Faster Internet And Better Phone Service
23 May, 2019
by Jake Hansen

The Accidental ISP, How ZTelco Filled the Data Void

ZTelco started out as a hosted VOIP company back in 2006 when we saw an unmet need for better phone solutions for our customers. Born out of that need was the underlying requirement of high quality internet so our voice products would work well, as expected. In 2010 we realized that most of our customers just didn’t have quality bandwidth options to choose from. Back then fiber was rare, unattainable, and super expensive for the lucky few who managed to acquire it. Other options such as DSL, Cable modems, and T1’s were not that great, especially when trying to run a crystal-clear voice-grade service.

Back in 2006 when you uttered the acronym, VOIP to someone, they immediately cringed and said something typical like, “yeah, I heard that sucks”. In the vast majority of the time, it did suck. Bandwidth was not up to par for what was needed by most business customers.

Desperately Seeking Bandwidth

Screen Shot 2019-05-02 at 10.42.37 AMBack then we were still a small, local phone company working out of a garage and all of our servers were at a data center. We were growing and had some tough lessons to learn. In the process of moving into our first office we come to find out, our new office was inside one of these buildings with no bandwidth options. Ironically, we couldn’t even run our own voice product in our own office due to not having any bandwidth. We needed to figure this out.

Turned out one of our buddies who was a few blocks down the road did have fiber in his building, but we just couldn't get it in ours. The build-cost was just too expensive for something like that. After giving it some thought, we decided to try “microwave” instead, to beam the fiber signal from that building to ours in a straight line, at the speed of light. The process took what seemed like months. We purchased some radios, some dishes, a non penetrating rooftop mast, ran some cable from the roof into the building, and hooked it up to a router and plugged the fiber in. On the other side, we did the same, and after adjusting the configurations, and figuring out how to aim the radios, we finally managed to get an internet link and BOOM... we had fiber internet in our building. Life was good.

Lord of the ISPs - The First Tower

It should be noted at this point, we had no intention of becoming an ISP and were just trying to get service so we could operate our hosted voice business. When we thought about ISPs,  we thought of the same, old and expensive businesses that were servicing the area for the past few decades. Probably the same ones you're thinking of right now as you read along.

Before long, we had another customer which was also close to this new “tower site” previously established at our buddy’s building. They wanted to use our voice product but couldn’t due to their bandwidth not being up to par. Again, the solution was clear, we can just hook them up like we did for ourselves. We were off to the races, and one step closer to becoming an internet data provider.

“Wow, this is a great idea. It solves a huge problem that everyone is having...”

As you might imagine, over time, as we continued running into the same situation, we thought “wow, this is a great idea. It solves a huge problem that everyone is having. We need to blow this idea up and scale!!” Turns out it's not quite so easy to scale. It’s one thing to set up a link and get it working, but doing it at large scale is a completely different challenge than being good at phone solutions. The next ten years would be a time of learning and adapting. We would not be the same local phone company in the end.

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Read more about what we learned during this period of our growth. Read the next blog post in this series, Lessons Learned from our Customers where we outline the most important lessons learned in developing our Southern California network. 

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