A telecom startup unveiled on Wednesday a plan to use wireless technology to provide speedy broadband Internet service to 90 percent of Mainers by 2017.

Redzone Wireless, a Camden-based Internet service provider, has already begun offering wireless residential and commercial broadband service in its first three coverage areas: Portland, Waterville and Great Diamond Island.

It is doing so using 4G LTE technology, which to date has been used primarily for cellphones.

“Today is a new day and the start of something great,” said Jim McKenna, Redzone’s president, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Portland’s One City Center.

While most people think fiber-optic cables connecting every home and business in Maine is the best route to high-speed Internet service, McKenna said he must “respectfully disagree.”

He cited estimates that it would cost $3 billion to extend fiber optics to all of Maine, which would be “prohibitively expensive.” Wireless technology like that which the company is deploying costs 90 percent less than laying down fiber to every home, McKenna said.

The company is now “aggressively working” to expand its network to 15 communities by the end of this year and reach more than 25 percent of Maine’s population. Within 24 months, McKenna said Redzone’s network will be able to reach more than 90 percent of Maine’s residents.

Redzone plans to leverage the 4G LTE technology to deliver wireless high-speed Internet service around the state by installing its equipment on existing cell towers.

Gov. Paul LePage and University of Maine System Chancellor James Page were both on hand at the Wednesday event to emphasize the importance of high-speed Internet service to Maine’s future prosperity.

“I’m really proud to see 4G LTE being developed in Maine,” LePage said. “It’s a cutting-edge technology. It’s truly a game changer for Mainers.”

Both men spoke of the importance of broadband to advance learning and commerce, and the impact that would have on elevating Maine from the bottom of national economic indicators. Maine has ranked close to the bottom on lists of broadband speeds by state, including a report based on Ookla NetMetrics data that said Maine ranks 49th out of the 50 states and a recent report from Akamai Technologies that puts Maine at 48th among U.S. states and far behind countries like Estonia and Macao.

LePage said that needs to end, and innovative companies like Redzone are the keys to making that happen.

“I look at it this way. Maine is on a three-legged stool. It’s pretty stable – sit on it [and] it won’t go forward, it won’t go backwards; it doesn’t move,” LePage said. “But Maine has to get off that stool and get on a two-wheeled bike so we can pedal into the future and much more prosperity.”

While hundreds of cellphones and other mobile devices use 4G LTE technology through the cellular networks, Redzone is the first company in the country to use 4G LTE to offer residential and commercial broadband service, according to Michael Forcillo, Redzone’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The ceremony was held in One City Center, a major office building on Portland’s Monument Square. Redzone beams its wireless Internet service to customers within the Portland area from the roof of that building.

How many customers? The company isn’t saying how many it’s signed up so far, but Forcillo said he’s not worried about finding an eager audience among locals looking for a competitive option.

“We don’t anticipate any difficulty in finding customers in Portland who are interested in an Internet-only solution that doesn’t involve a landline or cable TV subscription to get it,” Forcillo said. “We’ve had an excellent response to our initial pilot and commercial effort. Customer acquisition is not a great worry for us.”

Josh Broder lives on Munjoy Hill and was part of Redzone’s pilot program. He’s also CEO of Tilson Technology, the Portland-based telecommunications infrastructure contractor that Redzone hired to help it install equipment and deploy its technology.

Broder said he was skeptical at first about the technology’s ability to offer fast and reliable Internet service, but he’s been pleasantly surprised.

“Now that I’ve used it I’d say it’s as good as cable … and the upload speed is faster,” he said.

Broder backed up Forcillo’s claim that Redzone is leading the country in deploying this technology in this way. Sprint had a pilot program in Texas, but that hasn’t been deployed on a commercial scale, Broder said.

Redzone is offering a rate of $39 a month for basic Internet service, which doesn’t require bundling of other services like cable or telephone. The company said download speeds will vary depending on tower locations and other variables, but the 4G LTE advanced technology has been shown to deliver download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, far exceeding the state’s 10-megabit-per-second definition of high-speed broadband.

NEW OPTIONS FOR CONNECTIVITY

Redzone’s plan to bring high-speed Internet service to 90 percent of Mainers by the end of 2017 raises the question of whether the tens of millions of dollars invested in fiber networks, like the state-backed Three-Ring Binder project, were a waste.

Broder offers an unequivocal “no.” The fiber-optic network and Redzone’s wireless network work together.

The state has an existing spine of fiber-optic data connections. Redzone uses wireless technology to provide high-speed Internet to homes and businesses for the last mile of transit – the distance between a fiber-optic spine and the end user. As soon as a person’s data reaches the nearby tower or rooftop where Redzone’s technology is located, those bits and bytes travel over existing fiber networks, including the Three-Ring Binder.

The state of Maine is backing Redzone’s ambitious mission. The company qualified for incentives under the state’s Pine Tree Development Zone program, and in March it received commercial loan insurance from the Finance Authority of Maine on a $4 million line of credit it secured last week from Camden National Bank. The company plans to use the loan to purchase equipment and fund ongoing operations while it scales up. The loan insurance, provided through FAME’s commercial loan insurance program, means the state will be liable for paying back 90 percent of the loan if Redzone fails.

Redzone is using bandwidth it secured earlier this year from the University of Maine System.

The system owns the rights to use the Educational Broadband Service Spectrum to promote educational media distribution throughout the system network of campuses, but about five years ago it transferred most of that traffic to its wireline infrastructure, according to Michael Cyr, the university system’s director of architecture and service management in the IT department.

Cyr said the university system is initially leasing the use of the spectrum to Redzone for $214,000 a year, though that amount will increase as the company scales up over the 30 years of the lease.