Element8 takes FWA, fiber to the heartland with $200M investment

You may not have heard of it before, but Texas-based ISP Element8 is looking to make a name for itself in rural America. Earlier this week, the company snagged a $200 million infusion of cash from private equity firm Digital Alpha to push its fixed wireless access and fiber services deeper into the central U.S.

Founded in 2020, Element8 has hitherto focused on serving broadband in its home state primarily using fixed wireless access technology and a sprinkle of fiber. But with money in hand from Digital Alpha, it’s looking to expand its business further into the middle of the country through a mixture of greenfield builds and strategic buys.

And it’s already on the move. The company announced it struck a deal to buy ISP AtLink Services for an undisclosed sum, a move that will see it expand its territory north into Oklahoma. AtLink has been in business since 2005 and serves more than 15,000 customers in Oklahoma.

While he didn’t name any specific states, Element8’s head of Business Development and Innovation Jonathan Van told Fierce it is “focusing expansion [activity] in the heartland.”

Though definitions of what constitutes the “heartland” differ, the term generally refers to 20 or so states in the middle of the U.S. This group roughly includes two states to the west and east of the Mississippi River. So, the swath of states from North Dakota to Texas makes up the western boundary of the heartland while the line from Michigan to Alabama makes up the eastern boundary.

Van said Element8’s approach is technology agnostic, meaning it’s open to choosing the right tool for the right job. But he acknowledged that in the rural areas it’s targeting, that often means using fixed wireless access. Element8 is notably using Tarana’s high-speed fixed wireless technology, which is capable of delivering speeds up to 1 Gbps. Van said Element8 is using a mix of license-exempt and licensed spectrum for its deployments. It will also strategically deploy fiber, he added.

RELATED: Tarana Wireless spent $400M and a decade perfecting its FWA gear

“We believe Tarana offers more parity with fiber compared to other previous solutions,” Van told Fierce. “Overall, we aren't competing with fiber, and where it makes sense, we'll build fiber.”

The operator will also tap into Digital Alpha’s strategic partnership deal with Cisco, which Van said will allow it to unlock “capabilities that are typically reserved for urban networks.” In 2021, Digital Alpha noted its agreement with Cisco gave it access to the company’s “deal flow, engineering and sales resources…[and] broader ecosystem of channel partners and resellers.”

Given its rural focus, it might seem like Element8 is itching to apply for grants from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. But While Van said BEAD is “yet another opportunity to serve the underserved” he noted the program is not a focal point of its strategy.

“Our primary mission is to serve customers and build great networks, not pursue subsidies,” he concluded.