Original article http://www.fiercetelecom.com/story/upn-remains-open-acquisitions-finds-tier-2-market-niche-dark-fiber/2015-09-01

Jason Adkins, president of Unite Private Networks (UPN), says that while it may not as big as a Tier 1 provider or Zayo Networks, the provider is finding a growing niche in Tier 2 markets that incumbents have shown little interest in serving.

Having recently completed its hundredth tower fiber connection in its wholesale wireless backhaul business, UPN is seeing continual demand in the markets it serves, like Iowa, on three fronts: school districts, enterprises and wireless operators.

“Towers continue to be a big part of our organic growth and we continue to have a heavy concentration of school districts, and then enterprise,” Adkins said. “The big thing is taking these anchor customers like schools and wireless towers and layering on enterprise sales reps on top of that.”

Although UPN serves large markets like Dallas, it also operates in secondary markets such as Des Moines and Pueblo, Colo. One market where it is seeing growing opportunity for its fiber services in the enterprise segment is in Iowa, where a number of companies are looking for alternative diverse fiber providers, particularly for companies that are connected to the legacy McLeod fiber network.

“The last major fiber build in Iowa was probably 20 years ago with McLeod fiber and now we’re coming in overbuilding with heavy count fiber,” Adkins said. “We’re getting a lot of interest where people say they have a fiber route on the McLeod network, but I would love to have a diverse route.”

At the same time that UPN is expanding its network reach organically, it is aware that the market it operates in is moving through another wave of consolidation where larger players are buying regional fiber network players.

Adkins isn’t afraid of the rapidly consolidating competitive market, but realizes that the players and the buyers in the market are changing.

“From an M&A perspective, I think you’re going to see a lot of non-traditional folks get into the fiber market, whether it’s tower companies or other private equity firms that never invested in fiber,” Adkins said. “You see that line tower company and fiber company blurring now so a lot of people that wanted to invest in towers are looking at fiber and are saying it’s not much different than towers.”

Driven by the growing small cell movement, tower companies like Crown Castle have emerged as an interesting new consolidator in the fiber network market.

Earlier this year, the service provider purchased Sunesys, a subsidiary of Quanta Services, for about $1 billion in cash. By acquiring Sunesys, the company will have fiber assets that could potentially serve more than 3,500 small cell opportunities.

For its own part, Adkins said that it would consider acquiring other assets if they fit the right profile in terms of price and market reach.

“As far as M&A goes, we’re not opposed to growing inorganically if we found the right tuck-in acquisition or a similar company we could bring into the fold,” Adkins said. “The question is always price and motivation.”

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