LTD Broadband – now GigFire – puts RDOF on a shelf, targets 1M new passings

LTD Broadband is looking to woo private equity investors with a new name and a new roadmap which calls for the operator to blanket more than 1 million locations with gigabit-capable fiber and fixed wireless access (FWA) over the next six years.

Fierce recently broke the news about LTD’s rebranding after receiving a tip from Wave7 Research’s Jeff Moore. The company was initially planning to switch to the name GigiFi Internet, but after receiving a trademark claim changed course to rebrand as GigFire.

In a fresh interview with Fierce, CEO Corey Hauer explained the rebranding is more than just a name change. GigFire, he said, is an entirely new entity. Most of LTD Broadband’s assets – with the exception of its networks in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois which were built using Connect America Fund support – will be transferred to GigFire.

James Childs, GigFire’s new chief strategy officer, said the move is designed to make the business more appealing to prospective investors. “Private investment money does not want to hear about a fight with the government,” he said, referring to LTD Broadband’s dispute with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) support.

Last year, the FCC rejected LTD’s $1.3 billion in winning RDOF bids. The operator appealed the decision in September, but has yet to hear back on the matter. With the ball in the FCC’s court, Hauer and Childs said LTD has put the matter on the shelf and is pressing ahead via GigFire.

The road ahead

According to Childs, GigFire is initially looking to secure a $50 million credit facility, which it plans to use to deploy to and monetize an initial cohort of passings. After that, it is tentatively planning to seek between $200 million and $300 million in equity funding.

The goal is to reach more than 1 million passings in 250 markets in or adjacent to its current holdings in nine states over the next six years, with an estimated 60% covered with fixed wireless and the remaining 40% connected to fiber. In both cases, customers will be offered symmetrical gigabit service for $70 per month. Hauer said that price includes as many mesh Wi-Fi nodes as needed to blanket a consumers home with a reliable signal.

He added Google Fiber has achieved success at that price point, which will also put it in good position to compete against incumbent cable companies.

On the fixed wireless side, GigFire will use a millimeter wave-based solution which has fallback connectivity available in the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands for increased reliability when, for instance, bad weather strikes. Hauer declined to provide the name of GigFire’s FWA technology partner except to say it wasn’t Tarana Wireless. Others capable of delivering 1 Gbps over FWA appear to be Airspan, Mimosa and Cambium Networks, though it’s not clear that all offer symmetrical capabilities.

The idea is to use the mmWave fixed wireless solution within a five mile radius of more densely populated town centers and reach outlying areas which might not receive a good FWA signal with fiber. LTD – or rather now GigFire – already has 11,000 fiber-to-the-home passings.

Asked whether GigFire is concerned about its FWA networks being overbuilt by Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program-fueled fiber competitors, Hauer said no.

“To be candid, I’m not worried about that competition,” he said. “We believe time to market is very important. Those projects are, in a best case in our view, years from coming to fruition. We’ll be in these markets and dominant and providing service that would make it very unlikely for someone to churn away. In my view, it’s our customer to lose.”

And if GigFire does feel the need to defend a certain market, it will have the ability to deploy fiber, Childs added.

In terms of whether GigFire will cover any areas where it had bid on RDOF funding, Hauer said there will be some small degree of crossover. But given it’s using private funding, it is generally targeting areas with a higher population density than those included in the RDOF auction.

Let’s make a deal

GigFire is also looking at acquisitions as a way to speed its progress. Childs said there are currently three operators in the Midwest it is actively evaluating.

“We have a thesis for opportunities around our footprint that make sense for us,” Hauer said. “A lot of operators have been historically capital constrained in terms of what they can do. So we’re looking to strategically apply capital to bring better offerings to those markets. There’s none of these operators we’re looking at that are able to offer a gigabit symmetrical service. And our plan would be to enable those networks to enable gigabit service with both FWA and fiber near those footprints.”