Updated in 2021 with the latest industry data and figures.
The WISP Market in the US
The Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP) market is a critical segment of the internet industry, offering service to traditionally underserved areas using wireless networking technologies.
The WISP industry includes businesses (mostly small and medium-sized) that believe in bridging the digital gap. They do this by bringing high-speed internet to communities otherwise ignored or served poorly by traditional providers.
Read on to learn more about the growing WISP market size in the US. Throughout, we’ll present some key facts and figures that support its rising importance in today’s networking world.
How it Started and How it’s Going
In 1992, a non-profit cooperative started (arguably) the world’s first WISP in Wyoming.
Now, the WISP industry is a strong, committed, and well-represented group of over 3,000 businesses in the US alone. This includes more than 2,000 service providers, networking solutions providers, and other vendors.
The following segment highlights some macro-level data and industry figures related to WISP market size in the US.
Image from BWA Industry Report 2017 by The Carmel Group
Currently, revenue estimates of the WISP market size in the US approach $4.5 billion.
In addition, the WISP market in the US consists of over 7 million individuals and businesses.
A Growing Market
Key reasons for this strong growth forecast include rapid technological advances by service providers and favorable FCC policy towards rural broadband integration. General consolidation in the WISP market is also a factor.
The impressive size of the market is clearly based on the strong need for WISPs to serve underserved areas in an effective and also efficient manner.
Connecting Rural America: Telcos, cable companies, and other traditional providers have long ignored the digital needs of rural America. This is largely due to inefficient economies of scale (e.g. distance and sparsely-populated locations).
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, bringing greater efficiency to the market.
Generous Service: Unlike traditional cable/fixed internet options, WISPs are typically generous with data. For example, they’ll offer 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 macro-economic impact of WISPs shouldn’t be ignored. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), an industry advocacy organization, reports that there are more than 2,000 mostly small or medium businesses with fixed wireless operations. These also 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 search on Broadband Now shows that there are approximately 1,626 fixed wireless providers across all states in the US. This includes some of the largest players in the WISP market.
Recent Funding Has Boosted the Wireless Internet Market
With the recent CAF-II (Connect America Fund), RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund), and other emergency funding announcements during COVID-19, there has been massive growth in the WISP industry.
As a result, 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 of support to 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, also 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, also in RDOF Phase-1)
WISPs Help Connect Communities
WISPs provide a critical service to the communities in which they live and work. There are hundreds of providers in communities who are strong representatives and advocates of the areas they serve.
Also, WISP owners and operators actively contribute to local socio-economic development through employment, charity, sponsorship, and other leadership activities.
Managing the Challenges and Rewards
Being a Wireless Internet Service Provider can be intensely rewarding, but it’s a challenging business.
For example, there are significant opportunities to set up in areas not directly in the range of large carriers. Unfortunately, investing in wireless hardware can be expensive and also 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 WISPs acquiring smaller operations to gain a larger market share. This is a tactic expected to continue in the coming year.
Looking to the Future for Wireless Internet Service Providers
It’s expected that the Wireless Internet Service Providers market will continue to grow stronger in the coming years. As such, it’s important for 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. The 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!
Recent Merger and 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 and Deal Tracker here to stay up-to-date with all the activity going on in this space!