Powering the Growth of Business

RingPlan - Innovating the Exchange of Information
23 May, 2019
by Jake Hansen

The Accidental ISP, How a Phone Company Filled the Data Void – ZTelco Story

ZTelco started out as a hosted phone company back in 2006 when we were confronted with a challenge in the marketplace. Our customers’ desire for modern VoIP phones was limited to their internet access.

Born out of that need and our desire to help, we searched for business internet providers, only to learn of many technical and geographical limitations limiting fast-speed fiber internet access in San Diego.

It’s hard to imagine that in 2010 some businesses were still using dial-up.

Although our customers had some form of internet access, we realized there were just not enough 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 to larger offices.

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.

Phone Company Desperate for Bandwidth Provider

Back then we were still very much a garage operation. Picture a local phone company working out of a garage, while our servers were at a data center.

Definitely early adopters of cloud computing, that’s for sure.

We were growing and had tough lessons to learn. In the process of moving into our first office we come to find out, our building had 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, fast!

Can We Piggyback?

Turned out that one of our neighbors, down the road, did have fiber in his building but we just couldn’t get it in ours for some reason, go figure. The build-cost was just too expensive to get it from their building to ours.

After our team gave it some thought, we decided to try these new receivers we heard about, “microwave”, to beam the fiber signal from their building to ours.

The process took what seemed like months. We purchased some radios, some dishes, designed a nonpenetrating 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; BOOM.., we had fiber internet in our building. Life was good.

A Phone Company with the Speeds to Succeed

Lord of the ISPs – The First Tower

It should be noted at this point, we had no intention of becoming an internet service provider and were just trying to get service so we could operate our phone 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 this story.

Before long, we had another customer which was also close by to this new “tower site.” 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 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 a larger scale is a completely different challenge. 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. 

Is your business looking for an internet provider? Reach out today.

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