Leapfrog Makes A Big Jump

    GRAND RAPIDS — The Leapfrog Group last month expanded availability of its business-class wireless Internet service to the Kentwood and Cascade Township areas and last week consolidated with a Holland firm.

    The newly combined company is called ISG, after the Holland-based firm with which Leapfrog consolidated.

    ISG, founded by Ray E. Munson, focuses on consulting with respect to e-services, custom application development and professional technical services. Munson will continue as chairman of the board of the new ISG. Leapfrog’s founder, Dan Horne, is the president of the combined organization.

    As such Horne will be responsible for overall corporate management and business development. Munson’s sphere will be long-term strategic planning and corporate positioning.

    Horne and Munson say the consolidation is a true fit, the idea being that broadband availability confers many more potential advantages than most clients realize, and that ISG can devise such payoffs.

    Munson said that ISG’s historic business initiative has been to focus on emerging technologies and innovating to apply those technologies to business clients’ particular situations. “Leapfrog’s expertise and wireless solutions fit ideally into ISG’s business strategy of high quality and aggressive growth,” he said.

    Horne said Leapfrog’s broadband wireless service complements and expands ISG’s service and that the combined organization brings a range of services that meets the goals of clients’ senior management.

    The announcement about combining the firms came shortly after Leapfrog announced it was installing its second broadcast site near the intersection of 36th Street SE and East Paris Avenue. The new tower provides commercial-grade wireless Internet service to companies located within a five-mile radius of that point.

    The zone in question includes all of Kentwood, most of Wyoming, portions of Walker and all but far northwest Grand Rapids. It broadly overlaps the firm’s initial broadcast site near Clyde Park Avenue and 28th Street.

    Horne said the firm undertook expansion because — despite economic conditions — the Leapfrog Group had been adding customers at a rate outpacing the company’s growth forecast.

    “We’re expanding because of market demand,” he said.

    Horne said wireless technology fills businesses’ need for secure, reliable and cost-effective Internet access. “The possibility of cable cuts and the financial disasters at several of the major providers have left business customers worrying that their service might be interrupted,” Horne said. “Having a local Internet provider who can offer an alternative path for data traffic relieves that worry. The idea of dealing with a service provider who is not dependent on the phone company appeals to many businesses as well.”

    Horne said small, fixed broadband wireless carriers such as ISG have been growing because they are seen as heroes to businesses needing a last-minute broadband connection. Frustration with providers and long waiting periods for high-speed Internet wire access had led companies to the wireless way.

    What has become ISG already had provided last-minute service to such clients as the Grand Center and the Van Andel Arena.

    The firm was able to offer the Grand Center a frequency of 5.8 gigahertz, something new to the industry and just recently authorized by the Federal Communications Commission.

    The special thing about the 5.8 gigahertz frequency is that it is separate from electrical frequency, therefore making it available only to wireless users, which also translates to less competition for space and speed. With 5.8 gigs, the company was able to provision off-bandwidth by giving the Grand Center an antenna that communicates with the original Leapfrog tower.

    “With this fixed wireless link it also makes it easy to control,” said Horne. “The connection is always on, but it is scalable, so with our computers here we can just turn it off and the customer won’t be billed.”

    After the connection is made to the building, a wireless local area network (LAN) is established within the building at 2.4 gigahertz, which Horne considers appropriate for indoor use.

    Depending on what a vendor’s needs may be, ISG can give a small number of users wireless cards that are simply inserted into the back of their computers. If there are a large number of users, the firm can establish an Ethernet connection.

    “That is one thing that is great about this. You can really mix and match how the connections are made within the building,” Horne said.

    One example of this, he said, is in the work Leapfrog did for the Van Andel Arena when superstar Cher came to town. She needed Internet in her dressing room for two hours before the show, and the company was able to provide it.

    ISG will be busy continuing the expansion of what Horne called Leapfrog’s “Digital Corridor” through the middle of downtown to include the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, the National City building, the Comerica building and the Huntington Bank building.

    “It is not a matter of those businesses along the corridor thinking they want to jump on the bandwagon,” said Horne. “They know they need this and need to be up to speed, so to speak.”

    To expand those services, ISG has plans to add yet another site near 92nd Street and U.S. 131 in the first quarter of 2003. Horne said expansion and growth have been a result of customer need.

    The need developed at the Amway Grand when at the last minute it needed bandwidth and a T1 connection for a special event over Easter weekend.

    “Every other company they asked said it would take a month, and we said we could have it up in a couple of days,” said Horne. “The other benefits of what we do are in the safety and backup of the system, as well as in the details.”

    Another service ISG can offer its customers — something that is unique to the area — is Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing. BGP is a sophisticated method of routing that allows a business to have a high level of redundancy for its mission-critical data.

    “A business that has two or more Internet providers can utilize BGP to gain two distinct advantages,” Horne explained.

    “One, should one provider go down, data traffic will be automatically routed through the provider who is still up,” Horne said.

    “And two, data traffic is balanced in real time between the two providers, ensuring the most efficient and fastest route.”

    When a business has two providers and both providers deliver service via wire, he said there’s still a risk of a cable cut that could shut down both providers. But if one route is wireless circuit, he said, the business can take advantage of BGP and have the security of knowing that a cable cut won’t take out both providers.

    “It is still a challenge to get all the players together and show some of them why this will be a turning point in their business,” said Horne.

    “But we are determined and we know that Grand Rapids is high tech and is growing to be the next high-tech spot to be.”     

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