wireless towerNew England-based sister companies Great Northwest Woods Wireless (GNW) and Wireless Partners have an uncommon business model, focused on a rural wireless wholesale model. The approach is highlighted by a recent deal between these two partners and ExteNet.

“We can focus all our capital on the network in partnership with a major operator and make it work,” said Robert Parsloe, who is president and CEO of New Hampshire-based GNW  and Maine-based Wireless Partners.

A key major operator for Wireless Partners is Verizon, which selected the company to participate in its LTE in Rural America (LRA) program. That program lets rural partners use Verizon spectrum to build out LTE networks in areas where Verizon doesn’t offer service with the understanding that both parties will use the network. Most LRA participants are offering service directly to end users as well as providing connectivity for Verizon. But Wireless Partners is only focused on the wholesale opportunity.

The GNW business also is strictly wholesale but isn’t in the LRA program and expects to sell service to multiple wireless carriers. These include some smaller companies as well as some nationwide companies, Parsloe said.

ExteNet Partnership
This week GNW announced that it would use a distributed evolved packet core (EPC) from ExteNet to support its wholesale business. ExteNet is itself a wholesale network operator but is focused primarily on providing connectivity to high-traffic pockets in large metro areas such as at hotels, convention centers, college campuses and the like. The company also offers core wireless network infrastructure on an infrastructure-as-a-service basis, which it sells to smaller wireless operators, including some retail rural wireless companies.

“Tier 3s struggle with capital requirements,” explained Jason Osborne, vice president of business development and strategy for ExteNet, in an interview. “We remove that barrier by providing [core infrastructure] as a service.”

A Model for Others?
Parsloe said he isn’t aware of any other wireless network operator pursuing a rural wireless wholesale model as GNW and Wireless Partners are doing. But the strategy would seem to have potential, considering that retail rural wireless operators struggle to make a profit in a market dominated by the large national carriers.