Glenn Ishihara

President, NTCH

Glenn Ishihara has learned how to use pole positions to speed the rollout of affordable wireless service in remote markets.

Tiny NTCH acquired its first commercial license on June 30, 1999, and since then Ishihara has been quietly piecing together wireless networks in lucrative but underserved areas such as Grand Junction, Colo.; Moab, Utah; and Pocatello, Idaho.

"People are dying to get good service," he says.

Since it launched ClearTalk wireless service in western Colorado and the canyonlands of Utah 13 months ago, NTCH has built out a network, gathered more than 4,000 customers and reported a profit. And the competitors have started calling.

Thats good news! Its all part of Ishiharas grand plan to reach new markets first, and then lure bigger players that are anxious to gather customers of their own and are willing to pay for the convenience of hanging their equipment on his poles.

"Were building our own cell sites, and were providing service to people who want to colocate on those sites," Ishihara says. "Weve pushed the coverage area and forced other providers to improve their coverage."

Ishihara, 39, raised his profile in December when he put out the caution flag during the Federal Communications Commissions C-block license auction. The FCC set aside 170 licenses for 65 smaller companies. But Ishihara and other wireless entrepreneurs took exception to rules that allowed big carriers to back bidders in the special auction, worrying that the giants had found a back door that would let them acquire new rural spectrum they didnt intend to use.

NTCH added seven licenses in the December auction, and now has plans for networks in central California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Ishihara expects the competitors to come knocking in these markets, too, once the heavy lifting is done.

"In Grand Junction, the first PCS [personal communications services] license was auctioned five years ago. How does it work that we come along, and all of a sudden theres interest?" Ishihara wonders. "We pushed the envelope, spent the money, offered superior call quality — and now the competition is going onto our towers and we have to compete. I think thats what the FCC intended when it created the C block."