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March 1, 2021
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Business Review Western MI
Business Review Western MI
Azulstar Changes
(wgvu) - New management and investment for a pioneering Grand Haven wireless
Internet company could spur it into a wide-open national market.

Former International Business Machines Inc. executive Yorke Rhodes III
is the new CEO at Azulstar Inc. He's moving much of the company to Grand
Rapids and bringing other top managers on board.

We are looking at Azulstar as a viable, national broadband player that
can be very easily propelled into the same echelon as companies like
Earthlink, he said.

Azulstar built a wireless network serving Grand Haven, Spring Lake and
Ferrysburg, offering free and premium wireless Internet services. Two
years ago it installed a network in fast-growing Rio Rancho, N.M. More
recently it landed deals with Winston-Salem, N.C., and with a group
representing Silicon Valley communities.

It has a number of other projects in the hopper, Rhodes said, and is
poised to quickly grow revenue.

Azulstar founder Tyler van Houwelingen remains with the former Ottawa
Wireless as an owner with some other responsibilities, but has moved out
of daily operations, Rhodes said. Rhodes is recruiting a former AT&T
Inc. executive for chief operating officer, he said, and another
specialist for CFO.

The company now is owned by a combination of managers, founders and
others, Rhodes said. The latter include Grand Rapids software company
CQL Inc., which is developing software for Azulstar. CQL soon will house
Azulstar's network equipment and business offices in its own
fiber-optics-connected Grand Ridge Drive N.E. headquarters.

Most of our back office resources are in Michigan and will likely stay
in Michigan, Rhodes said.

Local network operations will be in the current Grand Haven office, and
Rhodes will work from New York City, he said.

Rhodes jumped from Big Blue after partnering with Azulstar on a couple
projects and concluding that the municipal wireless-service-provider
market space is fertile ground, he said. Below the big players such as
Clearwire Inc. and Earthlink Inc., there are mostly undercapitalized
local Internet service providers, Rhodes said.

Azulstar specializes in municipal wireless projects, but its business
plan focuses on landing big accounts in key vertical markets, including
government transportation agencies. By providing the connectivity for
video surveillance and other services for municipal buses and trains,
for example, the company could piggyback consumer services to make the
vehicles rolling Wi-Fi hot spots, he said.

On municipal installations such as the sprawling Silicon Valley project,
the company aims to operate as a wholesale wireless Internet
owner-operator, selling tiered levels of retail connectivity but also
seeking the coveted so-called anchor tenants.

Though it works primarily with Wi-Fi, we're not tied to a specific
technology, Rhodes said. In fact, our solutions and our thought
process when we go to market in a particular geography, there's a whole
bunch of frequency spectrum available, depending on what the specific
application is.

The reality is, the anchor tenant model where the anchor tenant is the
government is probably the smartest way to go, said Sally Cohen, an
industry analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Some 340 municipal networks are operating or being deployed today, she
said, and many more are on the way. Yet consumers have not flocked to
municipal wireless networks, Cohen noted, and only a relative few even
have wireless networks in their homes.

Price being the top factor for new broadband subscribers, it will be the
free, advertising-supported networks that have the most potential to
displace their current ISPs, she said.

People want mobility, people want to compute from everywhere they
happen to be, added Northborough, Mass.-based market consultant Jack
Gold. But what consumers will pay, that's the fundamental issue.

Wireless is the Wild West of markets today, Gold said, but even the West
was tamed eventually.

At the end of the day, it's not the best technology that wins it's
the best business plan, he said.
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