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Telecommunications: Whatever, Wherever - and Fast

» No Wires, Please

Terremark's Network Access Point for the Americas in Miami. Terremark operates 13 data centers in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.

On the demand side, Floridians want the ability to tap into apps from a coffee shop or stream audio and video at home. They want to download music and movies and share photos and video via the web with family and friends. They want it all fast and they want it wireless — since 2001, the number of residential and business land line customers in Florida has fallen by half, while the count of wireless customers has more than doubled; broadband customers are up by 1,750%.

Florida's Tele-Customers
? 2001 Projected 2011
Wireless (cell phone) 8.9 M 18.1 M
Broadband (internet) 600,000 10.5 M
Land line (residential, business) 11.9 M 5.8 M
Source: AT&T

Increasingly, consumers also want everything — phone, television and internet — in one package. Many of Florida's telecommunications companies, from Comcast to Bright House to Verizon, now offer "bundled services" that package high-speed internet, cable, wireless and home phone in one monthly bill. Verizon says 90% of its residential customers in Florida subscribe to a package that involves two or more services, either over its own fiber network or partnering with DirectTV in some counties.

2014 year when the data market, nationally, is expected to overtake the voice market and account for 51% of overall wireless service spending.

1.5 billion number of text messages sent nationally in 2009.

23% Percentage of adults in Florida who live in wireless-only homes as of June 2010, up from 15.2% in 2007. Nationally, about 25% of U.S. households are wireless only, up from 10.5% in 2006.

7.5 million Number of land lines in Florida in 2009, a 38% drop from 2001. The number of residential lines dropped 51%, while business lines fell 11%, from 3.7 million to 3.3 million. At that rate, land lines will have dropped 50% from 2001-11.

70 Number of broadband providers in Florida

» Infrastructure Race

On the supply side, companies are racing to add infrastructure to keep up with the possibilities created by the expanding array of electronic devices and applications. More than 100 players have jumped into the telecom business in Florida, selling everything from wireless phone service to handsets to broadband, cable television and even cloud computing services.

"I don't know any industry that has seen technology change as fast as ours in the last few years," says Marshall Criser III, president of AT&T Florida.

For the competitors in the wireless world, revenue growth will come from providing gigabytes of data rather than voice minutes. And so they're spending big to accommodate the surge in bandwidth-intensive data traffic, whether that means enabling a business customer to run a credit card approval app on her smartphone or to download video quickly from YouTube.

"The user doesn't care how we make that happen. What they care about is experience," says Pamela Tope, Florida President for Verizon Wireless. Verizon has invested more than $1.3 billion in Florida since the company was formed in 2000 — $200 million in 2010 alone, she says. Ongoing investment will enable the company to offer its 4G LTE technology — its most advanced wireless cellular technology — throughout Florida within three years, she says.

Criser estimates his company will spend between $18 billion and $19 billion nationally in network infrastructure this year. From 2008 to 2010, AT&T invested more than $2.8 billion in its Florida wire line and wireless networks, the company says. "Our customers want to do whatever, wherever. They expect mobility," Criser says.

With competition for the consumer market so heated, telecom firms see potential growth from cultivating business customers. Big telecom players, including cable companies, "are going after law offices, doctor offices, any business that needs broadband or voice or TV as well. That's the next big opportunity," says telecommunications analyst Greg Ireland with IDC.


» Broadband

Broadband providers also are investing in infrastructure and counting on continued growth. As of May, 70 broadband providers in Florida served more than 6 million households, according to Connected Nation, a non-profit technology organization trying to bring affordable high-speed internet and broadband to all Americans.

The state has received approximately $39.2 million in federal awards for the improvement of broadband adoption and infrastructure. Most of it — just over $30 million — has gone to extend high-speed broadband services to underserved areas in 14 north-central Florida counties.

"One of the things that sets Florida apart is it doesn't have as many providers as other states do, and yet coverage availability is widespread," says Charles "Chip" Spann, director of technical and engineering services for Connected Nation.

As broadband availability widens in Florida, expect to see growth in services like voice over internet protocol (VoIP), internet protocol television (IPTV), web conferencing and cloud computing services, each of which uses the broadband platform. The Telecommunications Industry Association forecasts these four categories will be the fastest-growing components of the U.S. telecommunications market during the next four years.

Miami-based Terremark began offering "cloud" data storage services to businesses and government agencies in 2007, attracting a suitor in Verizon, which bought Terremark earlier this year for $1.4 billion. Verizon hopes the deal will give it more customers and clout in the cloud computing?market. "Businesses love to be on our cloud because it's more efficient and less expensive," says Marvin Wheeler, Terremark's chief strategy officer. "Verizon sees it as something that can move the needle on their revenue growth."

» Telecom Profiles

Smart City Holdings

Smart City Holdings
Lake Buena Vista
Marty Rubin, Smart City Holdings CEO, saw promise in conventions when he negotiated acquisition of a telecom business serving meetings and events in the mid-'90s. "We felt cities were going to make convention centers a key part of revitalizing their downtown area," he says, and good telecommunications were critical to a good convention.

Smart City Networks now serves 42 convention centers and has provided telecom services at more than 75,000 trade shows and events, including NBA All-Star games and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The firm will be handling a large part of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

The holding company has grown to 500 employees and has annual revenue of about $100 million. The Smart City Telecom division in Lake Buena Vista serves Walt Disney World Resort and the community of Celebration.

"The future is using technology to make meetings and conventions transformational — using technology so people say, 'Wow! What an event,'" says Rubin, who has been involved in 10 startups — almost all tech-related. Earlier this year, Smart City set up a system called EventPath at an Orlando convention that allowed people to get credentials and badges at their hotels instead of waiting in line at the meetings.

Allen Byington admits he's not an IT guy. "I actually got into technology to publish content from another industry I was in — before the web was the web," says the founder and CEO of Electronet Broadband Communications and executive director of Big Bend RHIO (regional healthcare information organization) in Tallahassee.

Allen Byington
Allen Byington
That search in the mid-1990s for a better way to exchange information on automatic transmissions led to the founding of Electronet in 1996. "All the tech support material was on paper, and you couldn't find it," he says. One of Tallahassee's earliest internet service providers, Electronet focused on serving the business community — and still does, offering everything from broadband access to business-class VoIP.

The firm began with DSL and several years later started building its own fiber network. "In 2008, we began deploying the first business-class VoIP on our network," Byington says. "To do business class, we have to control the network."

Electronet runs separate fiber-optic networks for commercial customers and for the healthcare community. "It helps segregate our traffic and improves security and privacy," he says.

In 2005, Byington and a partner started the Big Bend RHIO "as a pro bono effort." He says Electronet has basically incubated and subsidized Big Bend. The non-profit secure patient record-sharing service provides software platforms connecting 65 medical offices and facilities.

Marcelo Claure
Marcelo Claure [Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images]
As the wireless industry explodes, Brightstar has emerged as a major player with a global reach. The company blew past the $3 billion revenue mark in 2010 and in April filed to go public. Led by Chairman and CEO R. Marcelo Claure, Brightstar, founded in 1997, has positioned itself in the center of the wireless industry by providing more than 100 customized services for wireless manufacturers, operators and retailers. It has been one of the largest Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States, with more than 33,000 customers.

By analyzing wireless trends, Brightstar helps industry players understand buying behaviors. It also sells a suite of services to manufacturers to help move their products to worldwide markets faster.

With sales and distribution facilities in 50 countries on six continents, the company is behind the launch of new smart phones worldwide. It also continues to add new lines of business and reached an agreement in April to acquire eSecuritel, a provider of cell phone insurance services.


StarBoxes serve as a traffic cop for all phones in the office with internet connections.

Norman Worthington was semi-retired when a former employee approached him with a little box that led to the creation of Star2Star Communications' phone system, which uses voice over internet protocol. He was skeptical at first but willing to push ahead with what became his eighth tech startup and a national business phone company.


Norman Worthington
Norman Worthington

Worthington and company President Joseph Rhem did their research and development in a garage in 2004 and two years later started shipping. The StarBox, which comes in several sizes, "acts as a traffic cop for all phones in the office with internet connections," says spokesman Les Freed. The box is at the client's site, and Star2Star maintains two data centers.

Customers for the server and hardware package range from call centers for restaurant chains with hundreds of extensions to mom-and-pop stores across North America. "We're able to take all of those disparate phone bills and put them into one and give the administrators of that system one bill and one system to administer," says Worthington, CEO of the company that's grown 250% to 300% a year. The company has 10,000 to 12,000 phone systems connecting about 100,000 phones.

Wireless, low-cost technology at high speeds and an ability to deliver high-quality voice to business customers are "driving a dramatic shift in the entire industry," Worthington says. "It's so exciting. We really feel like we're changing the face of the business world."