In our second look at the fixed wireless segment of the infrastructure business this month, we turn to Canada’s WireIE. WireIE’s domain lies between the metro where fiber is plentiful and the underserved markets normally beyond its reach, where they blend fixed wireless and fiber to go where others don’t want to. With us today to offer a northern perspective on the connectivity business is WireIE’s founder, President, and CEO, Rob Barlow.
TR: What markets and verticals does WireIE focus on?
RB: All of Canada, from the British Columbia coast almost to Newfoundland, but not quite. But south of the 60th parallel — north of that is the Far North, and that’s not our marketplace. We have customers in finance, public airports, schools, jails, food inspection agencies, police departments, judges quarters, and oil and gas extraction. The finance vertical is just starting to kick off. We also help utilities like transformer and distribution stations.
TR: Do you compete directly for customers or do you work with partners as a wholesaler?
RB: We don’t usually go direct, and when we do it’s very strategic. These are national contracts that the carriers win. They typically make decisions based on whether to build fiber, or supply legacy copper through a third party. WireIE is the alternative to offsetting the fiber costs because the service quality is the same. And in underserved markets, there’s often not enough retail to justify building it themselves so they come to us.
TR: How much of WireIE’s infrastructure is wireless versus fiber and/or copper?
RB: I’d say 80% is microwave, and the rest is fiber. In underserved markets near the metro core, we typically use rooftop assets. In underserved markets off the beaten path we either build our own towers or lease tower space from someone else.
TR: What are you working on right now?
RB: We just went through a big fire season where our network performed really well. And we’re preparing a big winter, making sure that commercial power is up and we have backups for generators etc. We’re doing that so we can exceed our three nines availability and maintain our MEF Carrier Ethernet 2.0 certification. We’re quite proud of that because we’re one of only some 23 operators in the world that have it, and we’re the only carrier with a hybrid network type in the Northern Hemisphere that has it.
TR: Forgive a non-Canadian for asking, but when does fire season start and what does it mean for a network builder and operator like WireIE?
RB: Fire season typically begins in the spring, and in Ontario it can be quite dramatic. In rural parts of Ontario, fire season is a big event and lots of people are affected if it goes the wrong way. Last year there was a fire near the big mining town of Timmons where half the town was evacuated. There are hectares of land where more and more lightning strikes happen as the climate gets warmer. We support fire management operations locations. They require real time GIS data from centralized places, and they make decisions based on the data they get from lightning strikes for deployment of helicopters, float planes, and airplanes to put fires out. Those bases are usually in remote places, for example there’s a base we serve that is 1,700km from Toronto. And for us it’s not just the base itself, but all the communities around it. By being in those markets we always have to be aware of the reliability required. It’s really an industry unto its own.
TR: And what does the winter season mean for you?
RB: In the winter we are always prepared for ice storms, which bring down pole and fiber plant as well as commercial power. WireIE has a network that is prepared for that. Also, with colder winters there is frost in the ground and it’s harder to work. It slows down the economy and using deployment methodologies where you have to dig for fiber or poles. WireIE’s solution allows for the expansion of network assets in cold temperatures because most of it is aerial. Most people put moratoriums on expansions, but we keep building.
TR: Do you have any plans to expand beyond the Canadian market?
RB: We’re focusing on bringing a couple vertical products into the US market, taking our key learnings from Canada and driving into the oil and gas marketplace. It’s typically underserved, or perhaps served by LTE that isn’t as reliable as the business requires for things like smart rigs and all the logistical support. We’re expecting to be fully up and running in the US in the next year or so.
TR: Where in the US do you hope to expand your operations to, and how will you do it?
RB: It’s very specific to shale gas. North Dakota is obviously a target because it’s close to Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and West Texas is a target because our customers are asking us to go there. It’s just starting for us though. Our strategy is to get 1-3 direct clients from our wins in Canada and work with them to deliver. We believe the fiber gap problem we have but don’t talk about in Canada exists in the US too. We believe that the adoption of Ethernet in the US market has even greater potential for us than in Canada. Entering the US market is not something we will do alone, we will use partners. We need to have individuals that understand the local geography and market and local suppliers of course.
TR: You mentioned your MEF CE2.0 certification, how does that fit into your business?
RB: It’s actually the interface of discussion between our partners, because now we’re talking from the same standards book. Our labs talk the same language, and our technicians talk the same language. The CIOs of today are demanding it, if not today then for the future. Part of the CE2.0 standard is to also take the performance of your network and to expose it to the customer. By the end of September we’ll have that in place also.
TR: What’s the most interesting network deployment you’ve been involved with?
RB: Everything we do is the same and it’s all interesting. But once we built a microwave network to a strategic energy asset that had to pass through a large wind turbine farm. The development of the project had to be done in conjunction with the layout of the wind farm, so that line of sight wouldn’t be impacted and allow us to maintain our standards for reliability.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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