WARREN, Ohio – General Motors Co. had selected the site of its new joint venture with Korean-based LG Chem, Ultium Cells LLC, a $2.3 billion battery manufacturing plant just northeast of its former manufacturing complex in Lordstown when a glitch arose.
Internet connection along this section of state Route 45 in the village was spotty at best. And contractors preparing the groundwork and construction required fast, reliable service so they could complete the project on schedule.
The most efficient means to deploy a high-speed connection was through wireless technology. That’s where a young, local tech company stepped in and solved the issue.
“They contacted us,” says Ken Haidaris, who three years ago along with businessman Mark Marvin founded Warren Wireless, an internet communications provider based at Brite Energy Innovators, a technology incubator in downtown Warren. “We do the jobs that other providers don’t want to touch.”
Marvin, a native of Warren who splits his time with his residence in New Mexico, has invested millions of dollars into downtown Warren, including a venture that resulted in the complete renovation of the Robins Theatre.
Haidaris is also a well-known name in the city – he owns the landmark restaurant Sunrise Inn and Sunrise Entertainment, which books shows for the downtown Warren Amphitheater and the Robins.
Warren Wireless’ ultimate business objective is to deliver wireless internet connectivity to underserved areas across Trumbull County. When GM and LG Chem first announced their project, for example, representatives contacted Warren Wireless about extending service to this part of the county, Haidaris says.
The answer was to place a wireless signal transmitter atop a nearby communication tower so the construction site could pick up a strong signal, Haidaris says. The general contractor on the project, Barton Malow, is signed on as a customer as are several subcontractors at the location.
“We’re working closely with the supervisors of the project to roll the Wi-Fi into the plant once it’s finished,” says Tyler Harden, Warren Wireless’ chief information officer. “There was no Wi-Fi service there before.”
The service has worked so well that other contractors are calling as it positions the company to add customers in this part of Trumbull County, Harden says.
Wireless signals could extend about 125 miles, provided there are no physical obstructions to impede the tower’s line of sight, he says.
So far, construction on the project appears to be on track, observes Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill. “They are going great guns out there,” he says. “They have several crews putting the steel up.”
Initially, it was critical to sign up nearby businesses to the network, Haidaris says, so it was logical to approach establishments in and around the central business district in Warren.
“We’re trying to take care of concentrated areas first, then move on to other areas,” he says. “This way, we’re not scattershot throughout the county.”
At present, Warren Wireless targets commercial users. Plans call for possibly expanding the service to residential customers, Haidaris says.
Just about every restaurant in downtown Warren is a customer, Haidaris says, as are the Robins Theatre and Packard Music Hall. “There are no issues,” he says, since the network allows operations such as the Robins to process high-volume ticket sales and secure credit card transactions.
During a recent visit to the Robins Theatre, Haidaris demonstrates how wireless technology affects the daily operations in the venue.
He reaches into his pocket for his smartphone, dials up an app and presses a tab on its touch screen that governs the lights in the building. By working remotely, Haidaris is able to control the color and brightness of the lights inside the entire theater.
Moreover, all of the company’s network gear is reinforced with backup generators and redundant pathways to ensure the system remains operational during power outages or other emergencies, Harden says.“We’ve had 100% uptime.”
Among its customers is Charbenay’s Wine on the River, a winery that opened in September 2019 in the former Scope Center along the Mahoning River in downtown Warren.
“It’s been so reliable,” says its owner, Charlene Butcher. “I’m not a technical person. But we need this for our business.”
The winery has used Warren Wireless since it opened last year.
“We’ve used them from the beginning and there’ve been no problems at all,” she says.
Eventually, the company would like to expand its wireless technology to other internet-starved regions such as northern Trumbull County, Haidaris says.
“They don’t have broadband. So kids are going to places like McDonald’s to do their homework,” he says. “This could be a possible target area in the future.”
He says the company is exploring grant opportunities to help bridge the digital divide in these underserved parts of the county.
“We think it’s right up our alley,” Haidaris says.
Pictured: Warren Wireless co-owner Ken Haidaris, chief marketing associate Marilyn Montgomery and chief information officer Tyler Harden say most businesses in downtown Warren have become clients.