Wilson Electronics Scoops Up Rival in Signal Boosters
By Ina Fried | March 5, 2014
Wilson Electronics, a leader in the market for devices that boost cellphone signals, has quietly scooped up zBoost, one of its key rivals.
The acquisition, which occurred in January but has not yet been publicly announced, is part of an effort by Wilson to consolidate the space and give the company greater scale as it hopes to expand both in the U.S. and internationally. The company has revenue of more than $50 million and expects to grow that this year, CEO Robert Van Buskirk told Re/code.
Van Buskirk said that zBoost has a business that is only about one-fifth the size of Wilson’s, but it allows the company to add a second brand to its portfolio and brings product strength in the consumer and small business arenas.
The deal follows new rules on signal boosters issued last year by the Federal Communications Commission designed to set clear guidelines in what had been a largely unregulated area. All signal boosters sold after April 30 have to comply with those new rules.
Signal boosters can be used by consumers and small businesses to improve weak indoor coverage. The FCC rules were designed to permit the benefits of such devices while working to minimize interference concerns.
The rules had been set to go into effect March 1, but the FCC postponed the implementation date to allow more approved devices to be ready.
Wilson has the broadest array of devices to pass FCC testing, Van Buskirk said, though it still has a few more products that it hopes to get approved ahead of the revised deadline.
Startup Nextivity said Tuesday that it had gotten FCC approval for its first Cel-Fi smart booster, which works with T-Mobile’s network. An AT&T version is also in the works.
Unlike Wilson’s analog products, which boost all incoming cellular signals, Nextivity uses a digital booster that is carrier specific. FCC rules allow such devices to boost at higher levels than analog boosters, such as those sold by Wilson and others on the market. Nextivity says its approach will allow its boosters to comply with the rules and offer greater coverage than is possible with analog boosters.
Wilson, for its part, says that carrier-agnostic systems are a better approach for most consumers.
The real problem, from Van Buskirk’s perspective, is that most consumers don’t even know about boosters of any kind — devices that can make a big difference inside offices and houses with weak indoor cell reception.
“We think the awareness of signal boosters as a product solution is in the very low single digits,” he said.