Key Trends for WISPs in 2017
People living in rural areas have limited choices for high-speed internet. Big cable and telco carriers don’t provide service to these areas, as lower customer density makes it too expensive.
Satellite internet providers are available but are typically considered a last resort due to limited data caps and high latency. In these areas, an entire industry of Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) has emerged. In the US, over 3,000 WISPs serve more than 3 million end users who would otherwise be stuck with satellite or slow DSL.
Most of these WISPs are small businesses with a few hundred to a few thousand subscribers. This brings unique challenges and benefits compared to traditional carriers:
- WISPs are often closely involved with their communities and can offer personalized service
- Because of their smaller size, WISPs typically don’t have the resources to deal with high regulatory overhead
- Due to rapidly evolving bandwidth requirements and technology, WISPs often have to overhaul their network every 3–5 years to keep up. In comparison, fiber is more expensive to deploy but can last decades. Some WISPs are now rolling out a combination of fiber and wireless networks.
Also, most WISPs are for-profit businesses (as opposed to local co-ops). That means their small and versatile teams need to take care of marketing and maintaining their networks, while improving customer satisfaction and revenue. They also have to do all this while keeping up with technology, minding regulatory changes, and watching the bottom line.
Here are some of the key trends for WISPs to watch out for in 2017.
1. Regulatory Changes
The FCC has imposed a number of regulations on the industry, such as the 2015 Open Internet Order. This introduced heightened transparency requirements for all WISP broadband providers and served as the basis for net neutrality regulation.
On January 23rd, the FCC appointed Ajit Pai as their new head. Pai is an advocate for less regulation and this will likely have an impact on the FCC’s direction. In February, the FCC extended an exemption to enhance transparency requirements for providers with less than 250,000 connections. This includes making data available about bandwidth, packet loss, and latency.
The FCC also paused the implementation of recent privacy regulations affecting providers and consumers of broadband services.
The concept behind these regulations is good but can be burdensome for WISPs. Relaxing some of these requirements for smaller providers will have a positive effect on the WISP industry.
2. Traffic Management
According to Sandvine, real-time entertainment (like streaming video and audio) continues to drive the bandwidth growth of fixed wireless networks. In fact, this makes up 71% of total traffic. In North America, Netflix continues to dominate with 35.2% of downstream traffic during peak hours. YouTube is second at 17.5%, and Amazon is the leading paid OTT alternative with 4.3%.
Streaming video can put a strain on networks, but it can also spur subscribers to increase their data plans. Streaming in HD or 4K provides a great experience, but it’s important that the experience be consistent and buffering-free. The key is to manage traffic to avoid buffering and provide high QoE, while ensuring that other household members can be online at the same time.
This is especially challenging during peak hours and requires more advanced WISP technology tools like detailed QoE statistics, as opposed to just using basic traffic shaping techniques.
The main competition for WISPs are other providers, DSL, and satellite internet. Satellite internet changes are coming in 2017. Both HughesNet and Viasat are launching new satellites, and promising greater speeds and data caps.
HughesNet launched Echostar XIX on December 16th and is currently in the testing phase, with service beginning on March 16th. Speeds will likely be around 25Mbps with data caps up to 50GB daytime and 50GB bonus bytes. It will also be available in all regions of the continental US.
Viasat-2 is scheduled for launch in the next few months and operational for consumers in Q4 2017, with speeds likely to exceed 25Mbps.
As existing satellites for both HughesNet and Viasat have become quite congested in certain regions, these will both result in major improvements. The higher speeds will be attractive to consumers, but the data caps will continue to make streaming video difficult.
For WISPs, it’s important to differentiate on more than just bandwidth. The lower latency compared to satellite internet will help but providing a great quality of experience will be key.
WISPs provide a critical service to millions of households in the US that wouldn’t otherwise have access to affordable high-speed internet. Due to their smaller size, they have unique challenges and benefits compared to traditional carriers.
The 3 key trends for WISPs in 2017 are:
- A changing regulatory landscape due to FCC changes
- Continued bandwidth growth due to high demand for real-time entertainment
- Increased competition due to new satellites being launched
With less regulatory overhead, opportunities for increased revenue due to demand for streaming video, and the ability to deliver more data with less latency than satellite, 2017 promises to be a great year for WISPs.