His move to Air2Lan in June was decidedly low-key. But after spending the summer working with company founder and chairman Jai Bhagat, former SmartSynch CEO Mark E. Rodgers is taking the telecommunications company to the next level.
Rodgers, who was officially named CEO of Jackson-based Air2Lan August 19, recently announced that the company, a leading provider of broadband Internet access and end-to-end Internet services for corporate customers, inked a partnership deal with Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT) to market and sell Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to businesses in the southeastern U.S.
“VoIP is the future of voice communications, and we have a world-class partner, the largest in its field, that will allow us to be a premier provider,” said Rodgers. “The service is excellent and the value to the customer is compelling.”
According to details of the agreement, Air2Lan will sell Level 3’s business VoIP service as a member of the Level (3) Enabled partner program, which provides access to marketing resources and sales support, including a partner portal, training, demand generation and marketing tools and aggressive sales incentives.
“In selecting Level 3 as our VoIP partner, Air2Lan will be able to offer Level 3’s award-winning hosted IP voice service, (3) Tone Business,” said Rodgers. “Designed to work with or replace existing PBX and Key Systems, the service allows enterprises to deploy an array of enhanced voice services, including Class 5 features, universally and seamlessly throughout a single- or multi-site corporate environment, often with operating savings of as much as 40%.”
A recent Morgan Stanley telecom services market study indicated that approximately one-third of all businesses in the U.S. — and about half of large corporations — have adopted VoIP service.
“Many of the early hurdles of VoIP have been overcome,” explained Rodgers. “We now have number portability, so that customers do not have to change their phone or facsimile numbers, 911 functionality and great system administration tools. As a result, corporate customers are really responding to VoIP’s simplicity and cost savings.”
The introduction of Air2Lan’s VoIP product paves the way for “layering a whole host of new products and services, including a lot of security applications,” said Rodgers. “In many ways, it gets me back to my roots of using Internet connectivity for non-personal communications.”
Already, Air2Lan is furnishing broadband wireless cameras at intersections around the state through its contract with the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
“Broadband wireless is primarily a point to multi-point technology, so we have primarily only offered wireless data services to business customers,” said Rodgers. “With VoIP, there are lots of unique and compelling benefits we can offer, such as full residential service in the next 12 to 18 months. That’s where it gets really exciting because it’s really all about taking what we’re doing today on a point to multi-point basis and making it a ubiquitous service offering.”
Air2Lan offers its services to businesses, residential complexes, hotels and municipal governments in Jackson, Memphis, Tenn., Montgomery, Ala., New Orleans and Monroe, La., and Houston, Texas. The company’s satellite markets are located in Clarksdale, Greenville, Greenwood, Vicksburg, Yazoo City and West Memphis, Ark.
From SmartSynch to Air2Lan
Since the inception of both companies in 1999, Bhagat had served as chairman of SmartSynch while Rodgers was a member of Air2Lan’s advisory board.
“Jai and I began visiting earlier this year about Air2Lan, where it was positioned and some of the opportunities ahead,” said Rodgers. “We’d worked together for close to 20 years, at MobileComm prior to SkyTel, and the more we discussed the possibilities, the more it made sense to join Air2Lan. The board unanimously liked the strategy I outlined for the company and put together a fantastic offer for me to come over as CEO and to be on the board of directors. Because I’d been on the advisory board from the start, I felt like I was as much a part of this company as SmartSynch.”
Rodgers joined Air2Lan June 22 as executive vice president of business development, the same day Bill Walker, former president and COO of Innovative Broadband Solution and another SkyTel alum, joined the company as COO. At the time, Bhagat said that Air2Lan was preparing for its next step in accelerating market share by adding the pair to the management team.
“Their tremendous experience and talent will help our team position the company for significant growth as we introduce new and innovative services while maintaining the superior service our customers have come to know as the hallmark of Air2Lan,” said Bhagat.
The timing was right to make a move, said Rodgers. “Jai is anxious to get involved in some areas where he can benefit the company,” he said. “There’s so much momentum in the industry right now, and a lot of things are happening in the FCC. Jai is so well known in the halls there because, with SkyTel, our offices were right across the street. The FCC is now looking at allocating the entire UHF television spectrum that’s not used-that’s 94 channels-for use by broadband wireless carriers like Air2Lan. That’s a very important initiative, and Jai can do so much good by working with them through those issues.
“Jai’s also going to be real active in the wireless conference circuit, talking about broadband wireless and working with our equipment vendors on technology roadmaps, for example, and he needs to focus his time and energies there. He can’t do that and manage the day-to-day operations as well. Jai lobbied hard for me to come over because he was ready to take on those responsibilities and it worked out really well.”
Rodgers is glad to team up with Bhagat again “because we complement each other so nicely.”
“He’s got such a breadth and depth of technical knowledge and vision, and I’m really all about executing the business strategy and operating the company,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great team to take Air2Lan to the next level.”
As CEO of SmartSynch, a leading provider of SmartMeter Systems to the electric energy industry, Rodgers raised more than $36 million in venture capital financing and guided the company from startup operations to a national player with more than 25 commercial and industrial customers, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Bhagat and Rodgers have relinquished their roles at SmartSynch. Stephen Johnson, former director of business development for SmartSynch, has been named CEO of that company.
“SmartSynch is in great hands,” said Rodgers. “The company has a very well defined path to the marketplace. Their relationship with Itron is rock solid. So are their products. I wish them continued success.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.