Network Infrastructure

UNSi Explodes with Growing Partner Ecosystem, Expanded Portfolio, M&A

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  September 03, 2013

UNSi is positioning itself to become a communications powerhouse.

The company recently moved the needle on that strategy in a big way with its acquisition of Airband Networks. The deal, which closed in May, doubled the size of UNSi both in terms of revenue and personnel. It also expanded UNSi’s product portfolio with the addition of hosted VoIP, gave it a launch pad to deliver additional cloud-based services, and significantly strengthened its channel partner effort.

Integration has been swift.

Prior to closing the deal, UNSi’s engineering staff laid out a six-month timeline to align the two companies’ networks. That involves upgrading Airband infrastructure to a carrier-class Layer 2 core network, which requires the installation of new routers and other gear. Work on this front is proceeding as planned. As of mid-July, UNSi had already completed the Phoenix upgrade, and work on Dallas and Las Vegas was getting ready to roll.

As the core infrastructure and platform for all of UNSi’s cloud services, it’s important this network is stable and clean, says Allan Schwartz (News - Alert), senior vice president of strategic planning and business development. Airband experienced some outages in the past, he offers, but these core upgrades will go a long way to make the network as reliable and resilient as the one UNSi already has in place.

UNSi puts together custom connectivity solutions for multi-location business clients using both its own facilities and the network assets of a variety of local access carriers. Before acquiring Airband, UNSi’s product portfolio consisted of Carrier Ethernet, Dedicated Internet Access, and MPLS services. Now, with the Airband deal, it also provides hosted VoIP running on the BroadSoft (News - Alert) platform, and fixed wireless last mile access.

But that’s just the beginning.

UNSi this month will relaunch (a now nationwide) hosted VoIP service under its own brand, and unveil new desktop-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service offerings. The cloud services will be ramped up by the end of this year, and UNSi will layer additional applications on top of the cloud platform in 2014.

As part of the effort, UNSi is completely repackaging how it offers services, which includes refocusing on certain vertical markets such as health care, legal and retail, and working to make its go-to-market for voice services a lot clearer.

“We’re going to market now and stepping up into the next echelon of cloud service providers,” says Schwartz.

The new cloud solutions and strategy will be presented to the channel community at the Cloud Partners event in mid-September. UNSi, which prior to the Airband deal had what Schwartz describes as “a fledgling channel program,” now has close to 100 channel partners. The company has also been doing in-person visits and webinars to educate the channel on its solutions, and how channel partners and their customers can get the most out of a relationship with UNSi.

UNSi also brings its services to market through a direct sales force, a large part of which it acquired via the Airband transaction. The team is now 33 people including direct feet on the street, and client account managers focused on customer retention and upselling.

The business side of things is progressing nicely as well, says Schwartz, who notes that since combining, both UNSi and the former Airband have experienced the strongest two months in their histories. UNSi recently won a 15-site deal with a nursing care organization. It garnered new business from a multi-site golfing range. And a U.S. government agency that had been in an 8-year deal with UNSi has re-upped its contract, this time extending its relationship for an additional 13 years.

“We’re really building relationships, and that’s ultimately success,” says Schwartz. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t retire on a single sale. This business is about relationships.”

UNSi builds relationships with organizations by helping them achieve their goals with the best available resources – be they coax, copper, fiber or wireless, says Schwartz. While the company has its own facilities, he says, it’s not as heavily invested in infrastructure as are some CLEC and ILEC competitors. As a result, UNSi is open to providing whatever services and technologies make the most sense for its customers, and it has the flexibility to allow customers to go all UNSi or use its offerings as piece parts of larger solutions.

Following the Airband deal, UNSi now has more human resources to help customers put such solutions in place. UNSi gained a significant amount of engineering and other tech talent as part of the Airband deal. That included one backbone engineer, two network engineers, four RF engineers, two systems engineers, four VoIP engineers; 19 field service technicians; and 15 NOC (News - Alert) technicians. And, as part of UNSi’s streamlining effort, the engineering division now houses the service delivery unit.

Delivering the best possible customer experience is what it’s all about for UNSi, Schwartz adds, explaining that’s the thinking behind the company’s new Customer Exceed program. Customer Exceed, which involves all 160 UNSi employees, is an effort to improve the customer experience by ensuring follow up with customers, and otherwise encouraging employees to take ownership of their work to deliver the best possible customer outcomes.

Leading the charge is Francis John, who orchestrated the Airband deal. With executive management experience as chairman, CEO and president of public and private companies in the energy, health care, hospitality and telecommunications verticals, John has led more than 100 acquisitions, and raised more than $3 billion in debt and equity. While chairman and CEO of Key Energy Services, he reorganized and grew the small West Texas oilfield services company from $15 million to $1 billion in revenues. He’s also served as executive vice president and CFO for pharmaceutical and dialysis company Delmed, a publicly traded company for which he staged a turnaround.

John joined privately-owned UNSi as president and CEO about two and a half years ago. An active investor in UNSi who has served on the company’s board of directors since 2006, John was tapped to take the company to the next level through both organic growth and acquisition.

And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

John’s first move on this front involved the purchase of IPNetZone, an MPLS network provider that helped UNSi become a major player in the managed network services space and outfitting it with an advanced backbone network. At the time of the deal, IPNetZone had just five points of presence, but UNSi has since expanded the size, service capability and number of those POPs.

The Airband deal came next, and made a much larger impact. Indeed, it has transformed UNSi into a $65 million organization.

More M&A is likely on the horizon for UNSi.

The company aims to become a $100 million organization within the next 12 months and a $150 million operation by 2015 through both organic growth and M&A.

Edited by Alisen Downey