in terms of small cell and Wi-Fi offload has evolved since the advent of Big Data. When TowerStream built its first test network two years ago, the business opportunity looked to include only pure Wi-Fi offload and it was considered by some to be short-term solution to the data congestion.

“Carriers expected through consolidation to acquire the spectrum needed for capacity,” Thompson said. “The consolidation did not end up being the solution, and the carriers have now looked to small cell network architecture and heterogeneous networks, also called hetnets, to meet the capacity demands. Wi-Fi is now part of the small cell architecture and part of the long-term solution along with metro cells and picocells.”

To serve this need, Hetnets Tower Corporation plans to rent space on street level rooftops for the installation of customer-owned small cells, which includes Wi-Fi antennas, DAS, and metro and pico cells. Channels on TowerStream’s Wi-Fi network will also be available for rent for the offloading of mobile data. Additionally, the new company will rent cabinets, switch ports, backhaul, transport, and power and power backup.  The company will operate in 13 major metro markets, including New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, Seattle, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Philadelphia, Nashville, and Las Vegas/Reno.

Wi-Fi Catches Fire

During 2012, Wi-Fi moved from being a stop-gap data offload for maxed out cellular networks, at best a value add, to a viable neutral host option with a workable business model for carriers. Major cities, such as Chicago, took a renewed interest in Wi-Fi as an engine for economic growth. Even the NFL woke up and wondered by each of its stadiums did not have Wi-Fi.

An important roaming standard, PassPoint, was established by the Wi-Fi Alliance in June 2012, which allows wireless devices to automatically discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks using Passpoint-certified access points, thus eliminating service set identification limitations. Also, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Small Cell Forum began working on protocols to integrate Wi-Fi and small cells to improve the user experience, increase network capacity and employ advanced traffic management techniques. Additionally, look for the 802.11ac standard to improve throughput speeds in the future.

2012 was the year Wi-Fi was brought into the wireless fold. Ericsson, for example, launched a stadium-optimized Wi-Fi solution, which consists of two products  the AP 5114 — Wi-Fi access point and the WIC 8000 Wi-Fi controller — which work together to create a Wi-Fi network that is integrated with the mobile network – in keeping with Ericsson’s approach to heterogeneous networks.

Here are some of the key stories that illustrate the path of Wi-Fi in the last year.

TowerStream Welcomes Carriers onto its Wi-Fi Network

TowerStream’s integration with two major wireless carriers has been completed and it expects to see them go live on its Wi-Fi network in the first quarter next year, Jeff Thompson, president, CEO and director of the company, told analysts on the third quarter earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. MORE

NFL Attempts to Tack Wi-Fi at Stadiums

Wi-Fi has become a priority for the NFL, which has set a goal of having deployments at all of its stadiums. Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., is the latest and fifth NFL stadium to receive Wi-Fi, is equipped with more than 460 AT&T Wi-Fi access points.In addition to the Panthers’ stadium, the league is keeping an eye on Wi-Fi systems in MetLife Stadium used by the N.Y. Giants and N.Y. Jets, the New England Patriot’s Gillette Stadium, the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Superdome used by the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. MORE

Cities Take Different Approaches to Wi-Fi

The city of Chicago is planning to use wired and wireless broadband as part of its plan to lure the next-generation companies and start-ups to open shop in the Windy City, dubbed Chicago Broadband Challenge.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his administration will bridge the digital divide by expanding access to high-speed Internet services to underserved and disadvantaged neighborhoods, as well as increasing Internet access and speeds at institutions like schools, libraries, public safety agencies and parks. MORE

Wi-Fi Improves Small Cell Business Model — Report

A new report shows that the combination of cellular and Wi-Fi greatly improves the business case for LTE and 3G small cells. When small cells are combined with Wi-Fi, it becomes a powerful tool for mobile operators to increase data capacity and reduce wireless data costs, according to a report from Senza Fili Consulting. The report, “The Economics of Small Cells and Wi-Fi Offload,” explores the business model for the coexistence of small cells and Wi-Fi within the same network and identifies strategies that enable mobile operators to optimize their networks and spectrum resources and to minimize per-bit costs. MORE

 Industry Groups Look to Facilitate Wi-Fi/Small Cell Integration

With carriers increasingly using unlicensed spectrum, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Small Cell Forum have decided to work together to integrate Wi-Fi and small cells to improve the user experience, increase network capacity and employ advanced traffic management techniques, according to a joint announcement made at the Wi-Fi Global Congress in San Francisco.

Gordon Mansfield, the Small Cell Forum’s chairman said in a press release. “Both [cellular and Wi-FI] technologies are crucial for supporting the never ending growth in data traffic. In the long term, each technology alone cannot meet this challenge – success can only be achieved by aligning the two.”

The two organizations will look at how small cells will impact efforts to simplify Next Generation Hotspot access, and optimizing the user experience and operator deployment strategies for Wi-Fi/small cell hotspots. MORE

AT&T’s Investment Provides Validation for Small Cells

Announcing its $8 billion in wireless initiatives in the next three years on Nov. 7, AT&T noted that “network densification” would be a large component of Project Velocity IP (VIP). Large, in this case, is bringing 40,000 small cells and 1,000 more DAS networks online.

“We are `densifying’ our wireless grid,” John Donovan, senior executive VP, AT&T Technology & Network Operations, said. “High traffic metro areas require denser, cell-site grids to help capacity and improve quality.” Densification will result in more network usage, better revenue opportunities, improved in-building coverage and support for launching voice over LTE, he added.

The initial field deployment of small cells will begin in the fourth quarter 2012 with general deployment. AT&T is planning to include all of its technologies, UMTS, HSPA+ and Wi‐Fi, in the small cell rollout . In fact, the implementation will begin with 3G UMTS and 4G HSPA+ in 2013 and expand to include LTE and Wi-Fi in 2014.

“During the next three years, you are going to see a shift in our investment to use more small cell technology,” Donovan said. “By 2015, we expect more than 50 percent of the planned densification will use small cells.”

Donovan told the audience that increasing the density of its wireless network is expected to improve network quality and increase spectrum efficiency. The deployment of small cells will be handled within AT&T’s network operations group.

Jeff Thompson, president and CEO, TowerStream, addressed what he called the “fundamental shift” in cellular network architecture to small cells through “hyper-densification,” saying it will require 10 to 30 small cells to provide the same coverage and capacity of one macrocell tower,  according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the company’s third quarter earnings call,

Three out of the four largest U.S. carriers have announced of small cell build-outs, including Wi-Fi, metro cell and DAS, according to Thompson.

Collocation will be the key to site acquisition in the deployment of small cells, according to Thompson, and he feels his company is well positioned to provide carriers with the space.

“AT&T is going to have to find locations to put those 40,000 small cells,” he said.  “Step one is to have beach front property in the best urban markets, which we do; step two is to have a relationship with the carriers, which we do; step four is to get a master lease agreement, which we are going to work hard to get through that phase; and step five is deployment.”

TowerStream views small cell deployment as a traditional rooftop collocation, where the carrier pays for the equipment and the installation. Another critical component of small cell deployment is backhaul, according to Thompson.

“We can also supply the backhaul, if needed, but not required. We believe in the first half in 2013, there will be 3G UMTS and HSPA-plus small cell deployments, which will require approximately 20 megabits of backhaul,” Thompson said. “In 2014, we see the migration to 4G small cell, which will require 40 megabits to 50 megabits for backhaul.”

TowerStream Welcomes Carriers onto its Wi-Fi Network

TowerStream’s integration with two major wireless carriers has been completed and it expects to see them go live on its Wi-Fi network in the first quarter next year, Jeff Thompson, president, CEO and director of the company, told analysts on the third quarter earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

TowerStream’s Wi-Fi nodes have been tested and are certified for PassPoint, the roaming standard  established by the Wi-Fi Alliance in June 2012. Passpoint-enabled wireless devices automatically discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks using Passpoint-certified access points, thus eliminating service set identification limitations.

“This gives us many features and capabilities for carriers to manage and control the user experience and to make Wi-Fi a seamless part of the radio access network,” Thompson said. “The high-bandwidth capability of Wi-Fi can drive usage and revenue for the carriers.”

With Passpoint technology, the Wi-Fi operator can offer a true neutral host business model, with no limit to the number of carriers or other entities that can access an antenna.

“On a Wi-Fi node, you rent a port on an antenna, just like a collocation and you are off to the races. There are no limits,” Thompson said.

TowerStream’s Wi-Fi and small cell business is also currently partnering with non-carriers, such as Skype, Boingo and other location based advertising companies. The company’s Wi-Fi nodes may be leased to a multitude of different customers, such as MSOs, Internet companies, location-based services; and platform players, such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as carriers.

“What’s interesting about Wi-Fi is that, unlike licensed technologies such DAS or LTE, it is in every device and you don’t have to be a carrier to have access,” Thompson told DAS Bulletin. “There are a lot of other business opportunities. It is the most successful wireless technology ever.”

TowerStream currently has 2,800 Wi-Fi nodes in place, adding 1,000 nodes in the third quarter. Typically, it has three and sometimes four Wi-Fi nodes on a rooftop. The company is currently leasing space at more than 10,000 locations in urban environments, many with 20-year leases and exclusivity.

“The Wi-Fi cost structure is significantly less than cellular or DAS antennas, which allows us to grow more cash flow per node with less revenue,” Thompson said. “We believe the low cost and revenue possibilities can exceed other cell node cash margins.”

Thompson noted that the Wireless Broadband Alliance Wi-Fi Global Congress, Nov. 8, in San Francisco created a lot of buzz around the future of Wi-Fi, with presentations by Sprint Nextel, AT&T, British Telecom and China Mobile, which said it is going from 3 million Wi-Fi access points up to 6 million access points in the next two years.

“What we saw was a huge sea change in that Wi-Fi has become embedded in the long term business model concerning how [carriers] are going to service their customers, giving them a better user experience and eventually start charging them per megabit,” Thompson said. “Wi-Fi is becoming part of the radio access network and it will be a seamless user experience.”