netamerica+bonfireRural wireless operators participating in the NetAmerica Alliance 4G initiative now have a name for the service offering. Announced today, the new brand is Bonfire—and according to NetAmerica Chairman and CEO Roger Hutton, it has been extensively tested in focus groups with rural consumers.

Rural consumers are very focused on “community, family and circles of interest,” including “local people focused on local needs,” said Hutton in an interview. “The name speaks to these qualities of rural America. It implies fun, family, community, connecting and belonging.”

Initially announced a year ago, the NetAmerica Alliance aims to coordinate the efforts of multiple rural license holders, enabling participants to gain volume equipment discounts and to deliver a common service offering.

Also today NetAmerica participant Panhandle Telephone Cooperative said it has turned up LTE service in its service area in the panhandle area of Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico and Texas, making it the second NetAmerica operator to turn up service.

Panhandle CEO Ron Strecker told Telecompetitor he opted to participate in the NetAmerica Alliance because he saw it as an economical way of bringing higher-speed service to customers whose only Internet option previously was extended-reach DSL.

“Our initial interest was to use 4G in a fixed application,” said Strecker.

Panhandle’s territory is sparsely populated, with 30,000 people spread over 7,500 square miles and half of those people living in a single community. Panhandle was able to cover that territory with 45 towers and to bring the fixed wireless service to end users at about the same price they pay now for lower-speed DSL. Customers will pay $54.99 a month for the 6 Mb/s downstream and 1 Mb/s upstream LTE service as a stand-alone offering, with discounts available when the service is bundled with other offerings.

Hutton and Strecker declined to give details of their financial arrangement. But Hutton said participants initially pay fees to NetAmerica based on the number of people in their coverage area. Fees then “ratchet up” over a three-year period until they are ultimately based on a percentage of gross revenue. Maintenance and monitoring costs will be included in the fees.

“When I look at the traditional cost to do business by owning equipment and paying the vendor’s annual maintenance, I find NetAmerica lower and much more favorable than if I went out on my own,” said Strecker.

NetAmerica currently has only four network operator members—a number that has remained steady for at least a year. But Hutton said the company is in “very active” discussions with many other license holders.

“We expect to bring a lot of people on this year,” said Hutton. Some, he said, have taken a “wait and see” attitude. “We’ve had to prove we could make it work,” he said.

Hutton added that he expects to have more details about value-added services that NetAmerica members will be able to deliver within a few months. He noted, though, that the services “will enable people to have the same device at home and on the go—capabilities they don’t have today.”

As for promoting the Bonfire brand, NetAmerica Senior Vice President of Marketing Chuck Harris said he is working closely with members to create a “turnkey” program that they can take to their individual service areas.

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11 thoughts on “NetAmerica Introduces Bonfire as Latest 4G LTE Brand

  1. So as a wireless brand, bonfire will go head up with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.? Noble idea, but costly. Do these guys have the budget to establish a new brand AND compete against estalished brands?

  2. This model really doesn't sound that interesting. Why would a 700 MHz spectrum owner who can sell their spectrum for 250% of what they paid for it in the last auction, bypass that, invest in a whole new infrastructure (towers, backhaul, handsets) to barely scrape by in a typical mobile wireless model, which in the best case would require customers to walk past the AT&T and Verizon store with the newest smartphones to go to the NetAmerica store?

    Unless you are an existing wireless carrier with existing spectrum and an existing base – this model makes no sense and will not be successful, in my opinion. No one has been able to prove me wrong so far.

  3. The company that is highlighted in the article does not have a Verizon, AT&T, or any other big brand store in the 7500 square mile area. The rural communities served by Panhandle & NetAmerica are fortunate to have any speed other than dial-up.

  4. Mel makes the point exactly, per Jon's comments. The whole point behind NetAmerica and efforts like it is to get 4G access in markets where AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc. will never come anyway. No one will have to walk by an AT&T or Verizon store, because there are none in these markets. If the rural partners that work with NA don't build the 4G network, no one else will. Hopefully, they'll bring some economies of scale to make it a viable business for rural areas.

  5. Mel is correct that AT&T does not have a store in the Oklahoma panhandle, and they only offer service in one town, Guymon. Verizon does not have a store there either, but they do cover virtually the entire panhandle with native 3G service, so therefore this are should be covered by Verizon's 4G LTE service by the middle of next year, as Verizon has stated that they will cover ALL their existing 3G areas with LTE by then. So there will be other options available to people living in the panhandle. What speeds and data caps will be the factors determining what people want to buy.

  6. How will NetAmerica address the handset issue? Do they have access to good LTE handsets. Also, I see no mention regarding voice. Are they going straight to VoLTE?

  7. Verizon claims to cover virtually the entire panhandle, but if you compare their coverage map to where you can actually make a phone call, well, lets just say marketing can be untruthful. And it remains to be seen if Verizon or ATT will solve their backhaul problems in rural areas enough to be able to provide meaningful 4G. A 25 Mbps LTE site doesn't work too well when depending on 4 or 5 T-1s for backhaul. Just sayin.

    1. The state of Oklahoma is in the midst of building a 1005 mile middle-mile fiber optic network that businesses, educational institutions, hospitals, etc, can tie into, and branches of it will go all over the panhandle, so I'm sure that will figure into the equation at some point in the near future.

      1. Unfortunately, the "state-wide" middle mile fiber network ends at Woodward. It comes no closer to the panhandle than that. It is a bit of a stretch to call it a state wide network. Unless you don't consider the panhandle as part of oklahoma. Which is how it seems.

  8. Jon, I don't think you read the article very well. It says they are using it for fixed wireless access in rural areas where wired broadband can't reach. Perhaps that is a business model you are unfamilar with…

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