MICHAEL BUETTNER Of The Post and Courier Staff
When the Charleston Commissioners of Public Works decided to beef up security around the area’s water supply after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare that followed, the agency didn’t have to look far to find a company with the expertise to do the work.
Using a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency signed an eight-year contract with Broadband Wireless Technologies LLC, a 16-year-old Charleston company owned by Fred Anthony.
Broadband Wireless has been designing and installing security systems for federal, state and local agencies since its founding.
“We do business with about half of the federal agencies around the country,” Anthony said.
In the Charleston area, clients include the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, SPAWAR and the Naval Supply Center.
Elsewhere, Broadband’s clients include more than a dozen Veterans Affairs hospitals, military bases from California to Saudi Arabia, public schools, universities and an array of business clients, including a number of Fortune 500 companies.
What Broadband mainly does for its clients these days is design and install a still-new technology: wireless remote security.
A wireless security system typically includes surveillance cameras, closed-circuit TV monitors, identification tags that contain tiny radio transmitters and a computer system to tie everything together.
With such a system, security officers can locate and track employees, and inventory, throughout the client’s property.
The big advantage over older surveillance systems, Anthony said, is that “a basic security system would require people sitting at a command monitoring center looking at all these monitors. There might be a hundred of them. There’s no way one individual can see what’s happening on all of them.
“With a wireless system, if something happens, an alert pops up on a computer with a tie to the CCTV. It puts up that video; it tells in the message who’s calling, where they are and why they’re calling. That allows security to respond quickly and to know the reason for the response.”
Anthony’s experience in setting up electronic systems goes back well before he started Broadband Wireless.
“I worked for some of the regional Bell operating companies – Xerox, IBM, AT&T – in government systems as an engineer,” he said. “Doing that, I picked up a lot of knowledge about working with government agencies. I figured I could do it on my own and provide better service at a better price.”
The federal government remains his company’s biggest customer, and that creates special challenges. Broadband is certified by the Small Business Administration as a minority business enterprise, which helps when it comes to competing for contracts. But bureaucratic inertia can sometimes be an obstacle.
“Dealing with the government is a challenge,” Anthony said. “The biggest part is getting them to move away from old technology to new technology.”
He added, however, that “since 9-11, the government is more open to opportunities that would allow them to see what’s going on, with wireless as opposed to hard-wired systems.”
It’s also a challenge to finance his growing business, he said.
“The biggest challenge for a small business is being able to convince banking officials that the small business has the wherewithal to sustain itself and that if it had the right line of credit available, it would be able to do as well as a large business,” he said.
At this point, Broadband appears to be more than sustaining itself. Revenues, which had been averaging about $15 million a year, have risen dramatically in the past couple of years, Anthony said.
“Since 9-11, business has really picked up,” he said. “This year, we expect to do somewhere around $25 million to $28 million.”
But Anthony isn’t waiting for clients to come knocking on his door. Instead, he’s looking for new markets for his company’s services – “In the past year, we decided to diversify and provide the technology to commercial entities as well,” he said – and new applications for the technology.
Perhaps the most surprising new application is a service the company calls Baby Match, which “allows tracking for infant security in maternity wards. It immediately notifies in case of abductions,” Anthony said.
Still, the company’s biggest business is likely to remain the creation and installation of large-scale security systems, because demand for such systems is unlikely to decrease soon.
“Since 9-11, the nation has really begun to pay attention to its surroundings and security and safety,” Anthony said. “We’re just making sure people are safe.”
Michael Buettner is assistant business editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5553.
Copyright, 2003, The Post and Courier. All Rights Reserved.