Press: Speakeasy selling wireless assets to rival

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After its experiments in WiMax didn’t pan out, and in preparation for its sell to Best Buy, Speakeasy unloads its investments in the technology.

Speakeasy selling wireless assets to rival

By Tricia Duryee

Speakeasy, a Seattle-based broadband provider, plans to announce today that it has sold its wireless network in Seattle to a competitor.

Less than two years ago, Speakeasy Chief Executive Bruce Chatterley strapped on a harness and walked the Space Needle’s halo to announce that his company would start beaming high-speed Internet access from the tourist attraction.

In an announcement being made today, the company says it will sell its wireless assets to Towerstream of Middletown, R.I., to concentrate on its core operations of marketing and providing Internet access and voice over IP (VoIP) phone service to small businesses.

In addition, the two companies agreed to create a partnership in which Speakeasy will resell Towerstream’s wireless broadband in the seven markets where it operates. Details of the partnership and financial terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Seattle was laboratory

Towerstream provides commercial-grade wireless broadband access based on an early version of WiMax technology. Similarly, Kirkland-based Clearwire provides wireless broadband services based on similar technology in Seattle but is focused on the residential market.

“Seattle was sort of our laboratory to understand how the technology works,” Chatterley said.

What the company learned was that providing a high-quality product requires sending a team to an office to install it. Speakeasy does not have installation teams because it primarily resells last-mile services from telecommunication companies that do the installing.

More fiber networks

At the same time, the company was building a nationwide VoIP network, and the company had to concentrate on one business or the other, Chatterley said.

The partnership with Towerstream will still accomplish what he said was important about providing wireless networks in the first place — offering another choice that may provide customers more bandwidth. Chatterley said that is increasingly important as more providers are building more fiber networks in the U.S.

Ready to go national

“We think it’s the way of the future,” he said. “But it’s still a new area, so this is a way to participate and learn, like we were doing before but on a national basis. We do everything in our top six markets, so it was hard for us to go deep in a single market, but now we can plug right into Towerstream, and over time decide what role we want to play in this space.”

Likewise, Towerstream Chief Executive Jeff Thompson said it was beneficial to partner with Speakeasy.

“This is one of our first big agreements like this,” he said. “Towerstream can leverage Speakeasy’s great marketing machine. They are great at acquiring customers.”

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