Infinity reaches further

Expansion of downtown Vancouver service latest in ongoing growth of local ISP’s wireless Internet offering

Infinity Internet first entered the wireless market last year with the acquisition of the wireless network of Portland provider Velocitus. In the deal, Infinity traded its Spokane location to Idacomm, the Boise, Idaho-based parent company of Velocitus for the two-year-old wireless network with customers in Portland and Vancouver.

After rolling the wireless network into Infinity’s infrastructure, the company began to market the service. Earlier this year, Infinity doubled its wireless coverage to include 940 square miles encompassing Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal in Clark County, and Gresham and Troutdale in Oregon. Just recently, the company expanded its coverage area in downtown Vancouver.

The company’s service differs from the traditional Wi-Fi technology. As opposed to creating a hot spot, Infinity’s wireless service is sent from equipment installed on several area towers directly to end-users.

Infinity founder, president and CEO Doug Palin said its wireless service is a product designed for businesses.

Palin said the service is ideal for companies located in areas with limited high-speed internet options, such as areas in Camas and Washougal, said Palin.

Infinity is polishing its wireless service here before introducing it in its other West Coast markets.

"We want to get really good at it here," said Palin. "And I think we are getting close. For us to do it in another market, like Seattle or Los Angeles, then it is going to require having somebody physically there."

Infinity consists of 14 individual providers, but the company’s only physical presence is in its Vancouver headquarters. Of the company’s more than 50 employees, just three engineers, two in Seattle and one in Hawaii, work outside the 14,000-square-foot Columbia Tech Center location from their homes.

Palin started a computer hardware and networking business in 1987, which led to the development of small ISP Pacifier Online in the early 90s. As use of the Web grew, Pacifier expanded its customer base locally and eventually grew into Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia in 1998. Palin sold Pacifier to St. Louis-based cable company Millennium Digital Media in 2000. He remained with the company overseeing the Oregon and Southwest Washington region, and was responsible for the acquisition and integration of a number of regional ISPs under the name of USNet. In May 2002, following a year away after stepping down in 2001, Palin acquired the western regional locations of USNet, which included the assets of what was Pacifier Online and 13 other ISPs. He consolidated them into one common network infrastructure and created Infinity Internet.

When Palin regained control in 2002, he said the company lacked a direction.

"It was just a bunch of ISPs selling a number of services," he said.

Since then, Palin has focused the company’s efforts on providing services, such as its wireless internet, for businesses.

The company acquired a Portland data center in April 2003, which allowed the company to begin offering services such as co-location and offsite backup.

"We are seeing a lot of traction in that market," said Palin.

Palin isn’t sure if the recent Gulf Coast disasters or the increased marketing of the data center is responsible for the increased interest, but he said more companies are protecting their "bread and butter" from the threat of a major loss.

"Clients have closets full of servers, and (they are) realizing their whole business is in those servers. What happens if there is a fire?" he said.

Infinity also has 500 square feet of data-center space in its Vancouver office. Palin said the company has several large co-location deals in the works.

Palin said the company’s 40,000 Internet subscribers are split between business and residential customers. About 90 percent of active sales are to businesses.

Palin said the company’s revenues have flattened out. Increases of 85 percent in wireless customers and 110 percent in co-location sales have offset dial-up sales trending down.

The company is also growing its document imaging and Web hosting services.

"I’d like to stay close to our current industry, but you never know," said Palin of continued diversity. "Maybe we will see something that we are interested in using our cash flow to invest in."

With five acquisitions in the last three years, Palin said it will do more.

And as for being acquired?

"There is not a for-sale sign on the door, but if somebody comes along with a bunch of money, I think my history has proven that I am not immune to taking it," said Palin. "But I am not actively shopping the company, and I have no plans to do so. I am having a good time."

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