Boston-based startup netBlazr has a novel approach to broadband service delivery. Business users in Boston now can get service for free after paying an initial startup fee of $299 that includes a high-speed router and three WiFi radios. In addition to providing connectivity to a high-speed landline link to the Internet, the three radios help extend the broadband service to other potential business customers within line of sight.

“The goal is to have a customer on every block,” netBlazr CEO Jim Hanley told the Boston Herald this week. “Every new customer is three new windows that someone else could eventually see.”

Business users are cautioned not to rely solely on netBlazr, however. “netBlazr is designed to be an affordable source to boost your broadband Internet speed,” the company notes in an FAQ posted on its site.  “This way your company’s Internet needs are provided over two separate paths ensuring redundancy and additional bandwidth at a low cost.”

According to the Herald report, netBlazr’s origin signal comes from the top of a tall building “where netBlazr has negotiated with already existing fiber-optic-powered businesses to let them latch onto their network in exchange for giving the company free Internet access.” Also critical to service delivery is a high-speed landline from Cogent Communications referenced in netBlazr’s FAQ.

netBlazr expects to be profitable by offering a premium service that delivers higher capacity and committed data rates. “These paid services are still a small fraction of what other Internet service providers charge, but they are enough to cover the costs of our frugal business,” the netBlazr FAQ says.

The netBlazr business model would appear to have the greatest chance of success in densely populated urban areas. Currently service is available only in Boston’s Back Bay and downtown neighborhoods. But netBlazr apparently hopes to extend its coverage area moving forward. The company offers a wait list for people to be notified when service reaches their neighborhood.

Discouragingly, however, the Herald reporter notes that netBlazr currently has only eight connected customers, with another half dozen in the pipeline.

The company may have opted to focus on the business market because, as a blogger at notes, business users “don’t traditionally pound networks with peer-to-peer file requests or lots of online video.” But unless a business is fairly small, with decision-making concentrated in the hands of one or two people, I’m thinking netBlazr may have a tough sell in the business market simply because so many people have to agree to the idea. I can envision a lot of IT managers refusing to even consider the netBlazr option because of the added work of installing the router and radios and perceived risk for them.

Image courtesy of flickr user Brad Stabler.

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9 thoughts on “netBlazr Tries Different Approach to Business Broadband – Free (Almost)

  1. May not all of the customers on NetBlazr's map are paying, however they do have a fair-sized footprint there:

    Also, they don't need a ton of customers to pay back their costs. If they're running a gigabit circuit from Cogent, they may be only paying $1000 per month for bandwidth, and each customer pays for their own hardware up front. If you're pegging the average paying customer revenue at $60 per month then it doesn't take a ton of them to break even.

    What I'm wondering is why NetBlazr chose Boston as its launch market; bandwidth might be cheap but you are competing against Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN in that area…

  2. Oh, and this is definitely a mesh network. From a bandwidth perspective, it's "done right" as long as you can get line of sight between each customer and a couple others. It's just a little scary relying on a network that uses indoor CPEs as repeaters, but at least they're good CPEs.

  3. Ian is right. It doesn't take many customers to cover the costs. The reason this works is that businesses are hurt more than consumers by today's broadband monopolies. If you are in one of the few (~3%) buildings that are "on-net" for competitive carriers like Cogent, Level 3, Veroxity, Abovenet, etc. you do ok. If you are in a nearby building that has only Verizon, your cost per Mbps can be 30x-40x higher. That's an enormous arbitrage opportunity!

    Comcast, Verizon & RCN don't look competition for netBlazr. First, while Comcast is beginning to put some pressure on Verizon for small business Internet access, and some wireless ISPs like Towerstream are putting some pressure on Verizon for committed data rate circuits (e.g. 10 Mbps Metro Ethernet), these pressures result in a 2x price change, at most. We're offering a 5x-10x price difference for a different kind of service. Second, we're offering an augmentation service. We want to be your co-primary provider, allowing medium and smaller businesses to afford the reliability that comes with having two upstream providers. That allows us to use an Internet support model, a freemium sales model and a coop model for our infrastructure, so our costs are radically lower than the typical ISP.

    We've started in Boston because the founders live in and around Boston, however this business will scale to cover at least the top 50 US urban markets, and beyond. For now we are still developing software, tweaking the business model and working out how best to form local communities. And, to answer George, the founders are funding the business. Once we have developed the needed software and demonstrated the business model, we do expect to use outside investment to fund growth.

    Also, Ian, the current radios are from Ubiquiti and are rated for outdoor use although almost all of our deployments are indoors (facing out a window).

  4. I didn't really get what this company is trying to do until I read their twitter bio. "We are like Skype for Broadband." Now it makes sense – not sure it will work, but at least I understand the concept.

  5. I didn't really get what this company is trying to do until I read their twitter bio. "We are like Skype for Broadband." Now it makes sense – not sure it will work, but at least I understand the concept.

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