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TowerStream: Ready for WiMAX, Ready for More Partners

TowerStream Corp. is a fixed-wireless broadband provider that prides itself on completely bypassing the RBOCs to provide Internet access to end users, alleviating wait times and stress. The company recently launched its partner program, and is anticipating the arrival of WiMAX standards certification, even though it already operates on pre-WiMAX technology with WiMAX-ready gear. Read on for more of the discussion with Jeff Thompson, TowerStreams co-founder, president and COO.

T@G:

What are the hot deployment opportunities or niches solutions providers should pursue?

Jeff Thompson:

Thats definitely a question Id expect you to ask, but its a bigger question than you actually think. Right now channel partners typically sell integrated T1s. What TowerStream can do with WiMAX is offer the same type of product [as an integrated T1], but its much more flexible and a much better service than what the phone companies can traditionally offer.

So whats happening is WiMAX has a last-mover advantage. IP wireless connectivity has all this quality of service that can make your integrated T1 a much more efficient and reliable voice connection. Its definitely one of the hottest selling products. Its like the iPod of MP3 players better, faster, cheaper.

T@G:

So, are there specific market opportunities, or is WiMAX in such demand that partners will find opportunities anywhere?

Thompson:

Some of what were seeing is people that need more than a T1s worth of bandwidth and that doesnt have to mean they need 3MB its really if someone needs over 1.5[MB]. If youre a small business that has 10 or 15 people [and] your T1 feels like a dialup connection, that doesnt mean you need to spend another $700 or $800 [for a second T1]. [TowerStream partners] can say, Ill upgrade you to 2MB because WiMAX is better, newer, cheaper technology. Its always simple things like that that seem to be the hot thing.

The hot opportunity is customers that cant be served by legacy infrastructure. Coppers been in the ground almost 100 years. Verizons admitted its not worth investing money in copper because it cant handle the newer speeds, flexibilities and options so theyre installing fiber.

The combination of VoIP and WiMAX services is something unique, so if [partners] use TowerStream, thats something they have that no one else has. [In addition, the average] installation time for a T1 is 26 business days. TowerStream does it in three to five business days. If youre a channel partner, you dont get paid until [the service] is installed. We dont depend on the [RBOCs] in any which way. We put a small antenna on the roof and then theyve got Internet access and youre off to the races. Weve literally done it in three hours

T@G:

TowerStream launched its channel partner program not too long ago. Hows it going?

Thompson:

It ramped up a little slow. We had less than 10 in March when we launched it but were up to 50 or 60 partners now. We have a lot of agents like Cisco [Systems Inc.] resellers now and a lot of hardware manufacturers that rely on Internet access for their installation to be complete.

We have the agent program, which is one-time payment for getting customers referred to us, then theres the recurring model which is pretty much standard as volume goes up, [partners get] more recurring revenue from us.

We also have a new program with $1,000 spiffs its probably going to be for three months. It started in May. For all our partners right now, when they get a new customer, they get a $1,000 spiff.

Whats starting to also happen is that [partners] are realizing how quickly we install so theyre getting paid very quickly.

T@G:

Does TowerStream provide training to its partners?

Thompson:

Right now we do offer training and as some of the bigger partners come on we have some documents we send off to help with the training process.

T@G:

So as your partner program grows, youll roll out more training and marketing support?

Thompson:

Yes.

T@G:

What do solutions providers need to know to sell WiMAX as it comes of age?

Thompson:

Make sure you partner with someone using top-tier products so they have the reliability. Shy away from a mom-and-pop shop using cheap gear thats not carrier-class and make sure its WiMAX-certified in the future.

T@G:

How much of a revolution is WiMAX?

Thompson:

I think its going to happen a lot like VoIP. VoIPs been out for years and everyone thought that was going to become a revolution [then], but its becoming a revolution now. Fast forward to how to get Internet access. DSL and cable dont have service on the last mile. WiMAX will have capabilities like cellular portability, mobility to take your broadband with you. WiMAX has that capability to give you better service with more features. Finally, theres really a way to deliver reliable Internet access that does not rely on the phone companies. Even Covad [Communications Group Inc.] still has to call Verizon.

T@G:

Final question. What prompted you to start TowerStream what was the need you saw?

Thompson:

Its pretty simple. [My CEO and I sold our] ISP and examined what didnt we like about this last company. The biggest headache was dealing with phone company every single day. So, we eliminated them in this business model and this is a much less stressful company. We started with two or three people in one room and [were up to] about 33 employees.


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