Digital Infrastructure

How one longtime telco exec learned to love DeWi

Samer Bishay is no stranger to the telecom industry.

In 1999, he founded local exchange carrier Iristel in Canada. Today, that company is the largest privately owned telecommunications company in the country, with roughly 10% market share and around 7 million subscribers. In 2012, Iristel also became a major shareholder in Ice Wireless, which today provides 4G LTE services across some of Canada's northern territories, including Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Now, Bishay is turning his focus to the market for decentralized wireless, dubbed "DeWi" by players in the space, which until recently was primarily a domain of blockchain and cryptocurrency aficionados.

"I didn't know anything about blockchain up until two years ago," Bishay told Light Reading.

Samer Bishay is focusing on the market for decentralized wireless, or DeWi. (Source: Iristel. Used with permission.)
Samer Bishay is focusing on the market for decentralized wireless, or DeWi.
(Source: Iristel. Used with permission.)

But the incredible success of Helium's LoRa network – built by everyday users via cryptocurrency rewards – opened Bishay's eyes. And now he's pursuing the DeWi space with his own new startup, Karrier One, which is hammering out its approach with a 30-node Ice Wireless deployment in northern Canada.

Next up: Bishay is working on raising a seed round of venture funding for Karrier One, with hopes for a broader network launch across the US and Canada next year. He hopes the startup can expand globally by 2025.

DeWi with a telecom background

Karrier One joins Helium, Pollen Mobile, Xnet and others in the nascent but potentially explosive market for DeWi. Broadly, the companies are hoping to upend the traditional telecom market by creating a cryptocurrency mechanism that rewards investors, everyday users and others for building and operating cell sites – just like Helium has done with its LoRa Internet of things (IoT) network.

But Karrier One is different, hailing from a deep telecom background. Most other companies in the DeWi space come from the blockchain and cryptocurrency side.

"We're going to do things a little differently," Bishay promised, arguing that most DeWi efforts to date "lack a lot of the telecom experience."

For example, Helium just last month announced the ways it hopes to reward users for providing useful, reliable 4G LTE coverage, rather than just broadcasting a signal wherever they may happen to be. Bishay, meantime, said Karrier One will focus on "carrier grade" networking from the outset, rather than adding it after hitting the market.

"Our approach is coming in from a completely different angle than the rest," he said, noting that his experience at Iristel and Ice Wireless will help Karrier One provide standard telecom services like local number portability, roaming and backend billing.

"We want to be a platform," he said.

Partners, models and obstacles

Karrier One is moving forward with equipment from vendor Airspan but plans to add other vendors in the future. Bishay said Karrier One expects to support spectrum bands like 3.5GHz CBRS – which is also used by Helium and Pollen in the US – but would also support a range of other spectrum bands in Canada, the US and internationally. He added that Ice Wireless will likely allocate some spectrum to early Karrier One deployments.

Under Karrier One's current model, the company will share 20% of its revenues with spectrum owners and keep 30%. The remaining 50% will go to the entity owning and operating Karrier One's transmission sites. He said the company is hoping to offer its platform to incumbents like AT&T, upstarts like Dish Network, private networking operations and everyday users who are hoping to improve their local network coverage.

Bishay said he expects Karrier One's first deployments to involve municipal entities looking to provide coverage in rural and underserved locations.

Karrier One will likely face a wide range of challenges in its pursuit of the DeWi space. After all, Helium has had trouble finding customers to pay for its LoRa network. Further, Bishay himself said Karrier One will need to develop blockchain technology that can handle the big data needs of telecom networks.

But DeWi backers continue to argue that the current, incumbent network buildout model can only go so far, and that alternative models will need to be accepted at some point by the established telecom industry.

It's unclear whether that will happen, but certainly Bishay will be in a position to push DeWi concepts among veteran telecom executives.

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

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