Updated in January 2021 with latest industry data and figures.
Wireless Internet Service Providers, or WISPs as they’re popularly known, are a critical segment of the internet industry that offer internet service using wireless networking technologies.
WISPs often start operations in areas under-served by traditional cable and satellite internet providers.
In other words, the WISP industry represents a group of businesses (mostly small and medium-sized) led by enterprising individuals who believe in bridging the digital gap in today’s world. They do so by bringing high-speed internet to areas, businesses, and communities that would have otherwise been ignored or served ineffectively by traditional cable, DSL, or satellite internet companies.
In this article, our aim is to capture the status of this growing industry and present some key facts and figures to support its rising importance in today’s networking world.
It’s safe to assume that no one would have thought how far the industry would come from its humble beginnings, when, in 1992, a non-profit cooperative started (arguably) the world’s first WISP in Wyoming.
In 2021, the WISP industry is a strong, committed, and well-represented group of over 3000 businesses in the US alone—including 2000-2500 service providers, networking solutions providers, and other vendors.
The following segment highlights some macro-level data and industry figures for Wireless Internet Service Providers in the United States of America.
Image from BWA Industry Report 2017 by The Carmel Group
Currently revenue estimates of the Wireless Internet Service Providers market in the United States of America approach $4.5 billion.
Furthermore, the Wireless Internet Service Providers market in the US consists of over 7 million individuals and businesses.
Key reasons for the strong growth forecast include rapid technological advances by service providers, favorable FCC policy towards rural broadband integration, and general consolidation in the Wireless Internet Service Providers market.
The impressive size of the Wireless Internet Service Providers market is clearly based on the strong fundamental need for such providers to exist and grow in an otherwise hotly contested telecommunication space which is marked by the presence of global companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and others. There is a potent need for Wireless Internet Service Providers serve regions in an effective and efficient manner.
Connecting Rural America: Telcos, cable companies, and other traditional providers have long ignored the digital needs of rural America on the basis of inefficient economies of scale (distance and sparsely located populations).
Healthy Competition: While it’s true that most WISPs started out as rural-only providers, there are hundreds of wireless network providers competing today in traditional urban centers by providing dedicated business, VoIP, and residential internet services. This creates an ideal situation where customers can choose between competing alternatives, which brings greater efficiencies into the overall internet service market.
Generous Service: Unlike traditional cable/fixed internet options, Wireless Internet Service Providers are typically generous with their data caps with most players, offering tiered plans with unlimited data caps and different upstream and downstream speeds.
While the advantages are clear from a service or customer point of view, the macroeconomic impact of WISPs shouldn’t be ignored. Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), a 501.c6 advocacy organization, reports that there are more than 2000 mostly small or medium business with fixed wireless operations.
As for total coverage, Wireless Internet Service Providers collectively reach about 51% of the total US population.
Image from Preseem using data from Preseem’s State of the Fixed Wireless Industry 2020 Infographic
A quick search on broadbandnow.com shows that there are approximately 1626 fixed wireless providers across all states in the US. This includes some of the largest players in the Wireless Internet Service Providers market.
Moreover, given the recent CAF-II (Connect America Fund) and RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund), as well as other emergency broadband funding announcements (during COVID-19), there has been massive growth in the WISP industry.
Accordingly, many large WISPs have emerged as winners of big government funding and increased consolidation.
For instance, LTD Broadband—a WISP serving Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin—won a whopping $1.32 billion in the RDOF Phase I auction. This funding will provide 10 years with of support that will enable LTD Broadband to serve 528,088 locations/connections.
We’ve put together a list of some of the nation’s largest WISPs, which includes any recently procured government funding:
- Rise Broadband
- King Street Wireless
- Etheric Networks
- Starry Internet (winner of $269 million in RDOF Phase-1)
- Agile Networks
- Nextlink Internet (winner of $429 million in RDOF Phase-1)
- Everywhere Wireless
- UnWired Broadband
- TWN Communications
- Wisper ISP (winner of $5 million in RDOF Phase-1 with plans to grow to 80,000 customers by 2025 and 500,000 customers by 2030)
- Resound Networks (winner of $311 million in RDOF Phase-1)
Wireless Internet Service Providers provide a critical service to the communities they serve and are almost always made up of people who actually live and work in those communities. There are hundreds of providers in communities that are strong representatives and advocates of the villages, towns, and counties they serve.
Furthermore, most WISP owners and operator actively contribute to local socio-economic development through employment, charity, sponsorship, and other leadership activities.
But while being a Wireless Internet Service Provider can be intensely rewarding, it is a challenging business. While there are significant opportunities available for enterprising networking experts to build their business, WISPs face challenges like every other small or medium business.
There exist significant opportunities to set up a wireless operation in areas not directly in the range of large carriers and thereby gain market share and profitability. Unfortunately, the investments in wireless hardware and antennas can sometimes lead to situations where maintaining operating cash flow can be a major challenge for small businesses.
Insufficient cashflow is also the reason behind some fast-growing WISPs entering into a consolidation phase. There are also numerous reports of such WISPs acquiring smaller, not-so-profitable operations in their quest to gain larger market share—a tactic expected to continue in the coming year.
While it’s expected that the Wireless Internet Service Providers market will continue to grow stronger in the coming years, it’s important for growing WISPs to focus their strategic efforts on the following:
- The adoption rate of new technologies and innovations in the wireless networking space
- Innovation in marketing efforts to reach, engage and win new customers
We also expect this space to continue to be extremely interesting to investors. Given that demand for reliable, high-speed internet accelerated during COVID-19, alongside the launch of multiple government funding schemes, the WISP industry is more attractive than ever!
Below, we’ve compiled a list of recent mergers and acquisitions of Wireless Internet Service Providers in the US.
Recent Merger & Acquisition Activity in the US WISP Industry
As demand for reliable, high-speed internet continues to surge, the WISP industry remains ripe with investment opportunities.
Check out our official Fixed Wireless (WISP Industry) M&A News & Deal Tracker here to stay up-to-date with all the activity going on in this space!
Looking for ways to grow and get ahead with your WISP in 2021? Try Preseem in your network for free!
Using Active Queue Management techniques, Preseem helps WISPs measure, analyze, and optimize their network’s Quality of Experience (QoE) across towers, access points, and subscribers. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today!
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