VCs Put $20 Million into Rural WiMAX

DigitalBridge Communications, a provider of WiMAX-based broadband-to-rural communities, announced a $20 million Series B round of financing Monday, showing that some investors believe there might be gold to mine in them thar rural broadband markets. The new funding (which PE Hub says is closer to $23 million) joins the $17 million or so the company had raised previously. DigitalBridge CEO Kelley Dunne, contacted via phone Monday night, said the latest round should let the company “fully fund” its planned rollout to 15 markets, beyond its current list of served communities that includes the Idaho locales of Rexburg and Pocatello, along with Missoula, Mon., and Washington, Ind.

Dunne, a telecom veteran who spent time both at a CLEC and at Verizon, said that capital expenditures for a WiMAX provider today are “about one-tenth” of the costs that a wireline CLEC might need. Combining WiMAX with low-cost fiber agreements and easy-to-install customer-premise gear from Alvarion is a recipe that is already producing cash-flow-positive results in Rexburg, Dunne said.

What will be interesting is to see how smaller, more focused WiMAX upstarts like DigitalBridge and Towerstream perform in comparison to bigger players like Clearwire or the ailing Sprint Nextel, which is reportedly close to unveiling another round of layoffs. Dunne acknowledged that DigitalBridge’s strategy is to “build around Clearwire and Sprint,” aiming at underserved markets with 150,000 residents or less.

According to DigitalBridge, the latest funding round was led by Paladin Capital Group, and includes previous investors Redshift Ventures, CNF Investments and Novak Biddle Venture Partners. Though DigitalBridge is based in Ashburn, Va., the company is targeting underserved rural areas in many geographical markets, especially in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, where the company owns licenses or leases to 193 MHz of spectrum.

Paul Kapustka, former managing editor for GigaOM, now has his own blog at Sidecut Reports.

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