- HYPERLEAP'S LOU MCALISTER: He calls his service "Google Fiber without Google or the fiber."
Quick show of hands: Who loves their internet service provider? Not tolerates, endures, accepts — but loves in a way that makes them evangelical about the company? I'm guessing that few of you have your hands up. You've been burned one too many times by outages, high costs and service calls happening between the hours of "8 a.m. and noon." But sitting just a few feet from me is Jordan Little, the director of digital strategy at the Arkansas Times, with his hand raised. When he's not making the trains run on time here at AT HQ, he runs or contributes to several start-ups, while also, like most millenials, conducting all of his home-based leisure and socializing through the web. At the best, lags in internet service drive him crazy. At the worst, they cost him money.
That's why Little is so bullish about Hyperleap, the wireless internet service from Little Rock-based start-up the Broadband Development Group. Its CEO, Lou McAlister, jokingly describes it as "Google Fiber without Google or the fiber." Times readers voted it runner-up to AT&T in this year's Best of poll. Like Google Fiber, the ISP company from Google parent company Alphabet, Hyperleap positions itself as the anti-telecom. It offers super-fast internet for a competitive price with no hidden fees, no contract, no data caps, no throttling, no limits on using multiple devices at once and no equipment to rent or buy. When Little moved into a new apartment recently, he transferred his Hyperleap service from his old place to his new one within minutes just by logging into Hyperleap's online service portal. McAlister says he knows of clients who "move into an apartment, have us for a few months, then go on a trip for a month. They turn us off, come back and turn us back on."
McAlister is a North Little Rock native and graduate of UA Little Rock. His career includes time at AT&T, co-founding the Arkansas-based telecom Navigator Telecommunications and co-founding 7X7 Networking, a San Francisco-based ISP. He co-founded Hyperleap in 2015 with Tom Flak, whose resume includes stops at AT&T, SOMA Networks and Redseal Networks; and James Hendren, co-founder of Arkansas Systems Inc. and a longtime player in the Arkansas tech and start-up community.
When McAlister moved back to Arkansas several years ago, he became entrepreneur-in-residence at the Venture Center, the Little Rock-based start-up accelerator. The question he always asked of would-be entrepreneurs, he said, was, " 'What's the biggest hurdle between you and doing your start-up?' After we got through the funding talk, they'd say, 'Our internet sucks. You have to pay too much for it. It's too slow. It's too unreliable. It's a hassle to deal with the companies. We're small-business guys. We need the speed, the affordability.' " McAlister knew how to fix that.
Hyperleap buys access to the internet from a large Tier 1 provider, i.e. one of the companies that, through fiber-optic cables, serves as the backbone of the worldwide internet. The company then taps into that connection at its Union Plaza headquarters in downtown Little Rock. From that skyscraper's roof, its antennas beam microwaves to antennas on other multitenant buildings in downtown Little Rock, which, through the magic of technology that you don't care about, provides all the characteristics of fiber-optic fixed broadband. Which is to say, it's super fast.
Hyperleap offers internet speeds of 35 mega-bits per second ($39 per month), 100 mbps ($54) and 300 mbps-plus, i.e. up to 1 gigabit ($70). People who simply want to stream Netflix — even at 4K — and be able to play around on their phones at the same time probably only need 35 mbps, which is what most Hyperleap customers sign up for, according to McAlister. The company's largest footprint is downtown Little Rock, where it's available in MacArthur Commons, Rock Street Lofts, the Lafayette Building, River Market Tower, the Kramer School, Quapaw Tower and in other apartment and condo complexes. But it also links up to its Tier 1 connection in tall buildings in Midtown and Riverdale, which allows it to service the likes of Rivercliff Apartments. Hyperleap also has a number of commercial clients, including the Arkansas Times.
The Broadband Development Group's future plan is "global domination," McAlister jokes, but don't expect to be able to get Hyperleap at your house anytime soon. The business model behind Hyperleap is taking advantage of density. If it can develop relationships with landlords and wire entire apartment complexes for Hyperleap — as it has with the likes of MacArthur Commons — it's easily able to predict growth. Hyperleap doesn't advertise; all of its growth up to this point has been word-of-mouth. McAlister declined to provide revenue or customer numbers, but says, at this point, the customer base is really small. The company only has 10 employees.
But again, it's got big plans. Because Little Rock is relatively small without much density, it's at the small end of markets BDG envisions for itself. The company is already in Dallas, and McAlister says it's working on another round of funding that would allow it to further expand its footprint there and maybe go into the Bay Area. Nashville and Memphis might be next.
Hyperleap touts its speeds and price point and instant activation on its website (bdg.link), but McAlister says the company is especially focused on being the best in the business at customer service: "We don't want to be the company you hate to buy something from. We want to be the company you love to buy something from." So far, Little says that's been his experience. It's been "phenomenal," he said. "Real people with real names emailing back very quickly" when a problem arises.