MJ Talks To... Joe Banos, Wilson Electronics
Maureen Jenson: Briefly describe the company’s history.
Joe Banos: Jim Wilson created Wilson Electronics in his garage in 1967. Over the years, the company has produced professional two-way radio, satellite TV antennas, ham radio and CB antennas, and even old-style mobile telephones (precursors to today’s cellular phones). In 1999, the company shifted to cellular products to address the dropped calls and weak signal problems. A year ago, Wilson was purchased by Sorenson Capital, a Private Equity group that understands the business and will undoubtedly take the company to the next level.
Boosters amplify cell signals and rebroadcast them in a home or office where the signal is weak. Cellular boosters have been around since about 2003; however, the product has improved astronomically since then as far as being network-friendly. Initially there was friction with carriers due to interference issues caused by the lesss-sophisticated products as a result of FCC certification standards not being adequate.
Over the last several years, Wilson worked with the carriers and the FCC to remedy this issue. Verizon was the first carrier to join Wilson in the effort to craft appropriate FCC specs, which has resulted in an excellent product. We spent two years working with Verizon developing these specs. Then T Mobile, ATT and Sprint joined the effort. We then presented to the FCC the new certification standards needed in order to certify a network-friendly booster. Last February, our specs were adopted. So, today’s product is bulletproof in terms of working with carrier’s networks while improving connectivity in weak signal areas. Over the last eight to 10 years, this product sector has really evolved as cellular devices become an important part of everyone’s lives.
MJ: How is Wilson Electronics serving the home technology professional?
Banos: We have split Wilson into two areas: one serving the retail/consumer side, and the other the CI sector with the new WCI division. The drivers for doing so were to give better specialized service and to differentiate the product line while restricting it from the Internet. This has been greatly received by integrators.
An integrator’s customer cannot go online and find our Custom Installer product. We have also implemented an outside sales force, which will work with the WCI division in addressing the CI dealer audience.
We offer three cellular booster models that accommodate small-, medium- and large-sized facilities. Integrators typically charge anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on the project.
We are in the process of making the product even smarter as we zero in on improving multiple antenna capabilities without losing performance. In larger venues of approximately 10,000–15,000 sq. ft., it is necessary to start distributing antennas in multiple places in the building. We are optimizing the product to work with multiple antennas, something competitors have not done. Most importantly, we cater to the integrator’s needs because we understand the business.
MJ: Where are your products currently found?
Banos: The ratio is about 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial. The product will work equally as well in any venue, but the “sweet spot” has been the medium-sized buildings of about 10,000 to 50,000 sq. ft. The products can be found in small-to-medium homes, businesses, warehouses, sheriff’s departments, sports bars, etc.
MJ: What are the trends in the industry right now; and how does your product fit in with those trends?
Banos: I hear the CI market as a whole seems to be getting better. Installers tell us that it looks like things are heating up. Our cellular booster is the perfect add-on to a home theater system or a great way to circle back and touch existing customers.
People are dumping phone lines in favor of cell phones, so it is a great time for product. People are increasingly using their cell phones for business. They need to be reached at the office or at home, which requires a reliable signal.
Another angle is the proliferation of cellular home alarms. Boosters can bring an improved cellular signal to security devices while also allowing the family to stream via cellular throughout the home—so everyone benefits.
Boosters bring a high level of happiness to customers by providing them with four bars, when before they had none.
MJ: How do you see the product evolving and how with that benefit the technology integrator?
Banos: We would like to outline a recurring-revenue model where the installer can monitor the product, charging a monthly fee for monitoring and remote access.
MJ: What additional services do you offer to technology integrators?
Banos: Wilson Electronics offers an online—as well as a live—webinar certification program. We award 75 to 100 certifications a month. Once the integrator passes the course, they are placed in a database used for referrals to inquiring consumers.
We will be offering certification sessions at CEDIA EXPO and InfoComm.
We also have a demo kit that the outside sales reps carry with them and integrators can acquire. Integrators can use the demo kits to do a “soft” install at a consumer’s home to demonstrate what the booster can do. When shown by our reps, many installers say they need it right now.
The company is also getting ready to launch a significant consumer awareness marketing program, which we think will drive business to the integrators. Many people don’t realize the possibilities available to improve their signal.
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