Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)

Following GI transaction, FWA provider Rise talks up fiber

Private investment company GI Partners announced it completed its purchase of Rise Broadband, one of the nation's biggest independent fixed wireless Internet providers. However, the company's announcement focused heavily on Rise's future as a fiber provider.

"We are excited to partner with Jim O'Brien and the Rise team to execute a multi-year, fiber-based network expansion effort," said Brendan Scollans, managing director and co-head of GI Data Infrastructure, in a release. "Rise's existing network infrastructure is uniquely positioned to execute a fiber expansion effort that will provide rural communities with next generation broadband service."

Officials from Rise and GI did not immediately respond to questions from Light Reading on the company's situation. However, GI Partners in its release promised "meaningful new capital" to back "Rise Broadband's rollout of fiber-to-the-home services for rural American homes and businesses."

Rise Broadband, then called JAB Broadband, started out in 2006 with the goal of consolidating the country's smaller wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) to create one cohesive entity. Fast forward to 2015 and Rise Broadband arose from that effort having accumulated more than 100 WISPs alongside at least 200,000 fixed wireless access (FWA) customers.

Over the next few years, Rise boasted of plans to use more advanced wireless technologies to expand its wireless network and increase its customer base.

Today, Cnet reports that Rise Broadband covers around 6% of US households – across portions of Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and Utah – with fixed wireless.

But Rise has been relatively silent for the past few years – a period of dramatic upheaval in the FWA space.

First, T-Mobile and Verizon have generated significant momentum with their respective FWA offerings. Indeed, the two companies have captured much of the growth in the US broadband market in recent months – mainly at the expense of cable companies.

However, both T-Mobile and Verizon underpin their FWA offerings with successful and profitable mobility services for smartphone customers.

Meanwhile, companies that focus exclusively on FWA have faced a more challenging situation. For example, Common Networks, Starry and others have struggled to make FWA inroads in urban areas. And in rural areas, some FWA providers are pivoting to fiber, or at least embracing it, in order to ensure they're eligible for federal subsidies designed to address the digital divide. A number of federal funding efforts specifically encourage the deployment of fiber networks instead of FWA networks – a situation that has drawn the ire of some FWA lobbyists.

"There is a lot of M&A below the surface in the fixed wireless market," wrote analyst Jeff Moore, with Wave7 Research, in response to questions from Light Reading. In recent months, Shentel exited the FWA space, Ziply Fiber acquired EONI and Cincinnati Bell (now doing business as "altafiber") acquired Agile Network Builders.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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