Wireless ISP NetBlazr targeting high-end apartments, expansion to Rhode Island

Using unlicensed radio frequencies, NetBlazr co-founder Brough Turner (pictured) is beaming access to the Web around Boston. Photo: DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF
Using unlicensed radio frequencies, NetBlazr co-founder Brough Turner (pictured) is beaming access to the Web around Boston. Photo: DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Not surprisingly for a guy named David, Carbonite co-founder David Friend says he likes the “David and Goliath story” of his latest investment, the wireless ISP NetBlazr.

 

With just a dozen employees, the Allston-based startup is taking on entrenched Internet Service Providers like Comcast, Verizon, and RCN. “Give somebody a decent alternative, and it’s not hard to pry them away,” says Friend, who is an investor and board member at NetBlazr. He’s also a customer, he adds, having replaced Comcast with NetBlazr at his Commonwealth Avenue residence in Back Bay.

NetBlazr customers affix a small dish-like antenna to the outside of their buildings, which communicates with transmitters that have been placed atop more than 50 buildings around the city. Each of these transmitters is connected to one of five fiber optic Internet links supplied by Lightower Fiber Networks.

NetBlazr CEO Jim Hanley with David Friend, co-founder of Carbonite and an investor in NetBlazr.

CEO Jim Hanley says the company is adding one new fiber location each quarter, allowing it to offer services in additional parts of the Boston area. “We’re just launching East Boston, the North End, and the Innovation District,” Hanley says. “The next thing will be to go to Quincy and Dorchester.”

While Hanley says about half of the startup’s revenues today comes from businesses seeking a faster, less expensive Internet connection than they can get from other providers, the major marketing focus for the company now is on selling its service to high-end apartment buildings around town.

For $60 a month, NetBlazr says it delivers speeds that can surpass 300 megabits per second. (By comparison, Comcast promises “up to 105 megabits per second” in marketing its Xfinity high-speed service; Verizon offers a high-end 500 megabits per second FiOS package for $275/month.)

“We have identified about 150 buildings that have greater than 100 units,” Hanley says via e-mail. “We’ve contacted about half of those buildings. We have agreements with about 10 so far, and are closing a new one each week.”

Individual residential customers who want service to a home or apartment pay a $199 installation fee. But unlike cable or telecom operators, NetBlazr offers its service on a month-to-month basis.

NetBlazr has raised about $1 million from investors so far. “Our plan is to go to another city, like Providence, soon,” Hanley says. “We want to be more than just a Boston ISP.”

The Globe last covered NetBlazr in June 2014. An earlier wireless ISP in Boston, Broadband2Wireless, attempted to build a similar business around 2000 — but Hanley thinks his timing is better, noting that the necessary equipment has improved significantly since then, while dropping in cost.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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