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Swift High Speed Undergoes Merger, Looks to Expand

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Evan Schroeder of Swift High Speed at their new office/warehouse space in Steinbach. Sara Beth Dacombe

On September 9, Swift High Speed announced it has been acquired by Xplornet Communications Inc. and reorganized its remaining staff to form a new business called Swift Underground.

Based out of New Brunswick, Xplornet is a broadband service provider specializing in rural customers.

Over the past seven years, Swift has rapidly grown their network of fibre optic internet, wireless towers, and customer connections, all of which has been sold to Xplornet while Swift Underground retains the staff and equipment necessary to continue to operate its Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) installation business. Swift Underground thus also becomes a local contractor for Xplornet.

Evan Schroeder, chief operating officer and partner at Swift Underground, credits collaborative partnerships and amazing staff for enabling them to grow so quickly.

The business expanded from a two-man operation, climbing on towers and rooftops, to a company with more than 60 employees and a passionate and comprehensive vision to bring fibre internet to underserved areas in southeast Manitoba.

“Fibre to towers was our initial strategy, but we quickly realized that FTTH was our future, especially rural fibre,” says Schroeder. “Due to the density of southeast Manitoba, we were able to start deploying FTTH in towns that had never had this available, along with connecting our towers.”

However, Schroeder says that they quickly realized that on their own they couldn’t borrow and grow fast enough to keep up with the marketplace.

“This past spring we realized we were not successful in obtaining the funding we’d require to grow as quickly as we’d hoped,” he says. “At the same time, several industry concerns became apparent outside of the financial lending piece. Access to fibre materials was tough, as many products were significantly backordered, and purchasing licensed wireless spectrum to fill in the areas in which building FTTH was well outside our capabilities… So we made the difficult choice to sell our internet business.”

Xplornet was the top choice for Schroeder to sell his business, to and he says there were many reasons that made it a clear and sound choice. Xplornet had the ability to fund far more growth than Swift could raise on its own, allowing 7,000 new homes to access FTTH, with construction beginning immediately.

Xplornet had also selected 15 regions to invest in, and they were the same top 15 regions Swift had been interested in targeting. Additionally, Xplornet has ongoing relationships with big fibre suppliers and is able to secure materials at better prices and speeds than Swift could as a smaller company.

Overall, Xplornet was able to show Schroeder that they shared the same vision to reach rural locations with the best internet possible.

“We couldn’t afford to grow fibre the way we are now,” says Schroeder. “It just wasn’t possible. We love what we’re doing. We love being able to get out to people’s homes and help them connect to what they care about.”

Swift’s FTTH operation has already been in place for more than two years and Schroeder saw the opportunity presented by Xplornet as the way to move his business forward in the direction he wanted.

“We just grew really fast in the area of installing fibre to the home, and we saw this as a way to grow. And now we can really do this a lot faster than we could if we had continued self-funded. That’s the big difference here. Our goal of getting fibre to this many homes just couldn’t happen before. We couldn’t get the funding and now we have the funding.”

Customer Service

Schroeder says they’ve gotten a high volume of calls asking about account changes. Some customers have expressed concern about Xplornet’s ability to provide good customer service.

Under the new ownership, customer accounts that were previously with Swift High Speed will be transitioned to Xplornet, but Schroeder struck an agreement with the New Brunswick company to ensure that Swift staff continues to handle all customer service for existing customers for at least three years.

“We still have our call centre staff. All the customer service calls, all the emails for our existing customers, will continue to come to us. Nothing’s changing,” says Schroeder. “We’ve become a subcontractor of Xplornet. Just like there are subcontractors under Bell or Shaw, we have brought Swift in under Xplornet in that way.”

Another thing that won’t change is the infrastructure. Schroeder says that Xplornet had observed Swift’s network and seen it working well.

“Xplornet doesn’t want to change the service provided at this time,” he says. “They are not merging our networks. They don’t want to rush customers off of our network and onto a different network when ours was working well. It’s not necessary. So our networks aren’t even merging. They’ll stay separate and Swift will essentially stay running what we’ve always run.”

Schroeder says there will be no change to existing customers, and that a few areas many even experience an overall improvement in service.

“There are several towers that we had purchased in the Mighty Oaks acquisition last year. Those towers weren’t ready to be climbed. Our staff wasn’t safe on those towers, so we’ve decommissioned most of those customers by moving them to other towers. With this [Xplornet] acquisition now, we can move some of those customers onto the LTE plans from Xplornet, which are much better than what they’re having right now. So that’ll help those customers. But the rest of our customers won’t experience a change. They’re going to stay where they are and we’re going to support them.”

Any transition comes with risk, but Schroeder says this move was necessary. Swift’s business model was always to grow and that’s what they’ve done.

And yet Schroeder is modest about their success.

“There are a lot of other good companies doing the same for other competitors on the wireless side and the fibre side,” he says. “And we’re all here doing the same thing. We want to get these rural homes, which everybody else has forgotten about, connected to what we consider today’s technology.”

Schroeder adds that they’re very happy with the arrangement with Xplornet, which enables them to continue providing the services as they’ve been doing it.

“We’ll stay running as we have been until fibre to the home is available to a lot of customers and the new 5G wireless service is available to the rest. And that might be in a year or two, or more.”

New Building, More Staff

To facilitate the new business arrangement with Xplornet, as well as the creation and growth of Swift Underground, Swift moved its headquarters from New Bothwell to Steinbach, taking over the former Mid Canada Millwork building on Highway 52.

Design staff moved into the office space over a month ago, but front office staff only began operating from there at the beginning of September.

“We knew this would be part of the process. We knew we would need to be able to gear up and organize ourselves in a space, and this building allowed us to do just that,” says Schroeder. “It will also allow us to go from 55 to 60 staff to over 150 staff next year. We are currently hiring for construction tech position and build design positions. We will be hiring more and more… This is all part of that big process of, let’s get ready to bring fibre to everybody in the area.”

The MCM building was in need of some office renovation, but was otherwise an ideal fit for the business. The building boasts almost 8,000 feet of office space, with another 5,000 available for lease.

“Swift is occupying the warehouse space in the back. We have room to spare there, so we have a few areas where we are offering warehousing to a few businesses to provide them a storage space,” says Schroeder. “As for the office space, we have room to spare there, too. We are only occupying about half the space, and we are looking for tenants for the other half. It is available for lease. We have ROC Eastman planning to use the space for a book fair in the near future, but that will be temporary so we are definitely looking for a long-term tenant.”

Schroeder wants to welcome customers who want to come see the new space where staff can process payments in person, arrange for installation or service work, or assist with router and wifi repairs.

The building had previously been vacant for about eight years and has generated a lot of local interest from the general public. In the spring of 2020, the price on the real estate was dropped by nearly $1 million to finally attract a buyer.

Schroeder says he’s very pleased with the location and that they couldn’t have asked for a better space for Swift.

“It’s great to be in this space at this location. There’s some good activity going on along this stretch and with taking on such a large space, it brings some revitalization to the area.”

What’s Next?

Swift has a history of rapid growth and has previously acquired other smaller internet providers in order to increase its ability to specialize in bringing internet to smaller towns and rural areas in Manitoba’s southeast.

Schroeder says their team is in the process of designing the final touches on the Kleefeld install and fibre install construction to approximately 7,000 homes, a process which will begin in about two weeks.

Planning for FTTH involves them working closely with local government infrastructure to secure permissions and appropriate routes for the safe install of fibre where there is often existing underground cabling. Schroeder says their planning also includes routes for new developments.

“We send our plan off for permitting and work with the RMs so that they know what’s in the ground, what’s going to be in the ground, and make sure it works with their water and sewer plan and more,” he says. “There are so many layers of utilities, so we need to know where every gas line is; our cables travel along the same routes and same right of way, so that’s important.”

Schroeder says that they are anticipating new and expanded developments in many communities.

“You don’t want to be caught short if there are 800 homes planned, but then they up it to a 1,000,” he says. “We want to make sure they have what they need. It’s more costly to come back a second time, so we make sure we put in what’s needed on the first go.”

After Kleefeld and Grunthal, Schroeder sees the need for fibre in many more rural areas around Winnipeg, including Anola, Marchand, Woodridge, and Vita, to name a few.

“There’s a lot on our radar for the future. We’d like to get to all of the places that everyone else has forgotten. That’s our plan for the next three to five years and beyond.”

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