“We are recognizing that some type of wireless solution has to be part of our overall strategy,” explains ImOn Communications President & CEO Patrice Carroll. She goes on to say that fiber and wireless are complementary and in some extremely rural areas wireless is the only economically viable way to provide broadband service.
Wireless, in the form of community WiFi, is also an excellent way to introduce non-customers to ImOn broadband services. Carroll describes how ImOn installs Wi-Fi hotspots in the parks and other public areas in the communities they serve. Non-customers receive limited access, while customers receive unlimited access. She explains that these WiFi hotspots are also an expression of appreciation for being allowed to be part of a given community.
She attributes their entry into the Dubuque, Iowa market as an example of the unintended benefit of the exposure provided by these hotspots. In regards to how to promote the availability of the hotspots, Carroll says that “Each town has its own personality and that you have to align to that; it has to be a good match.”
One of these matches was its recent investment in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, now known as ImOn Ice. This agreement provides needed funds for upgrading the arena. Beyond naming rights, ImOn WiFi is part of the arena’s infrastructure.
Carroll hints that the underlying WiFi bandwidth requires much greater data rates and more symmetry than years past. One of the first major events in Cedar Rapids that tested their network brought 40,000 people downtown for something called Market after Dark. Fast-forward to a 2019 downtown rock concert and the traffic patterns were completely different. The lesson learned is that the upstream demand had increased with the advent of smartphone video streaming.
It is clear that the experience gained from deploying community WiFi will be valuable in informing ImOn’s efforts to continue to develop wireless capability.