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Prime Companies makes a wireless 'last-mile' push

One of the foremost telecommunications challenges facing American business today is the celebrated "last mile" problem. This issue derives from demand for broadband access far outstripping the deployment of the fiber-optic cabling required to deliver that bandwidth. Fully 95% of the office buildings in the U.S. lack a fiber connection to a metropolitan area network, making them poorly positioned to participate in the increasing business exodus to the Internet. For the network administrator interested in delivering a fast, reliable connection to the Internet in an area where fiber won't be deployed any time soon, this is a daunting scenario. Alternate solutions are called for, and a number of different companies are poised to deliver them. Prime Companies delivers wireless broadband network access utilizing local multipoint distribution services (LMDS), which involves broadcasting over the 28- and 31-Ghz spectrums. We spoke with Norbert "Bert" Lima, president and CEO of Prime Companies, about this quickly developing business arena.

Where do you plan to differentiate yourself from competing broadband wireless companies like Winstar and Teligent? For instance, I understand most of them still derive most of their revenues from traditional voice services. Do you foresee that being the case for Prime also?
You know, a key difference between other companies and us is our focus on the underserved secondary and tertiary markets. If we come in as a voice player, we're not really addressing underserved markets. Most of today's companies, if you look at them, aren't underserved by voice. Voice is fine. Their voice needs are met perfectly adequately by voice carriers. Fair enough. What, then, would you describe as your target market?
The companies we're targeting are underserved by data. They're underserved by video conferencing. By high-speed connectivity. Ultimately we might come in as a voice player. But our focus today is on data � that's where we see ourselves meeting demand uniquely. Where does Prime's funding come from?
Exclusively from private sources. We didn't deal with venture capital firms. We closed a deal in the spring that left us with the capital we need to roll out our plans. I've read that you first got your LMDS solution up and running and began taking orders in the Western Pennsylvania area. How'd you select that as your initial market?
Well, we bought LMDS rights in an FCC auction there. Pennsylvania wasn't our only thought. We had devised three strategies. Our first and second choices were too pricey. Our third choice was Pennsylvania. Telecommunication firms that actually make money are becoming more and more rare. How long do you think it will be until you're profitable?
It's impossible to say with perfect certainty, but we are very anticipatory and hopeful that sometime during next year we will in fact be turning a profit. Who is your primary equipment provider? Do you have an exclusive arrangement with them?
Alcatel. With Alcatel's flexible LMDS solutions we can provide high-speed Internet access with or without Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), depending on our market needs. Alcatel offers both flavors (LMDS and DSL) irrespective of the technologies--whether Asynchronous Transfer Mode Internet Protocol or both. They're also handling deployment, at least in the early phases of Prime's rollout. For the initial three systems, they are the installing entity. Beyond that we're responsible. There's also the bogeyman most feared by broadband wireless players of every stripe: bad weather. How is Prime addressing that problem?
We've engineered our system to accommodate weather conditions... The key point is that the base station deducts weather patterns by constantly monitoring signal strength and increases power when necessary to overcome the deficiency created by the environmental elements. Wireless has, for some people, the connotation of intrinsically lower security. Might similar concerns apply to voice/data transmissions--resulting, in a worst-case scenario, critical company information being accessible to entirely unacceptable sources?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. First, there's a very high level of encryption on both ends [both the remote customer and the base station run by Prime]. High bit encryption. The other issue here, of course, is frequency hopping [in which frequencies rapidly shift in small gradations unpredictable to an outside observer]. And it's all digital of course. How do you capture, let alone decrypt, a digital signal that does that? Would it be reasonable to consider Prime as carrying out a marketing phrase popularized by Sun Microsystems--that is, "dial-tone-like reliability"?
Definitely. It's a carrier standard. What are Prime Companies' ultimate ambitions? Are they limited to LMDS, or is there more on the back burner than is immediately apparent today?
The intriguing proposition in front of us is LMDS, but we're doing more than just that. We're in the middle of trial services in Yuba City, California, in the unlicensed spectrum. Then, too, we're also an interconnect company. We market, install and maintain business telephone systems. This is a great marketing tactic, a great way to introduce comprehensive services to our clients. We see ourselves, in fact, as a single-source telecommunications provider.

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