While I was doing my morning jog through the Internet news articles (I have to keep in shape some way) I was struck by all the articles about cities that are looking at rolling out wireless Internet coverage.

As with every other challenge a business faces this one also presents several opportunities. Let’s examine some of the facets of this situation paying particular attention to what this means to the WISP.

Let’s assume you are either running a WISP in one of these cities or that you are thinking of starting one. What would an announcement like this mean to you? Well, first of all, you’re going to have some competition. You did expect competition, didn’t you? In fact, there should be an entire section in your business plan detailing competition and how you effectively plan to deal with it, right? You do have a business plan, don’t you?

The second issue (and certainly related) is what is going to happen to “your” spectrum. This particular issue is going to be sticky as there is only a small slice of spectrum and now it’s going to be shared – by someone who might not be that willing to work with you. At the very least, there will now be less channels for you to work with.

Those of you who know me probably understand that I have been advocating proper design and deployment of any network for years. This means to me that every link should be constructed with the understanding that you will need plenty of margin. If you have had the luxury of an area all to yourself and now you don’t see the wisdom of this planning is probably now starting to hit home.

Let’s face it, the concept of a supercell now leaves you vulnerable to a microcell deployment being rolled out taking your network apart one neighborhood at a time. Ah well, proper planning…

Now, the question is, does this spell disaster for the well-prepared WISP? Not that I can see. Let’s look at some of the opportunities that this type of citywide WISP roll out brings to your table.

The biggest opportunity this immediately offers is the ability for you to distinguish your service from the “others” by highlighting your customer service, low latency, higher speeds, security or whatever else you offer that provides additional value to your customers.

There may also be an opportunity for you to work cooperatively with this new Municipal WISP to provide backhaul. Alternatively, maybe you could sell off part of your infrastructure as it is easier for them to buy your already functioning network than to build out one of their own. This might allow you the capital you would need to build out a different/better network.

Even if the city can roll out this type of infrastructure and service it reliably there are still going to be customers that will be willing to pay for a premium service, perhaps one that integrates computer service or service of all their office systems into one entity. If you can’t do this yourself, consider partnering with the local computer repair and office machine service company.

But most importantly, remember where we came from. At the most basic, WISPs are part of an old tradition that dates back to the beginning of civilization. We are innovators that look for a need, examine the options and invent a better way to service that need than any of the others that are currently available.

Well, what are the customer of today’s needs?
Where is the competition falling short on delivering an acceptable answer?

As WISPs (predominately WiFi based) we know the answers to these questions better than anyone else. Off the top of my head, I can see three distinct deficiencies that we all commonly share.

1.) Lack of a distinguishing speed difference between us and our competitors.
2.) No realistic way to deliver services any better than our competition.
3.) The inability to be able to quickly upgrade our networks without costing us an arm and a leg.

So, what should we do to address these three issues?

1.) Start planning your eventual upgrade right now! Whether you are looking to WiMAX, MIMO, FSO, Fiber or any other technology you NEED to have a plan, one that you can proudly point out to your customer as a reason they should do business with you.

2.) Identify the three main things your customers want and aren’t currently getting. Do they want VoIP support? How about video conferencing? How about remote backup? Would they be interested in having their internal networks monitored for virus problems? If you are specializing in the residential market, do your customers want Video on Demand?

3.) Where are we going? How will we get there? What technology will we be implementing to move our network forward? How will we finance this without eating away at all of our profits?

These are the real issues we must face sooner rather than later.


Ken DiPietro

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