In May of 2010, former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino stood in the heart of the Seaport District and proudly announced the creation of the Innovation District. It was a great way to show the city’s support for its tech sector (not to mention a clever political ploy).
The only problem was the internet infrastructure in the mostly abandoned area Menino selected wasn’t exactly ready to host the bandwidth of all of tomorrow’s tech companies.
That’s where Wicked Bandwidth comes in. Wicked Bandwidth is an internet service provider offering small and medium sized businesses fiber-based internet.
The company began when co-founders and telecommunications veterans Michael Murphy, Steve McCarthy and Mike Spieldenner began testing different internet services around Boston in 2013 and realized the city had some connectivity issues to solve.
“We saw that the low-rise and mid-rise office buildings didn’t attract the attention of a lot of the big-name fiber providers to build into those locations,” Murphy explains. “They just look at it like there’s not enough demand there.”
That meant smaller companies, which couldn’t afford to pay the Verizon’s of the world to expand their fiber network, were forced to rely on cable modems that can offer unpredictable service in urban areas with lots of offices. The service became more and more of a problem as companies increasingly relied on the cloud and other network services for critical business operations.
The founders, who also work at telecommunications consulting firm New England Fiber, identified this problem and went to work. By the end of 2014, they had self-funded the construction and lease of a fiber cable branching from Boston’s most prominent telecommunications hotel at 1 Summer Street in Downtown Crossing.
The fiber runs in a massive loop from downtown into the Seaport District, then back up through the Financial District, across the Charles River into Cambridge and a portion of Somerville, and finally back to Summer Street.
“We use a model to determine what locations would make sense to work in based on the wire,” Murphy says. “Then we go out and proactively market to those buildings.”
Wicked Bandwidth is able to offer competitive prices by avoiding the overhead costs of the larger providers and taking advantage of some underutilized infrastructureー a perk of being so familiar with the city.
The company offers bandwidth packages to customers ranging from 50 Mb to 1,000 Mb with annual contracts.
“It’s a much more linear model with fiber [compared to modems],” Murphy says. “If someone orders 100 Mb, we’re splicing the wire and peeling off 100 Mb just for that customer. There’s no over-subscription concern.”
With the wire in place and several customers to date, now the hardest part of expanding is figuring out which companies to approach.
“There are probably a lot of other buildings that need us, we just don’t know about them yet,” Murphy says.
To solve this problem, the founders decided to adjust their analysis-heavy customer acquisition model and start letting the businesses come to them.
Three months ago Wicked Bandwidth launched a crowdsource campaign that lets people register their buildings for consideration.
“The idea is that there are a lot of requirements out there, so if we can have members of the community tell us where there’s a need we can bridge that gap,” Murphy says. “If we have multiple tenants in a building showing interest we can justify bringing internet there much faster.”
The founders are also planning to offer a wireless solution for smaller companies and, going forward, could see Wicked Bandwidth expanding outside of Boston.
“Boston is a tricky city to work in from a permitting standpoint,” Murphy says. “And between November and April there’s not a lot of construction that can go on. But we’ve been working here for a number of years.”
Even if the company grows and moves to other cities, Murphy says it will maintain its close relationship with customers, so there’s no fear of it becoming another big, apathetic telecommunications company.
With a name like Wicked Bandwidth, in Boston at least, they won’t have to worry about that.