Wireless Internet Service Provider Guide
Introduction - The Need to Adapt
WISPs Have Never Been More Important
The last two years have forced us all to adapt our lives in fundamental ways. We’ve changed the ways we work, learn, interact, shop, travel, and do just about everything. Internet access is intricately woven into our lives, especially as the world continues to adapt to the pandemic and the global economy. As a result, the service you provide as WISPs has never been more important. Your customers’ ability to stay connected to information, resources, and each other is critical to their family’s livelihood, education, well-being, and sense of community.
As a result, the service you provide as WISPs has never been more important. Your customers’ ability to stay connected to information, resources, and each other is critical to their family’s livelihood, education, well-being, and sense of community.
New Guide on Adapting to Succeed
On the other hand, the complexities of providing internet service also continue to evolve, even as the very definition of broadband is being reevaluated. In any industry, savvy businesses will succeed by adapting to new challenges and opportunities as they arise.
This 2022 edition of our WISP guide offers insights on how Service Providers around the country are adapting both their business strategies and their technology to grow their businesses and stay ahead of customer demands. Whether you’re an experienced WISP that’s curious about what other service providers are up to, or a newer WISP trying to understand the ins and outs of fixed wireless, we invite you to read the pages that follow!
WISPs that Made this Guide Possible
We’ve interviewed a great group of service providers this time around, each offering a fresh perspective. We’ve limited their personal information to respect their privacy, but we’re grateful to every one of them for their time! We believe you’ll find their insights and experiences relevant to your work, and we hope you’ll enjoy what they have to share!
WISP Guide - 12 Areas to Adapt for Success in Broadband
Review the chapters below or download the full guide by filling out the form on this page.
- Adapting to COVID
- Money Management & Funding
- Adjusting to Broadband Supply Chain Disruption
- Towers & Key Accessories
- Video Surveillance & Other Offerings
- 6 GHz Unlicensed Spectrum
- Seizing the Moment in CBRS & LTE
- Planning for the Future of 5G
- Why Horn Antenna Use Has Grown
- Intro to WiFi 6 & Enterprise Networks
- Unleashing Terragraph Technology
- Deploying Hybrid, Fiber, or Wireless Multi-Gigabit
Chapter 1 - Adapting to COVID
Continuing to Adjust
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, we captured a snapshot from some of our WISP customers in an article entitled, How Has COVID-19 Affected WISP Businesses? As one might expect, they noted a heightened demand for connectivity and increased expectations for network performance. So where are things today for WISPs? Now that we’re two years in, it’s time to take a fresh look.
Customer Demands Remain High
Although we wish this was ancient news by now, COVID continues to affect our world and our industry. So what are WISPs saying today? We recently spoke with several WISPs to get their perspective.
"COVID has increased the number of customers interested in getting service, even as it’s had a negative impact for all the health reasons. Connecting them hasn’t been easy, as customers are in difficult-to-reach areas and equipment has been hard to come by. But our staff has been more than eager to go out and provide them with service. We’re all very conscious about doing that in the safest way possible for the customers and us, even as we’re busier than ever."
"We still use PPE for our first contact with the customer, and as much as possible we don’t enter homes. However, a lot of our customers are not technically savvy, and we still need to put the end on the cable in the home. So we use an abundance of caution and try to keep a safe distance."
Noting a similar increase in demand, David, WISP President from Virginia stated:
"Our traditional slow period is November - January, but over the last two years since COVID hit we’ve stayed booked out at least a month in advance. We had to double down on our installations, trying to keep up with everybody needing internet."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, also highlighted that the requirements for reliability have increased significantly with COVID (see our chapter on towers for me info.)
Whatever It Takes Mentality
David also talked about how his determination and “MacGyver” approach to getting people service, understanding the importance for their customers:
"We’ve also had to get more creative as we’ve adapted our process. Many of our customers are positioned lower down as we’re around a lake and would require a 40 ft tower for line-of-sight."
"One customer requested that we mount an antenna in a tree to make it happen. I didn’t want to do that, as I felt it was unprofessional. But I thought about the current situation we’re in, and I told our team to do whatever it takes to get connectivity to customers in need of a reliable connection. Since then, we’ve used trees for customers in similar scenarios."
Making Lemonade out of Lemons
After getting seriously ill himself from COVID, David took the opportunity to fill a felt need and hire office help. And though they had to temporarily close the office, David recounted how was pleased to see that they didn’t have any major service calls, attributing that to “installing quality equipment and doing things right.”
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, recalled how his company needed to shift gears:
"In the initial lock down phase of COVID, we were able to send the team home with their phones because we host our VoIP platform. That and remote desktops kept employees safe, and business flowing through."
Although they weren’t able to conduct business as usual, he explained how they adapted to create a new opportunity:
"We didn’t do too many installs during that period, but we did OK. No loss of service. We acquired another web hosting and email company, so we kept busy with that. Then as things relaxed we got back in the office and installations picked up."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, also described how their additional offerings help keep them going:
"We offer surveillance services, as well as phone service and hosted PBX. Those are pretty good money makers that are fairly maintenance free. We’ve used those to supplement our income, when at times customers have cut their internet with businesses shut down from COVID."
Service providers continue to be resilient as they serve their communities. These are just a few of the stories of how WISPs have adapted, but to be sure similar stories could be told from coast to coast.
Moving Forward and Staying Connected
The pandemic has magnified the need for greater connectivity and called for adaptability in delivering service. It’s also underscored the need for the funding required to get more people broadband internet service more quickly. Read on as our next chapter on money management and funding will address this topic.
Chapter 2 - Money Management & Funding
Lots to Cover
As we begin this chapter, fair warning that we’ve got a lot to cover. The first part focuses on aspects of WISP money management, and the second part covers funding. This second portion includes both a summary of the government funding landscape for the WISP industry and funding stories from WISPs. Special thanks to Steve Coran from Lerman Senter for the majority of the content in the government funding section. Steve is a legal expert, industry advocate, and friend of DoubleRadius.
Careful Planning of ROI
Jack, Technical Manager for a WISP in Michigan, talked about the kinds of situations his WISP faces tied to money management:
"We have a bunch of new service requests, but we need to be careful building infrastructure to get out to them. What kind of service do I want to deliver, and for how many customers? Do I want to put 30K in backhaul when there’s only a handful of subscribers? Or do I spend 1K, only to find out there are more subscribers nearby, and now I need to upgrade? So money management is an art and a challenge."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer in Minnesota, underscored this need for careful planning when his WISP installs new utilities poles and expands coverage:
"We do the coverage mapping ahead of time, so we know the people we can hit and the ROI."
Although they deploy a lot of fiber, Joe also mentioned that the cost-prohibitive nature of plowing fiber sometimes drives the ROI decision in favor of fixed wireless mmWave on newly installed utility poles (see fiber or multi-gigabit wireless chapter for a comparison.)
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, shared that they use this same principle when justifying their equipment purchases:
"Equipment costs have been in line for our ROI, which typically takes about six to twelve months."
He also gave an example of a strategic investment they made after achieving a period of growth:
"We’ve grown the company and built back up into our network to make it more reliable for the customers we’re serving. In 2021 we invested in network redundancy with alternate upstream providers doing BGP. This ensures that if we have a failure upstream we can instantaneously move over to a backup provider without a glitch to our downstream customers."
Bootstrapping Your Business
Careful planning of ROI is an important principle for building any business. With that in mind, some WISPs prefer to make it on their own steam, while others seek financial assistance. The first approach we’ll take a look at is bootstrapping, which involves using personal finances or the company’s revenue versus seeking outside funding.
Rob from Pennsylvania, mentioned above, has almost exclusively built his business without government funding or outside aid. He recounted:
"I personally invested in the business when we started out in 2015. We’ve had investors wanting to get involved, but at the end of the day, I feel it’s better to approach it the way we have. We’ve been growing steadily. The only funding we took was the paycheck protection funding related to COVID. Other than that we’ve remained self-funded from the start to the present day."
"We started with a cable modem believe it or not. We built up enough customers to get our first dedicated circuit. Every year we expanded a little more. We acquired another WISP a couple of years ago, and then a web hosting and email service. As all of this came together, it produced revenue that we could invest back into the company and expand the network."
Lines of Credit and Loans
David, President of a Virginia WISP, is also a big advocate for limited reliance on outside funding. He elaborated on how they choose to manage their finances:
"We reinvest all our profits back into the business. We also have various lines of credit. Additionally, using Square as our credit processor allows us to draw loans at a flat fixed fee. Then a portion is deducted from each of our credit card transactions until it’s paid off. This is like having a shot of cash into your account, which makes it easy to get affordable funding. This has allowed us to build a significant network infrastructure that allows us to expand into new counties."
Funding to Fuel Growth
As we from money management into funding, we’ll use Jack’s thoughts to summarize the sentiments that many WISPs around the country likely share:
"We’re hoping the new Infrastructure bill, if it’s handled correctly, will do what it’s supposed to do: help all of us in the field deliver service to the customers who don’t have service, efficiently and cost-effectively."
"We want to deliver the services needed, but the FCC requirements of 100 Mbps down is not something we can do without funding, with the low density of customers per square mile in our area. So funding is going to be important moving forward."
That being said, let’s take a look at the current backdrop for government funding.
Overview of Government Funding for WISPs
A comparison of the broadband funding opportunities provides perspective on the sea change in funding policies and emphasizes the need to identify both upcoming threats and opportunities.
The FCC has had the primary responsibility for awarding subsidies for the last several years. It launched two programs, the Connect America Fund (CAF) and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), to award funding through a market-based reverse auction process that favored bidders demonstrating a commitment and ability to meet performance obligations. As a result, subsidy recipients were not just traditional telephone companies, but WISPs, cable operators and satellite companies using a variety of technologies to deploy broadband networks in unserved areas around the country.
New State Funding Focus
The new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act takes a very different approach. The Act authorizes a total of $65 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) Program. Of that amount, there will be $42.5 billion in grants funnelled through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – an arm of the Department of Commerce, which is an executive agency – to the states.
Each state will be required to award grants through a competitive process that prioritizes areas without 25/3 Mbps service, then 100/20 Mbps service, and then community anchor institutions.
Requirements for State Grants
Each state will get at least $100 million, and many states will likely get much more. To qualify for funds, grantees must:
- Build out networks with at least 100/20 Mbps service within four years
- Provide a 25% match from either the state or a subgrantee
- Offer at least one low-cost option for eligible subscribers.
The Infrastructure Act requires NTIA to establish the program by mid-May 2022, though actual funding will wait until the FCC has made public the new national broadband map – probably late 2022 at the earliest.
Are State Grants a Threat or Opportunity?
The rules for how states will dole out grant funds will be established by each state under the rules and guidance NTIA provides in its Notice of Funding Opportunity. This is where things can get dicey. Some states already have broadband funding programs in place, others do not. Some states have broadband offices that effectively administer state funding programs, others do not. Some states prefer that grants go to municipalities or traditional telephone companies, others may favor private enterprise.
So are the state Infrastructure Act grant programs a threat or an opportunity? The answer is both. The programs present threats to any provider that is not deploying at least 25/3 Mbps service and, in many cases, not deployed with 100/20 Mbps service. We don’t know the cut-off date for meeting those speed thresholds or whether CAF and RDOF areas that are not yet built out will be excluded, but best to plan for the worst.
Other Purposes of BEAD Funding
$14.2 billion will also be extended to the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, renamed the Affordable Connectivity Program. One major change is that the broadband discount will be reduced from $50 to $30, and other programmatic changes are also being considered.
The U.S. government funding sources for broadband article by Fierce Telecom is a regularly updated list of key funding sources and associated programs. They note that funding will also be provided for:
- $2.75 B - Digital Equity Act Competitive Grant Programs
- $2 B - Tribal Connectivity
- $2 B for the Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program
- $1 B - Middle Mile Grants
Rules for those programs will be forthcoming in the next several months.
WISP Stories about Government Funding
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, explained their strategy for acquiring grant money:
"We’re finding the larger federal grants require a lawyer and involve stipulations with taxes and accounting. So we’re passing on all those big ones from the federal government. The ones where we’ve had success with are the ARPA funds where the local counties and cities have resources that they’re looking to spend, and they can basically give them out to whoever they want to."
"This is where it helps being involved in the local Chamber of Commerce. They know you, and that you do good work. When you have that face-to- face connection, they know you’re not a fly-by-night, one man, mom-and-pop show that could disappear tomorrow. That makes things a lot smoother to request funds. The process is painless at the local level."
David, ISP President from Virginia, shared their similar success with funding at the local level:
"A nearby town had some COVID-related grant money and approached us to build out a public WiFi hotspot for them as we had done in a couple of othertowns. With a tight end-of-year deadline, we were able to build this out in ten days, pulling in a wireless signal initially before we could get fiber to the location."
On the other hand, he also shared how they’ve been fighting an uphill funding battle, which in their area seems to be heavily weighted in favor of fiber providers:
"We’ve applied for other grants in our county, and have fought for it for a couple of years. You have to be creative with the bureaucracy and local fiber-providing entities that are not for fixed wireless. We appeared before the board of supervisors and had a dozen of our customers testify on our behalf. We appealed at the state level and made some headway, but it’s an ongoing effort on an unlevel playing field."
Jack from Michigan echoed the funding challenge for WISPs in his comments:
"We will continue to go after funds, but there are a lot of players. Being a small company and figuring out how to cut through the red tape is very difficult. We don’t have a lot of competition for providing service to our customers, but we do have a whole lot of competition from large organizations making big promises that are grabbing the available funding in our area. We are working with a grant writer that we hope will help us."
Private Funding Opportunities
David from Virginia, mentioned above, also remembered how his ISP had the good fortune of receiving a private grant in their earlier days:
"Originally a satellite internet provider, we entered the WISP business when Microsoft approached us to build a turnkey managed WiFi hotspot in a local town where they were building a data center. As a better long-term community solution, we proposed to build a subscription service on top of that. They accepted the proposal, and after a successful pilot, we duplicated the same solution in another nearby town."
The moral of the story is that private funding opportunities will arise, and having a solid operation will enable service providers to answer the call when private enterprise opportunities come knocking.
Funding may require some tenacity on the part of WISPs, and these conclusive thoughts offered by Steve Coran are a good suggestion for WISPs committed to adapting their strategy for winning grants in their states moving forward:
"Service Providers should remain vigilant in reviewing grant applications and challenging where the proposed funding areas don’t meet the program requirements. The opportunity is the availability of funding to upgrade and expand existing networks. It’s here that forging relationships with financial institutions (if needed to meet the 25% match) and, most importantly, the state agencies that will be setting up the competitive process and making decisions will be critical."
Having covered money management and funding, we’ll now transition to another area requiring thicker skin these days as a WISP: the state of the global supply chain and managing equipment during this tricky time.
Chapter 3 - Adjusting to Broadband Supply Chain Disruption
Adjusting to Extended Issues
The title of a recent New York Times article paints a rather sobering picture about the state of the global economy: “The World Is Still Short of Everything. Get Used to It.” Describing the current supply chain shortages, they note:
"Pandemic-related product shortages — from computer chips to construction materials — were supposed to be resolved by now. Instead, the world has gained a lesson in the ripple effects of disruption."
"Many have felt the impact of materials shortages, production delays, and the consequential crimp on shipping and delivery. Although we understand this permeates all industries, that’s not much consolation."
"Delays, product shortages, and rising costs continue to bedevil businesses large and small. And consumers are confronted with an experience once rare in modern times: no stock available, and no idea when it will come in."
So what’s a WISP to do? This calls for some creativity and problem-solving. Thankfully, this is something WISPs are accustomed to doing by nature!
Advance Planning and Keeping Stock
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a Minnesota WISP, discussed their proactive strategy:
"It’s tough right now. Gear is difficult to get. You have to budget for much higher inventory than usual, because of chipset shortages. That’s easier said than done. You might have to get creative with financing from equipment manufacturers in order to build your stock up, so you’re not sitting on a line of customers waiting two months or longer to get your service."
"Buying more and keeping it on our shelves is the only solution we have to keep things running, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We’re very proactive. Lead times can be six months, which is insane. We decided last year to keep six months of stock. It’s a one time hit to your books, and that hurts, but then it’s over with and you have that little bit of leeway built in. Our strategy has worked out, and I encourage everyone to follow the same."
Applying this principle to the next big opportunity they see with the highly anticipated release of new WiFi 6E equipment, Joe stated:
"We’re all excited about 6E. You have to be a little careful with how far you build this out, but realize these products will probably have chip shortages and bugs as well. If you hold out for 6E, you don’t know what the product availability is going to be like to scale. Make sure you have enough in stock, and if you have too much, next year you can look at eBay or another way to get some of that money back."
David, President of an WISP in Virginia, described how they balance caution with being proactive:
"I like to stay up with new technologies and it’s wise to invest in them, but I like to let the bugs get worked out before jumping in. I’ve wasted a lot of money in the past (in another industry) trying different types of equipment."
"My approach is to find one or two products that work great and stick with it. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is hopping from vendor to vendor. It becomes a nightmare in terms of inventory. If you’re going to get serious about this business you need to standardize."
"We launched a tower exclusively with one vendor’s radios, which has been having supply chain issues. Fortunately, with some fair warning from DoubleRadius, I had ordered enough product ahead of time. You guys see it before we do, and I trust you as the bullhorn warning us."
"DoubleRadius is my warehouse. For me to warehouse products here, it’s money sitting on my shelves. But you’ve got to keep a couple of weeks of inventory just in case, including cabling. It requires looking ahead, being more proactive to avoid rescheduling - not letting things get down to zero."
Each WISP has to decide their risk tolerance, but planning ahead is the universal theme. Pennsylvania WISP Owner, Rob, affirmed the same as he explained:
"We haven’t needed to stock up more than usual, because we always try to stock items that we commonly use. We standardize on the same equipment when we can across our network. Equipment costs have been in line for our ROI, which typically takes about six to twelve months."
Working with the WISP Community
Offering another perspective, Michigan Technical Manager, Jack, spoke to the good-natured partnerships that WISPs can tap into:
"Buying ahead is a double-edged sword, because I don’t want to be a hoarder. We’ll buy ahead a little bit, but I don’t want to diminish product availability for other WISPs trying to service their customers. Being a member of WISPA, we’re all a big community. We all try to help one another as much as possible."
"We’ve all been sensitive to the fact that buying it all up will impact someone else. In many instances I’ve worked with other WISPs, calling them up to sell or trade gear. We also tell each other about solutions we’ve found. We share knowledge and resources wherever possible."
That is one of the greatest qualities of WISPs - their desire not only to serve their customers but also to help one another in their efforts to do the same!
Alternatives & Repurposed Equipment
The reality is that even with advanced planning and working within the community, WISPs may still find themselves out of luck in a time such as this. Jack describes the kinds of creative things they’ve needed to do to get the job done:
"Sometimes we’ve had to utilize multiple distributors to find out who has equipment in stock. When no one’s had what we needed, we’ve found alternatives that we wouldn’t have normally considered. Some have been pretty good solutions, and we’ve thought about how we can use them in other places."
He further explains the importance of repurposed gear during this time:
"We’ve also had to buy some used gear. In rural WISP environments, this is not a new thing. When one customer leaves we reuse their gear for another customer. That’s been our go-to."
A final perspective from Jack is a fitting close to this chapter:
"It’s been a challenging experience, but I think it’s been good. We’ve gotten lazy, just clicking a button and things show up. Until this problem came along, we didn’t know how to do the multisource thing. We painted ourselves into a corner without knowing it. It’s given us all a good education on how to be more efficient and do things more sensibly than we’ve done in the past."
Moving on to our next chapter, we’ll take a look at another area often requiring adaptability: the utilization of towers, poles, and other structures.
Chapter 4 - Towers & Key Accessories
Accounting for Vertical Assets
Making adjustments to ensure you have the radios and devices needed in your network is fundamental to growth and success. Equally important is having access to towers and other vertical assets, plus the accessories used to simplify, improve, and protect your deployments.
Choosing the Right Towers
What’s effective for towers will look different from network to network, and provider to provider. David, WISP President from Virginia, described their use:
"We’ve built a relationship with a HAM radio operator. In addition to using his tower, he also told us about other towers for sale. We were able to purchase two strategically located towers (400 ft and 200 ft) to add the series of other towers we own."
Where large towers are impractical, WISPs may find that building their own smaller tower solutions works better. Jack, Technical Manager of a Michigan WISP, explained:
"We build our own local towers - 130 ft and under - unguyed wherever possible. Our goal for areas where we can’t get service to everybody is to build a tower and get a good link out there. Then we’ll do a point solution in the area - maybe Terragraph for a neighborhood, or fiber to the home."
When building towers, our webinar on Choosing a Self-Standing, Guyed, or Bracketed Tower offers seven key factors to consider:
- Local codes
- Professional Engineer (PE) stamp
- Special requirements
Mobile Towers - Cell on Wheels
Another creative option that may come in handy, “Cell on Wheels” (COWs) an ingenious way to provide immediate temporary internet connectivity at remote sites. COWs enable rapidly deployable solutions for WiFi and Video surveillance transport in:
- City/county government
- Public safety
- Disaster recovery
- Fairs and events
- Any situation requiring temporary service where coverage is spotty or non-existent
For a unique use case and more information on this solution, check out our blog entitled, What Is Cell on Wheels?
Towers play an important role for WISP networks, but what about other vertical assets? Jack, WISP Technical Manager in Michigan, detailed their approach:
"As much as possible we try to use existing vertical assets (grain silos, towers) to deliver the service as quickly as possible to customers at a cost they can afford. Typically, we’ve found that commercial tower lease companies have stringent requirements regarding proposals for what will go on the tower. Lead times take quite a while, and rent can be outrageous. Commercial towers also tend to be built close to the highways and urban areas, which doesn’t do us a lot of good when we’re trying to reach rural areas."
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, also summarized their variety of use:
"We own and manage one site; we lease at most of the other sites. We use the higher tower sites for wireless backbone connectivity, then more of a micro-pop for the last mile. We’ve put some deployments on utility poles and others on rooftops for those smaller deployments. We’ll backhaul into the top of a building for MDU deployments. On some of those agreements we’re making now, we can use their rooftops to expand our wireless footprint. It’s been a good formula for us and the building owners are happy with it."
Like Rob’s WISP, David’s WISP in Virginia takes advantage of rooftops. In fact, this has become a key part of their network:
"We’ve pivoted and re-engineered. A creative solution that’s worked well for us is finding homeowners in good locations that will let us place rooftop repeaters in exchange for free internet. If we use a lot of equipment, we’ll offer them a couple of hundred bucks a year to offset electricity costs."
On the other hand, we have the perspective of Joe in Minnesota. He’s the Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP that’s been having great success with utility poles that they install:
"Our shifting strategy is to set utility poles in the right-of-way. The benefits we see is that we own them, and there’s no lease. Yes we have to get everything there and put them up, but then all we have to pay is the minimum $30/mo fee to the electrical company. Once it’s in, there’s virtually no cost. So we get a vertical asset, that we can place wherever we want in the right-of-way, that we can put whatever we want on."
"We use 45 ft poles for ease of maintenance with our bucket trucks, but we map it out and see where the high points are. With the valleys and hills in our area, a 45 ft pole properly placed on a piece of land that sits 80 ft higher than anything around it is like having a 120 ft tower, and for only a couple grand. We do the coverage mapping ahead of time, so we know the people we can hit and the ROI."
(For a comparison deploying fixed wireless on utility poles versus plowing fiber, see our chapter on fiber or multi-gigabit wireless.)
In addition to utility poles they own, Joe also mentioned the convenience of leasing pole and rooftop space from towns that have been willing to work with them:
"Another route is the mmWave PTMP micropop approach, where we’ll strike some kind of deal with a city to use their light poles or buildings. I know a lot of WISPs are using home hubs, where they’ll partner with people around town to use their roofs. We played with that, but it’s not for us. The homeowner leaves for a week, unplug things, so now you have to run out a generator. Or they sell their house. Unreliability is a factor, and the requirements for reliability have increased ten-fold with COVID. We can’t have these little blips that are out of our control."
"We’ve partnered with several cities, and from our experience, these have been the most trouble-free deployments we’ve ever done - 25 ft in the air on the light poles going several hundred ft to the customer. We’ve never had to touch any of that gear over five years. Not every town is going to give you access, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. So far they’ve been saying “yes”, and we’re looking for more opportunities. I definitely recommend reaching out and starting relationships with local cities to see who would be open to that."
Best Practices for Tower Accessories
So you’ve got your equipment, and you’ve got your towers (or structures). What you do next can have a significant impact on the success or failure of your network. Because we believe in the importance of this topic, DoubleRadius has created videos as a part of our new Solutions Series. We’ve included the relevant highlights of those videos in the paragraphs below.
Importance of Surge Protection
Done correctly, you always want to have a surge at the top and the bottom of your cable and isolate the energy. This protects both your radio and also your rack or enclosure. We don’t see WISPs doing enough with surge, but it can make all the difference.
Consider this: When a radio is damaged, what’s the actual cost to replace it?
- Radio cost
- The time it takes to schedule the service tech or tower crew
- Truck roll to physically swap it
When you do the math, it becomes clear that investing a little bit of money into proper surge protection and grounding can save you thousands. Learn more by watching our Transtector Surge Protectors video.
Break-Out Box to Organize Cables
In addition to surge protection, there’s also the issue of excessive cabling to solve. When we’re on-site helping with integration, tower crews regularly complain about how many cables (and clamps) they have to use on a tower.
Simplifying installation means that your tower crew will get their work done quicker, saving you money. You’ll also save when leasing tower space where owners charge per cable. This solution allows you to run just one cable up instead of a dozen or more, saving a lot on monthly rent!
We’ve found a creative and effective way to manage all of the cables required, while also providing surge protection. Learn about this solution by watching the Eupen Cable & Raycap Surge Protection Fiber Box video.
Canister and Concealment Solutions
On a final note, pole and rooftop deployments can be simplified through innovative canister and concealment solutions that reduce installation, labor, and time, including drawings for proposals. All labelling and wiring can be done at the facility, streamlining field integration work.
A single, cylindrical package provides the highest performance with the smallest size possible. One such example is the “WISP CAN” (wCAN). Designed specifically for the WISP market, the wCAN features:
- Optional mounting for backhaul Radios
- Optional mounting for PTMP
- Back to back 90 degree 4x4 MIMO 5 GHz Sectors, with adjustable azimuth
- 2300-3800 MHz ~8dBi, Fixed Tilt
Learn more about the WISP CAN by watching our Innovative Antenna Solutions recording.
Growing Your Network and Your Business
These need-to-know solutions for towers & accessories help to grow and expand WISP network infrastructure. Next, we’ll move on to ways that WISPs can adapt their offerings to grow with new revenue streams! This includes video surveillance and other types of additional services.
Chapter 5 - Video Surveillance & Other Offerings
Eggs in More than One Basket
A WISP’s primary function, by definition, is to provide wireless internet service. However, in our 20 years serving the WISP industry, we’ve seen that many WISPs don’t stop there. It’s not uncommon for WISPs to also offer email and/or web hosting, as well as network services. But that’s just getting started! Being entrepreneurial, many also offer integrations and services such as video surveillance to better serve their communities and to create additional revenue streams.
Wireless Solutions for Video Surveillance and CCTV
Today’s wireless technology more intuitively supports video surveillance, making it easier for WISPs to incorporate security camera systems into their offerings. A great example is the cnVision, built purposely for making wireless networking for video easier. In addition to being easy to install, cost- effective, and secured with encryption, it integrates with popular cameras and video management system (VMS) platforms.
Adding capacity, gigabit wireless backhaul (see chapter 12) can now be used to create enterprise-class video solutions. This is especially true with 60 GHz mmWave, where Terragraph (TG) technology (see chapter 11) also comes into play. Long-range TG solutions now reach further, over wireless that’s as reliable and secure as fiber. At the premise, multipoint wireless can be implemented, or existing fiber or copper infrastructure can be used.
Video Cameras and Recorders
Video cameras come in all shapes and sizes, varying greatly depending on the intended applications. Some optional features include:
- Pan/tilt/zoom control
- Megapixel resolution
- Thermal (night) vision
- Weatherproof and vandal resistant enclosures
- Ceiling, wall, and outdoor mounting
In addition to security cameras, another key component for any video security system is its network video recorder (NVR). These provide essential video storage and can make surveillance recordings available on the cloud via desktop or mobile devices.
One extremely popular solution is UniFi Protect. This easily scalable video camera security platform is designed for convenient monitoring and management of multi-camera surveillance systems. It’s both plug-and-play and cost-effective. As opposed to other systems, there are no separate software, licensing, hosting, or support fees.
Ways to Include Video Surveillance
Jack, Technical Manager of a Michigan WISP, described his company’s video integration work:
"We do a lot of surveillance, but it’s installations for equipment customers have already purchased. However, we also engaged in putting video cameras in a popular downtown venue as they will start live streaming concerts. In addition, the other side of our shop works with several townships in putting up surveillance cameras. Whereas I’m focused on the WISP side, they also offer network installation services, VoIP, and video solutions."
Mitch, President of a ISP in Florida, explained how surveillance opens the door for their core offerings:
"We’ll offer security, but only as a means to getting an MDU agreement. We will do a surveillance system in exchange for a multi year MDU agreement in the property. It’s a turnkey close circuit system with cameras back to an NVR. We also deploy managed WiFi in common areas. Offering owner incentives or “door fees” like these are really important in order to compete in our market."
"Our core business is internet access, satellite TV, and phone services for MDU’s. Demand for TV and phone service has been diminishing over the last five years, but we’ll at least shoot for a double-play of internet and TV. Ideally, we’ll package this as a bulk service and sell it to Owner of the property, who will in turn fold it into the rent as an amenity."
Jordan, CTO of a service provider in Texas, mentioned:
"We’ll occasionally provide indoor security cameras and access control. It hasn’t been a huge part of our business, but it’s an easy add-on that offers threat detection, monitoring, and prevention."
More Service Opportunities
In addition to video surveillance, service providers can provide a host of other offerings, adjusting to the demands of their market. These may be limited to design and deployment, or they may include monitoring, management, support, and upgrading.
Solutions offerings include:
- MDU Broadband Internet service for multi-family properties such as apartment complexes or condos.
- Wireless PTP Backhaul Enterprise Building-to-Building connectivity, T1 replacement/redundancy.
- Campus / Enterprise WiFi Large scale or enterprise-class WiFi deployments (now including WiFi-6.)
- WiFi Hotspots Coverage for RV parks, marinas, truck stops, SMB.
- VoIP and Conferencing Systems Secure, feature-rich phones and conferencing solutions.
Jordan’s company, mentioned above for video, focuses on commercial MDUs deployments (see chapter 12 for details). In addition to those services, he also mentioned:
"We provide service to business customers using last-mile fixed wireless. We consider distance, throughput, and cost to decide which technology to use in each case."
Seizing another opportunity, they’ve also come to specialize in VoIP:
"We found out all these business customers have VoIP phones. It’s really easy to sell a deal when we go in and offer both internet and VoIP services at the same time."
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, also talked about his company’s extensive portfolio of offerings:
"We do a lot of MDU work, where we’ll shoot wireless into the top of a building, which we’ve pre-wired. Then as tenants move in we’ll turn them on."
"We also got into structured cabling for managed enterprise WiFi networks, where we’ll install a couple of hundred access points in a building or resort. These things all work hand in hand to keep our guys busy. If it’s slow on the WISP side, we’re constantly going with something."
"In one situation we were brought in for WiFi networking and we also wound up rebuilding and managing the client’s private fiber backbone. It started as a small deployment, but now it’s become a pretty major one. We just did a shopping center that wanted pre-cabling for fiber. We built a whole fiber network and brought in a dedicated circuit to the property as it was outside of our footprint."
"It’s great being able to offer our wireless customers VoIP, email, and web hosting. It’s all one entity. We have several customers that we do everything from A-Z for. Our personalized customer service sets us apart from our competition. Instead of just handing them a router or a phone, we take the time to do the setup."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, described their variety of offerings, including their new Managed Service Provider (MSP) division:
"We offer surveillance services, as well as phone service and hosted PBX. Those are pretty good money makers that are fairly maintenance free. We’ve used those to supplement our income, when at times customers have cut their internet with businesses shut down from COVID."
"We also have an MSP division, and we’ve started to ramp up small business consulting. Hosted managed backup has been a great deal for us that’s profitable, adding to that passive income. The MSP business can be very labor intensive sometimes. Video surveillance as well. I would advise staying away from labor intensive products with limited recurring revenue."
Joe concluded his thoughts on additional offerings by stating:
"At the end of the day, we should be targeting new products that are just like internet. You put it in, it mostly works, and you get a few calls from it. You keep that revenue per employee up. Those are things that have been working very well for us that I would recommend for others."
There are many other service opportunities to consider. A couple of others to mention are:
- Remote Power Solutions Solar and wind turbine power for construction sites, concerts and festivals, emergency power, agriculture, temporary security and lighting, and others.
- Indoor Cellular Coverage Boosting See our How to Optimize In-Building and Mobile Cellular Coverage article.
Understanding your customers and continually adapting to stay one step ahead of their needs can pave the path to success in your local market.
New Opportunities, New Spectrum
Having addressed expansion through video surveillance and other services opportunities, we move now to our last chapter of the business section. This time, the new opportunity being discussed is utilizing the new spectrum being made available.
Chapter 6 - 6GHz Unlicensed Spectrum
High Expectations for 6 GHz
The hottest spectrum topic since CBRS has been the opening up of 6 GHz for unlicensed use. Considering the huge amount of spectrum, and the implications for WiFi 6 and 5G, this is more than understandable! There’s excitement in the air and expectations are high! This chapter covers what’s happened so far, and takes a look ahead to what the future may hold for this important new unlicensed spectrum.
6 GHz Opened for Unlicensed
In April of 2020, the FCC adopted an order allocating the 1200 MHz between 5925 - 7125 for unlicensed use. This was done in two different ways:
- All 1200 MHz was approved for low-power indoor WiFi 6 use.
- The U-NII-5 band (5950-6425) and U-NII-7 band (6525-6875) were approved for “standard power” outdoor operations.
It was also decided at that time that standard power operation must be controlled by Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC).
What is Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC)?
Simply put, the role of the AFC is to enable the use of unlicensed 6 GHz, while protecting incumbents from interference from new standard power devices. In their article on AFC system operator applicants, Fierce Wireless cites that, “AFC systems take into account the fixed microwave links and then only authorize the frequencies and the power levels for unlicensed users that won’t create harmful interference.”
AFC will be similar to a Spectrum Access System (SAS), but it should be easier to implement because there will be no government or mobile use, no multiple tiers of spectrum access, and no concern for interference to space stations for Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) receivers. On the other hand, AFC will be similar to the TV Whitespace (TVWS) database, in that it uses a centralized model.
When will AFC be Available?
14 companies met the November 30th, 2021 application deadline for becoming AFC system operators. Then on Dec. 28, 2021, the FCC prevailed in a 6 GHz court challenge from incumbents expressing concern over opening up 6 GHz.
Included among the AFC systems operator applicants is CBRS SAS Administrator, Federated Wireless. In LightReading’s article on How Federated hopes to supercharge 6 GHz, Federated CEO states in their video interview that:
"We have the [AFC] product. The product’s already working...We expect maybe about three months of testing and working with the FCC."
Exactly how and when AFC service will be made available is still to be determined, but signs are promising for the earlier part of 2022. To learn more about the 6 GHz band plan, and a limited number of Special Temporary Authorizations (STAs) that were granted by the FCC earlier in 2021, read our article on 5.9 GHz & 6 GHz Spectrum - What WISPs Need to Know.
WISP Excitement for 6 GHz
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, described the exponential difference he firmly believes WiFi 6 will make on the fixed wireless access:
"There have been some pretty good incremental jumps in the wireless industry over the last five years, but that will pale in comparison to the 6 GHz technology that’s coming out. Combining 802.11AX with a GHz worth of free spectrum - we’re talking 160 MHz channel width at even 1024 QAM. That’s going to be a larger jump in the next year than we’ve had in the last five years plus. As interesting as wireless is, it’s about to get a lot more interesting in about a year from now. The biggest jump is about to come."
Comparing the band properties, he added:
"6 GHz is close to 5 GHz, so we’re all familiar with how it propagates, assuming we get similar EIRP approvals. There’s 1 GHz worth of spectrum, whereas we have 220 MHz in 5 GHz, with high output power. It should have very little interference with the help of the frequency coordination."
"6 GHz represents something we can overlay and start upselling, taking off congestion on day one. That’s our focus and what we’re most excited about. It seems crazy thinking about it, but every rural customer we have could have access to 1 Gigabit speed by the end of the year, which is just astounding! We would never even have dreamed that three years ago."
Additional Applications of 6 GHz Unlicensed
The comments above reflect an optimism that extends to other applications. Fierce Wireless notes in their 6 GHz and AFC article that standard power operation in 6 GHz creates new possibilities not only for rural fixed wireless broadband service, but also for 5G NR unlicensed technologies (NR-U). This creates applications for cellular RAN vendors, mobile operators, and service providers looking for whole-home coverage opportunities.
It’s also important to mention the direct connection between 6 GHz and WiFi 6. When the FCC opened 6 GHz, the Wi-Fi Alliance also extended the Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax) to include this new spectrum, resulting in Wi-Fi 6 “extended” or Wi-Fi 6E. Be sure to read our important chapters on WiFi 6 and 5G for more on these topics.
BONUS: Announcing More New Spectrum Availability in LMDS!
6 GHz opening up is a significant development that we hope you will take advantage of. In addition to keeping you informed about key spectrum opportunities, we here at DoubleRadius are actively committed to bringing more spectrum to the market. That’s why we’re excited to mention a new licensed spectrum opportunity we’re personally involved in, Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS)!
LMDS is another exciting spectrum development - one that’s hot off the press. On January 5, 2022, DoubleRadius and Geolinks announced our strategic commercial partnership that will include a Joint Microwave Equipment and Spectrum Offering in 29-31 GHz LMDS Spectrum. In the above press release, GeoLinks President & COO Ryan Adams noted:
We are excited about the opportunity to extend to other service providers reasonably priced economics to access licensed spectrum. Working with the great team from DoubleRadius will add significant value to that effort. Combining the cost-effective coverage potential and low latency, high-capacity capabilities of the spectrum, with DoubleRadius supplied hardware will allow broadband operators quick access to long-term leases, with a one-stop transactional experience.
For a little context, GeoLinks is the nation’s largest holder of licensed spectrum in the 29.5 GHz - 31.3 GHz band throughout the lower 48. They acquired the LMDS licenses from Verizon in early 2021. DoubleRadius has been nominated as Master Distributor of the PTMP and PTP equipment that GeoLinks has commissioned with a variety of manufacturers to work within its 29-31 GHz spectrum.
DoubleRadius will facilitate both spectrum leasing and the sale of equipment in this new partnership. To learn more, contact DoubleRadius today!
Moving from Business Strategy to Tech Talk
This ends section one on adapting business for success. Having covered these important aspects of the business of broadband from a strategic perspective, we now turn our focus to practically adapting technology for success.
Chapter 7 - Seizing the Moment in CBRS & LTE
Recap of Important CBRS Dates
The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band spanning 3550 - 3700 MHz, and Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, represent some of the most exciting developments in wireless broadband in recent years. Much has happened since the Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) back in the Fall of 2019. Before looking ahead, a quick recap of important dates is in order:
- Sept. 16, 2019 - Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD)
- Jan. 27, 2020 - Full Commercial Deployment (FCD)
- Aug. 25, 2020 - FCC completes auction of Priority Access Licenses (PAL)
- Sept. 2, 2020 - FCC announces PAL auction winners
- March 23 - April 13, 2021 - Channel swapping completed
- April 16, 2021 - Final channel assignments published
- April 19-20, 2021 - PAL Commercial Enablement
General Authorized Access (GAA) “Coexistence” then began shortly after, determining how CBRS Devices (CBSDs) share spectrum. Spectrum Access System (SAS) providers then began releasing their coexistence-based guidance. For example, Federated Wireless released phase one in July, followed by a phase two enhancement shortly after.
More CBRS Spectrum than Expected Remains Available for GAA
When PALs license holders began deploying in April of 2021, GAA users knew they would be losing spectrum. “How much” was the big question. The results so far have been better than anticipated:
"When the CBRS PAL licenses were issued and deployments began back in April, many GAA users assumed they immediately had 70 MHz less spectrum available to them. However, that’s not the case. More spectrum is becoming available for GAA users."
The title of Commscope’s article, Good News for GAA Users as More Spectrum Is Becoming Available in CBRS, sums it the state of affairs. They attribute this surplus of spectrum to:
- Slow-moving PAL deployments
- The drastic reduction of Grandfathered Wireless Protection Zones (GWPZs) of higher tier incumbents, dropping from 7,300 to only 700 as of August 2021.
- Healthy Ecosystem The number of CBSDs increased to nearly 170K as of the Fall of 2021. The ecosystem is very healthy after two years, with more growth expected soon. Any hesitancy for the Part 90 operators seems to be fading as they get familiar with the simplicity of the platform. Many PAL bidders have been fixed operators, also demonstrating the trust in Part 96. They understand they can continue operating in the upper 50 MHz, but now also use the lower 100 MHz. (See our CBRS SAS Admin Q&A blog for more on Part 90 to Part 96 migration.)
- Diversity of Use Cases WISPs and utilities accounted for most initial deployments. Over the last year, more carriers have also been using CBRS spectrum in urban settings to increase bandwidth. Educational growth has exceeded expectations. Many schools that were thinking about LTE networks before the pandemic didn’t have spectrum access, but CBRS has opened the door. A surge of IoT and mobility use cases are also cropping up, as are neutral-host scenarios. Lastly, some municipalities are covering their whole city with a sensory network and providing access for their employees.
- WISPs Subleasing PAL Licenses WISPs can sublet CBRS PAL licensees from larger carriers, to serve rural communities more quickly. Carriers might not get to those remote areas for years, whereas WISPs can serve them almost immediately. Generally speaking, FCC rules promote using the license or letting it be used. The sub-leasing process currently takes a few weeks using form 608, but the FCC will soon be allowing CBRS SAS providers “light-touch” management. This will allow a SAS to process a sub-lease transaction and make it operational within minutes!
- Dynamic Protection Areas (DPAs) Getting Better There can still be service interruptions, but things have gotten better. Most SAS providers now have same-day grants, so you can usually get your devices up and running. Redundant grants can also be provided in some cases to make connectivity more robust. Overall, there have been vast improvements with stability.
Regarding the GWPZs, they noted, “as many of the Part 90 Grandfathered Wireless Broadband Licenses (GWBLs) have expired, users have transitioned to CBRS or another band.” This leaves the expired zones open for full GAA use. Similarly, Fixed Satellite Site (FSS) incumbent CBRS users will either be moving out of the band or discontinuing operation, now that the C-Band auction is complete.
Jordan, CTO of a business internet provider in Texas, talked about their results and usage:
"We’re using CBRS for 3 GHz, where we’ll offer a 100 symmetrical link for commercial customers up to 4 miles away. We also offer LTE for failover circuits."
Jack, Technical Manager for a WISP in Michigan, shared both the opportunities and limitations they’ve experienced within GAA:
"We like 3.5 GHz and have added about 250 LTE customers in the 3.5 GHz band. Being a small company, we didn’t try to buy any PAL licenses, so we’re dependent on GAA. This is fine, as no one has purchased PALs in our area. However, it’s hard to meet the new FCC requirements (100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up) when using the limited kind of bandwidth you can get using GAA."
Non-LTE CBRS Deployment
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a Minnesota WISP, described their outlook on CBRS deployment utilizing Cambium 450M cnMedusa:
"We use almost exclusively 5 GHz line-of-sight. We’re not really interested in growing our footprint much more, as we have 45-60 minute drive times in every direction. We could have an angle for leveraging CBRS non-line-of-sight technology here. We have quite a few potential customers we aren’t able to hit in our region due to foliage and hills. We could overlay CBRS on our current coverage, and use the NLOS aspects of it to gain an extra 15 customers in each 90° direction."
"The part you have to be careful about is the lack of spectrum in GAA. With channel width capped at around 40 MHz, you need to leverage a vendor that can do MU-MIMO. You need to squeeze more bits per hertz out of that limited spectrum you’re using. You may only have a 20 MHz channel width clean in any given direction. The Cambium 450M 8x8 MU-MIMO gives quite a bit of bandwidth in the 90° swath, and that’s the solution we’re looking at for CBRS."
Although not an LTE device, cnMedusa PMP 450m access points (3 GHz) are certified for use in the CBRS spectrum.
Current Trends in CBRS and LTE
Towards the end of 2021, DoubleRadius hosted a group of leading solutions providers for a CBRS, LTE & 5G Panel Discussion to assess market trends over the last couple of years. We’ll save 5G for the next chapter, but here we’ll review the key takeaways from that conversation related to CBRS frequency and LTE.
FCC Accomplishes Initial Goal with CBRS and SAS
Our panel concluded that there’s still plenty of work to be done, but the FCC has accomplished its goal of opening up the CBRS spectrum to a larger market. They were willing to listen to SAS providers, and they figured out how to use this spectrum that was previously of no value to them outside of Naval use. The CBRS SAS platform was designed to provide excellent flexibility in managing interference. Now we have some companies looking to deploy thousands of nodes.
Outside the DPAs, it’s like operating in unlicensed bands because the operator has flexibility on what channels to pick, based on the spectrum and query message. Operators can set their preferred channels in their SAS, or software can pick the best channels.
However, any impact of the aforementioned coexistence remains to be seen; not only on LTE usage in GAA but also on 5G - the topic of our next chapter.
Current LTE and non-LTE CBSDs
LTE devices are now in the plateau of productivity stage, with a long life ahead, and a growing ecosystem. DoubleRadius works with an impressive list of CBSD manufacturers. Most of these devices are LTE, except the Cambium Networks (cnMedusa) series. Our current list of CBSD vendors includes:
For help in selecting client devices, see our CPEs & EUDs for LTE Networks webinar hosted with Baicells Technologies. This presentation compares CAT4, CAT6, and CAT15 CPEs, and explains CPEs vs EUDs.
Additionally, LTE Antennas include:
It’s worth making a special note about Remote Electrical Tilt (eRET) antennas. Although the price point is more accessible for larger operators, growing WISPs should also consider eRET antennas.
Some radios already support this feature, and that number will continue to increase. Although there’s a higher initial cost, a significant advantage will be the ability to remotely adjust the tilt from the ground without having to climb the towers. This will save significant resources down the road when adjustments are required. For more formation on eRET compared to other tilt options, watch our webinar on Innovative Antenna Solutions with Alpha Wireless.
With our update of CBRS and LTE complete, our next topic is closely connected. Those deploying LTE will soon be exploring 5G if they haven’t already started. Let’s take a look now at these different but inseparable technologies.
Chapter 8 - Planning for the Future of 5G
Catching Up on 5G Trends
Our last chapter covered what we learned about CBRS & LTE, from the solution providers that we spoke with towards the end of 2021. In this chapter, we’ll dive into the 5G trends revealed at that same CBRS, LTE & 5G Panel Discussion. Spoiler alert: Whereas CBRS and LTE solutions are being actively deployed right now, it’s looking like we’re still a ways off before similar commercial use of 5G technology in fixed wireless. Nonetheless, it’s important to know where things stand currently with 5G.
General Support for 5G
Sub 6 GHz operators will find that traditional telecom bands will typically support 5G. Although technology has generally kept up with 5G, in telecom and fixed wireless we’re still several years out before 5G adoption kicks in. Most aren’t going to need the ultra-low latency and real-time control benefits of 5G over LTE for their use cases right now.
5G core architecture enables a host of new features and functionality beyond more bandwidth. These include Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLCC), a key feature for applications requiring near-real-time responsiveness–things like autonomous driving vehicles, precision robotics, and machine vision. Massive IoT, with specialized machine-to-machine communication protocols, is also a key feature associated with Standalone 5G.
Although the bandwidth and features are indeed impressive, LTE seems to be enough for the moment. However, in a few years, we anticipate that 5G adoption could move beyond urban areas. Then we may see more industrial and suburban use cases, which are going to need these applications and features of 5G technology.
Transition from LTE to 5G
The natural progression will be from LTE to a Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G model. That’s what the carriers did, and FWA will follow suit. So building out LTE now is great because it’s preparing for 5G. You’re on that right spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The way it’s regulated right now means you have some security in using that band.
"To help manage the migration of cellular networks from LTE to the 5G New Radio standard, the 3GPP codified two deployment modes for 5G networks: Non-Standalone Architecture (NSA) and Standalone Architecture (SA). NSA 5G leverages existing networking infrastructure, while SA 5G modernizes core network infrastructure to suit the myriad needs of enterprise."
The article continues, “Global 5G connections are forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2025, according to GSMA, largely based on the successful implementation of NSA 5G.”
LTE vs 5G Product Roadmap
As referenced in the previous chapter, LTE networks, and usage are on the rise. The number of UE- supported devices grows almost weekly, and that will continue for many years. In September of 2021 AppleTM released their new iPhone 13 which supports CBRS as 5G (n48). This means the chipset is available, and we’re hoping that will motivate the market to consider using the CBRS band. There are many ways to combine CBRS as either 5G or LTE with other bands. Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which flexibly changes the CBRS span between 4G and 5G depending on the number of users in the market, is also available.
We’re seeing 5G rollouts in urban areas, and a lot of macro deployments or millimeter-wave small cells. But the chipsets and the devices to support 5G are still in the early stages. 5G is not commercially available to the wide-scale audience yet, and there are not a lot of great devices to even support it yet. There aren’t many options unless you’re going to buy very expensive macro equipment. LTE is now in the plateau of productivity stage, so WISPs that are looking for an affordable solution are going to realize much better cost structures with LTE.
Understandable reservations can be heard in the comments from Jack, Technical Manager for a Michigan WISP:
"The definition of 5G has changed so many times. It’s like “the cloud”...Now, the idea behind 5G I like: being able to provide multi-gig implementation at the client level. But as far as how it’s going to be delivered, I don’t know. I’m holding back on 5G."
Jordan, CTO of a business internet provider in Texas, notes similarly:
"I’ve looked into 5G in 28 GHz and I‘m interested, but I don’t know if we’ll jump into that feet first. It’s a little too early to say. The licensing, I think, is the biggest thing on our side."
In 2022, we’re expecting 5G products to really start rolling out. Nothing is preventing 5G today within CBRS, so it’s just the product landscape. CBRS SAS Providers are able today to register and grant 5G CBRS. However, some work needs to be done to enhance the solution and use all the capabilities that 5G can provide. For example, ensuring that the channel location is more adaptable to 5G. Also, optimizing it in relation to dynamic beamforming. So there’s some work to do for the enhancement, but the basic 5G operation as far as SAS is concerned is there today.
Current 5G Solutions
There are solutions out there that you could deploy. RU/BBU split architecture systems generally allow for 5G by just swapping out the baseband. So there’s usually an upgrade path there. However, a lot of the small cells with baked-in SoC’s don’t have much of an upgrade path because the file layer is limited to 4G. So some of the devices won’t have a software upgrade.
Another consideration is the core. The 4G core isn’t going to work unless you’re doing a non- standalone setup. Most of the private deployments we’re seeing are doing Standalone 5G, requiring a separate 5G core.
Excited about 5G Uplink!
If you’re looking at a raw data throughput comparison between 5G and LTE speeds, your downlink isn’t much better. It’s pretty much the same bits per hertz. The uplink is what we’re excited about because the uplink doubles. In LTE you’re generally only doing a SISO (one data stream on the up), which is generally the first bottleneck when people are doing fixed wireless. 5G will at least have two data streams up, so that would definitely be beneficial.
5G Spectrum Other Than LTE & CBRS
This chapter has focused on 5G as it relates to LTE & CBRS. Although that’s a popular use case, it’s certainly not the only one. There isn’t a definitive “5G spectrum.” What makes things even more confusing is that different groups think about 5G spectrum in different ways. A carrier perspective is provided by Business Insider in their article on What Frequency is 5G?:
----CHART Goes Here----
It’s interesting to note that in fixed wireless, 5G lines can be drawn differently. For example, Siklu’s E-Band radios in the 70/80 GHz range are considered fixed 5G mmWave and have certain advantages over 5G New Radio (NR) devices.
Importance of the Mid-band
Spanning 3550 - 3700 MHz, the CBRS band falls within the Mid-band 5G range. Understanding this adds context to the following comments that the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) makes about the Mid-band in their 5G Spectrum Guide:
- As the majority of commercial 5G networks are relying on spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range (3.3 GHz - 4.2 GHz), it’s vital that regulators assign as much contiguous 5G spectrum as possible in the range.
- Long term, more spectrum will be needed to maintain 5G quality of service and meet growing demand. This includes more spectrum in 3.5 GHz, 4.8 GHz, 6 GHz, and 10 GHz bands.
C-Band and 5G Plus
The controversial C-Band, also considered as a part of Mid-band, is worthy of mention. PCMag explains in What Is C-Band, and What Does It Mean for the Future of 5G? that this spectrum was previously used by satellite TV operators, which can now “repack” higher up in the band. They clarify that the C-band includes all the 4 - 8 GHz range, but in the U.S. people are typically referring to just the 3700 - 3980 MHz range. It’s this lower range that is being vacated, making it available.
Jumping on the opportunity, carriers have invested over $80 Billion to acquire this new spectrum at the FCC auction. However, cnet notes in Verizon and AT&T’s C-band 5G upgrade: From airports to rollouts, the latest on what you need to know that “Airlines and aviation officials have argued that the frequencies covered by C-band have the potential to interfere with instruments used in aircraft and contend that deployments of 5G near airports could endanger takeoff and landing operations.” But after further discussion and voluntary delays for concerns to be addressed, “Both Verizon and AT&T started to activate their C-band services on Jan. 19.”
Cnet also mentions AT&T will call its C-band offering “5G Plus,” but clarifies it will be bundled with existing mmWave 5G service. Mobile customers will see a “5G+” indicator if their phone is connected to either of the high-speed 5G bands.
All in Good Time
Whereas the transition to 5G will take some time, our next chapter covers a technology that has been widely adopted among WISPs. Let’s take a look at what makes horn antennas both popular and effective.
Chapter 9 - Why Horn Antenna Use Has Grown
Removal of Lobes Are Key to Popularity
Horns antenna usage has grown increasingly in recent years, redefining industry standards in unlicensed 5 GHz. The main reason is that they completely remove all the side and back lobes, focusing all the energy on the main beam coming out of the antenna. Compare this to patch array sectors, that both send and receive noise on side and back lobes. This degrades their performance in areas like signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and data rates.
Adapters Also Crucial for Success
Another key performance factor for horn antennas is their adapters. In the case of RF elements, their Twistport adapters (TPAs) convert an RF connector on a radio to waveguide, with virtually no RF loss. Learn more about horn antenna technology by watching our RF Elements Horn Technology episode in our Solution Series, or by watching our 3 Secrets to Fiber-Like Stability in Wireless Networks webinar hosted with RF elements.
Horns vs Sectors for 360° Coverage
Providing 360° coverage is fundamentally different for horns antennas compared to traditional, non- proprietary sector antennas. Because of the difference in lobes mentioned above, horn antennas act as their designation implies. Since there are no side lobes, a 90° horn antenna actually acts like a 90°, and a 120° horn antenna like a 120°. This means that for 360° coverage, four 90° horns would be used, or three 120° horns.
In contrast, a standard 65° sector spreads out more to act like a 90°, and a 90° sector spreads out to act like a 120°, and so on. This means that for 360° coverage, only four 65° sectors would be used, or three 90° sectors.
There are exceptions to this rule. In some proprietary solutions (ie Cambium cnMedusa), sectors antennas behave true to their designation. But for non-proprietary antennas, the fundamental differences outlined above are true.
Horns at Work
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, reported on their overwhelming success from the deployment of horns:
"We use horn antennas at all of our sites, and they have been a game-changer for us. We’ve had a 100% reduction of interference, allowing us to provide faster connections at better modulations."
Jordan, CTO of a business internet provider in Texas, noted:
"For horn antennas, we typically use asymmetrical 60°. This allows us to have a really good “flashlight” focus on a specific area. It really reduces the noise from the noisy 5 GHz environment in such an urban coverage area."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer, described specifically how his Minnesota WISP relies heavily on horns:
"We use a significant amount of symmetrical horn antennas specifically, as they have the best price / performance ratio we’re looking for. We’ve had to, to survive as a WISP. We’ve had competitors roll in with a lot of output power and omnis. Plus all the Google mesh systems in customer’s homes are creating tons of noise. Horns have been wonderful for us, reducing noise and making the quality of the customer experience much better."
"In our area, deploying 90° or more is not going to create good service. We’ve squeezed all our sectors down to 30°, and the horns have been the best and most affordable way to do that. We’re finding you can reuse them about 90° off in most cases. So even though we’re putting up twelve horns on a tower, we’re reusing that frequency four times per tower."
Summarizing horn antenna benefits, Joe also stated:
Using horns future-proofs your WISP in a couple of ways. One, the 30° beam width dramatically limits your noise factor. Two, with that much cleaner spectrum, you’re able to jump from 20 MHz to those wider channel widths of 40 MHz or more.
Advancements Making a Difference in Wireless
Horn antennas, like CBRS and LTE, have created significant improvements in wireless networking. The next chapter will dive into the new WiFi 6 standard, another advancement taking wireless to a new level.
Chapter 10 - Intro to WiFi 6 & Enterprise Networks
The WiFi Alliance summarizes on their WiFi 6 certified page that this new standard is all about “Capacity, efficiency, and performance for advanced connectivity,” adding that:
"Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 networks ensure each connected device performs at an optimum level. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 devices meet the highest standards for security and interoperability, and enable lower battery consumption, making it a solid choice for any environment, including the Internet of Things (IoT)."
Popular Science elaborates on this in their What is WiFi 6? article, “Performance in a crowded network is ultimately WiFi 6’s signature feature.” Technically speaking, they attribute this to:
- Introduction of OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) and OBSS (Overlapping Basic Service Sets)
- Improvements to MU-MIMO (Multiple User - Multiple Input, Multiple Output) and beamforming
Practically speaking, it’s noted that these improvements deliver:
- Roughly 40% faster upload and download speeds
- Significantly steadier top speeds when connected to many devices
- Longer range*
- Greater resilience against physical interference from walls and obstructions*
- More consistent security with mandatory Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3)
- * Related to the reintroduction of 2.4 GHz.
Another upgrade mentioned is Target Wake Time (TWT). This allows the antennas of connected devices to stay off until needed, instead of remaining on when not required. This has the potential to improve power efficiency not only for smart home devices but potentially any connected device. Read Commscope’s 802.11ax fundamentals: Target Wake Time (TWT) for more information, including its original inclusion in the 802.11ah “Wi-Fi HaLow” standard.
Extension of WiFi 6E
When the FCC opened 6 GHz for unlicensed use in April 2020 (see Chapter 6), the Wi-Fi Alliance also extended the Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax) to include this new spectrum between 5925 - 7125. Commscope notes in What is Wi-Fi 6E? that this resulted in Wi-Fi 6 “extended” or Wi-Fi 6E. They further explain: “Wi-Fi 6E is significant in that it represents the first-ever expansion of Wi-Fi spectrum. In 2018, the economic value provided by Wi-Fi was nearly $2 trillion, and is expected to grow to almost $3.5 trillion by 2023.”
In LightReading’s interview with Federated Wireless, Federated’s CEO states that:
"Some developers want to offer fiber as a selling point to new residents. They’ll pay $1,000 - $1,500 per lot in new developments to have fiber installed. In one case, we got the fiber install job for a new development, but also locked in 100 new customers on top of that with the future residents.
"WiFi 6 is built to advance the cause of enterprise networks, and this [6 GHz] spectrum is a very big enabler of that."
"Sometime early to mid next year, we expect to see the 6-times-the-power devices on WiFi 6 using AFC, and that will be revolutionary for the WiFi ecosystem. It’s called "WiFi 6E"."
This sets the stage for a new level of wireless enterprise solutions, not only in traditional WiFi bands of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz but now also extended through 6 GHz and even into lower 7 G.
Enterprise Applications for WiFi 6
So we’ve got a powerful new standard for WiFi, but how can it be practically applied for enterprise applications? Generally speaking, WiFi 6 adds enhanced performance for mission-critical business applications requiring high bandwidth and low latency, and things like streaming ultra-high-definition movies. The WiFi Alliance explains how WiFi 6 also “provides carriers and public Wi-Fi operators with more capabilities to support advanced connectivity in retail, stadiums, and transportation hubs, including a growing array of location-based applications and services.”
Specific applications include:
- Stadiums and public venues - locations with 100s or 1000s of connected devices
- Corporate networks - utilizing time-sensitive, high bandwidth applications
- E-Learning, telepresence, and healthcare - relying on virtual and augmented reality
- Airports and train stations - to keep users connected while moving through congested networks
- Switches, to handle the wired component
- Access points and fixed wireless broadband devices, for the wireless portion
- On-premise network management to pull it all together in a single pane of glass
- 25% minimum increase of aggregate throughput, that could easily be 100%
- Close coordination between the access point and the clients that connect, providing a significant advantage in efficiency
- Delivering on SLAs in high density, latency-sensitive applications
Building Enterprise WiFi 6 Networks
In our enterprise panel discussion, we asked experts from Cambium Networks what comprises an enterprise WiFi network. They explained that this involves a comprehensive end-to-end solution with a single point of management, for the edge of the customer’s network.
Included in an enterprise network are:
The advantages of a WiFi 6 enterprise solutions include:
To learn more, including how Software Defined Radios (SDRs) help with the migration from WiFi 5 to WiFi 6, and with interoperation between WiFi 6 and 6e, read our full article on this enterprise roundtable.
WiFi 6 Routers for Service Providers Utilizing WiFi 6 routers will go a long way in helping service providers ensure that users stay happy. Jack, Technical Manager for a Michigan WISP, explained:
"We’re looking at WiFi 6 very heavily for the routers we’re providing to customers. Providing better WiFi connectivity will reduce complaints because when their internet is not good it’s really due to what’s going on inside their house. The equipment we’re testing has been pretty compelling as far as I’m concerned. “WiFi 6” means a number of things; namely, less interference in the future."
Mitch, President of a ISP in Florida, shared similar ideas:
"We will be deploying WiFi 6 in the units, but we’re currently deploying routers with WiFi 5. It’s problematic depending on how large the unit is and where the device is placed. When they’re in a media panel in the closet, we either have to relocate it or pair it with an AP. So we’ve started to pair them with WiFi 6 access points. We’re making WiFi 6 a priority for sure in 2022."
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer from Minnesota, described the focus his WISP has paced on WiFi 6E, and the incredible impact he sees it having on WISPs:
"I’m extraordinarily excited for WiFi 6E! It’s the real advancement that WISPs are going to benefit from – guaranteed. Our entire plan for this year revolves around getting ready for it."
As a result, his WISP is doing all leg work ahead of time:
"We’re spending the money now on our core infrastructure - our switches, DC plant, and our backhauls - so that when 6E gear is available in quantity, we’ll have 10 Gbps capacity to our tower sites to leverage it."
"To prep for this, we’re first evaluating switches in the market. Full 10 Gbps is what we’re looking for, almost an aggregation fiber switch. WiFi 6E gear looks like it’s going to have SFP/SFP+ built into it, so we’re going to need SFP switches at every tower we want to deploy this at."
"The second thing is backhauls. 11 GHz might not be able to deliver speeds that WiFi 6E can handle. If all the sectors can do 5-7 Gbps of traffic with MU-MIMO, the new bottleneck will be backhaul. So we’re reducing our backhaul distance from 8-10 miles down to a 3-4 mile range, where we can use 60-80 GHz to push that 10 Gbps to our tower sites."
Joe’s closing comments offer an important perspective for WISPs to consider:
"WISPs see numbers thrown around by vendors - how they’ll be able to do 5 Gbps or more per sector with wide channels in the MU-MIMO. They think it’s great, but I don’t hear a lot of discussion on how to prepare for delivering gigabit speeds to customers. I don’t know if everyone’s thought all of that through - the whole chain down the line."
Demand for WiFi 6
For additional insight, watch the DoubleRadius WiFi 6 Solution Series interview with Chris Shupe, the SVP of Tech Services for an MSP. In this video, Chris explained:
"Opening up 6 GHz has been a game-changer. We’ve become a society that’s bandwidth-hungry. The addition of 4k streaming requiring 20-25 Mbps streaming per device has driven us to that point. It’s a must-have with the massive amount of devices we’re trying to support, and still deliver big bandwidth."
"Today we have an average of 12-15 devices, and as many as 40, per unit! With the adoption of IoT devices - light switches, HVAC, thermostats, appliances, in-home video surveillance - everything is WiFi-enabled. That has really made us step our game up in making sure we connect all those devices, and the residents have the access they need."
"With WiFi 6E coming, it’s hard to believe we would need more...The spectrum we have allocated to us today, and that’s coming, seems like it should cover us for quite a long time, but technology changing every day...I don’t see us going into the super-high frequencies because of the [coverage area] limitations it brings. I can only see that the FCC will still find more spectrum in these lower frequencies to continue to expand on that."
Better, Faster Wireless
Just as the new 6 / 6E standard promises to take wireless to new heights in 6 GHz, another exciting technology in 60 GHz aims to do the same. In our next chapter, we’ll examine Facebook’s Terragraph!
Chapter 11 - Unleashing Terragraph Technology
A New Way of Doing 60 GHz
Developed by Facebook as their way to help eliminate the broadband digital divide, Terragraph (TG) offers a unique way to manage operation in unlicensed 60 GHz millimeter wave. In a webinar hosted by Cambium Networks on 60 GHz and Terragraph, David Botha from Facebook Connectivity’s Strategic Partnerships division describes Terragraph as:
"Specifications and software that define a technology, which allows a fleet of radio nodes that operate in the 60 GHz spectrum to form a mesh distribution network which can deliver fiber-like speeds, but at a fraction of the cost of fiber, and also at a much faster deployment speed."
As such, TG solutions offer exciting possibilities not only for WISPs offering high-speed residential service (100+ Mbps) but also for fiber providers. When the need arises for a fiber alternative, Terragraph networks will get high-speed bandwidth to the end-user, plus save time and money compared to fiber deployment. Jack, Technical Manager for a WISP in Michigan, expressed his optimism for just this type of application:
"I’m looking into which specific implementation to use, but to me, Terragraph is a very easy, quick way to get into areas that might take me a couple of years to get to with other technologies. I can backhaul into a neighborhood and then use Terragraph equipment to connect those houses together very easily. It gives me an opportunity to get these customers on my side because the actual throughput they get through the TG technology is extraordinary. If I can get a good backhaul to the neighborhood and then get them up and running with 500 Mbps up to a gig in 30 days or so, then I can determine if I need to pull fiber to the neighborhood. That’s a win-win."
Terragraph Deployment Opportunities
Consider line-of-sight (LOS) scenarios where trees are not an issue. As referenced above, ISPs can easily provide fiber-like speeds over the air in a week’s time, instead of trenching through miles of dirt. This is a no-brainer.
Public safety is a big winner as well. Townships can place a radio on every street corner, offering public WiFi and supporting the transport of video surveillance streams, all wirelessly! TG networks offer multi-gigabit line-of-sight connectivity with the flexibility of mounting devices on rooftops, poles, and other existing infrastructure.
A more comprehensive list of applications noted in our Facebook Terragraph Technology article includes:
- Urban and suburban last-mile Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)
- Mobile backhaul
- 5G Small Cell
- Fiber Extension
- Outdoor WiFi
- Video Surveillance / CCTV
- Smart City
- Campus Connectivity
The bottom of our Facebook Terragraph Technology article lists vendors currently offer Terragraph solutions. In general terms of peak TG performance capabilities, Facebook Connectivity’s Terragraph page lists their network results:
- Peak bi-directional aggregate data rate: 3.6 Gbps
- Downlink data throughput per user - 1 Gbps
- Latency per hop: < 1ms
- Link distance for peak rates: 150m
Long-range TG radios have also been developed, offering benefits such as:
- Reduced CAPEX - fewer units, fewer access rights, minimized infrastructure costs
- Shorter time to market
- Reduced OPEX - fewer sites to operate, configure, and power
Siklu’s long-range TG radio, for example, can deliver 1 Gbps full-duplex over a 2000m PTP link, with a 2 ft antenna.
Wireless as a Fiber Alternative
Terragraph, like some of the other advancements mentioned in earlier chapters, offers a viable, multi-gigabit fixed wireless alternative to fiber. But is it really a question of one over the other? In our final chapter, we’ll summarize the discussion on this topic.
Chapter 12 - Deploying Hybrid, Fiber, or Wireless Multi-Gigabit
It’s Not a Choice of Fiber or Wireless
Comparing fiber and wireless networks is nothing new. Some time ago, we wrote an entire guide about Hybrid Fiber-Wireless ISPs, outlining the advantages of each and offering use cases for both technologies. Our point was not that fixed wireless replaces fiber. The point we were making then, and that we continue to make now, is that the ability to solve problems and create opportunities increases when using both types of technology in tandem.
Wireless Continues to Improve as an Alternative
Another important point we are emphasizing in this WISP guide is that fiber internet providers can have more confidence today in using wireless instead of fiber for certain applications, whether by choice or necessity. This is due to the ongoing advancement of wireless, which we’ve covered throughout the chapters of this WISP guide.
Multi-gigabit solutions like Facebook Terragraph, WiFi 6 & 6E, 5G, and others continue to emerge and improve. For example, Siklu’s fixed 5G mmWave E-band radios mentioned in our 5G chapter offer the multi-gigabit capacity and security of fiber connections, while also boasting several key advantages. These impressive radios are rated for up to 10 Gbps full-duplex throughput.
Wireless Backhaul for FTTH Use Case
Joe, Wireless Network Engineer for a WISP in Minnesota, discussed using wireless backhaul as an alternative when bringing fiber to a site is not possible:
"We have a lot of fiber in our network. It’s probably the largest product we sell. Fiber’s great, but where we struggle to utilize it is in the rural areas. We’re getting pricing around $12-$14/ft to plow in new fiber. At that price, it’s tough to not make that ground up with utility poles, making 4 mile hops. 4-5 miles is a minimum of 50K worth of plowing, but if I can set a pole and get power to it for 2-3K, then mmWave 10 Gig is a pretty good argument to make for ROI. That’s how we’re using that right now."
"There are also lots of areas that are difficult to reach. In one 100 unit valley, every single person called us, begging us to come. We could not get fiber there, because one inch under the dirt was solid rock. So we set a 50 ft pole at the entrance of the valley and microwaved to it. We put our fiber distribution cabinet with GPON gear at the pole, then from there built out the valley with fiber-to-the-home. Since that was mostly aerial, we plowed in very little fiber. Now we have 100 customers, for the 2K cost of a pole and an affordable microwave link, instead of the 500K or more it would have cost us to plow fiber in there."
Having deployed both fiber and wireless, understanding the capabilities and limitations of each, Joe concluded:
"There’s a place for both fiber and wireless in the network. Wireless is great, and if you combine the technologies, that’s where we’re really starting to see everything shine. It mixes the affordability of wireless with the last mile capabilities of fiber, so you don’t have to worry about trees and such. If you can replace the transport of the middle mile with wireless, and then make your endpoints fiber-to-the-home, I think that’s a winning formula going forward for WISPs."
Wireless until Fiber Use Case
One use case that we see playing out over and over again is the initial deployment of fixed wireless to get service in place and revenue flowing, while the significantly longer and more costly process of deploying fiber plays out. For example V-Band or E-band (60-80 GHz) mmWave licensed backhaul can be used to feed multi-gigabit capacity to a new coverage area, getting customers online long before fiber internet service ever arrives.
Jack, Technical Manager for a Michigan WISP, described his strategy for expansion:
"If I can get fiber to a tower easily, we’ll do that, but we’re not looking at a huge deployment of fiber because of funding. Until we get fiber to the area, we’ll put a quick wireless solution in, so we can get subscribers up right away. For any customers that we want to provide very high speeds to, we backhaul wirelessly into neighborhoods, then go fiber-to-the-home."
"Then we’ll make a strategic decision on whether to upgrade to higher capacity wireless backhaul or use fiber. At 30K/mile, if it’s 10 miles away from the closest fiber point, we’re not going to be running fiber. And we may never need to put fiber in, because they may be satisfied with the service they get. But if we do eventually need to bring fiber, they won’t be waiting for two or three for service because we’re waiting for funding or approvals."
Fiber Made Easy for ISPs
There are scenarios in which ISPs that are traditionally wireless, and less familiar with fiber, may need to deploy fiber. Or ISP’s may simply prefer to use fiber over wireless when it’s both available and practical. In either case, for opportunities such as MDU’s and fiber neighborhoods, service providers have a convenient, cost-effective, plug-and-play fiber optic delivery system in UFiber, which enables triple-play services (data, voice, IPTV/VoD).
Mitch, President of a ISP in Florida, gave an overview of their UFiber deployments for MDU’s:
"Our business provides dedicated fiber to each property. In a typical vertical build, we’ll bring up to 4 gigs of bandwidth via fiber into the main communications room (MDF), and from there distribute vertically to the intermediate communications rooms (IDFs) on every third floor through dedicated fiber (see MDF vs IDF). There we’ll terminate fiber pairs differently for internet and TV. Having 10 gig UniFi switches with UFiber SFP+ uplinks in each IDF allows us to deliver 1 gig internet service over Ethernet to each unit, while using coax to distribute TV independently."
Jordan, CTO of a business internet provider in Texas, offered a more granular description of their UFiber deployment:
"We have over 80 Ubiquiti UFiber OLTs deployed around the city. From those, we run lateral fiber from the business customer suite to the closet splitter in one of the telco closets. In the fixed wireless world, you can consider an Optical Line Terminals (OLT) as the fiber head in, and the CPE would be the GPON ONU (Gigabit Passive Optical Network / Optical Network Unit). We use UFiber Loco as the ONU, for the fiber-to-ethernet hand-off. Inside the customer suite, we then provide an EdgeRouter X and a UniFi access point. All of the client devices - phones, computers - will connect to the WiFi AP."
"The UISP ties it all together. When a customer calls in with an issue or a question, it allows our support techs to see the link all the way from our data center to the access points, as well as the OLT’s and ONU’s. They can see if the cable is physically plugged up to the ONU and if the router they supplied is powered off. If they’re using an EdgeRouter X that we supplied, we can log in and use the terminal. We can get into the command line of the EdgeRouter X to run ping tests, trace routes - it really our support techs monitor everything and take care of our customers."
For more details on UFiber, read our article on Ubiquiti’s UFiber GPON Solution for ISPs & Telcos.
Fiber is an integral part of the successful business model for Jordan’s company. Likewise, they’ve incorporated wireless for greater agility and expanded opportunities:
"We started out just doing fiber to multi-tenant buildings, but we’ve quickly expanded that network to include fixed wireless to the standalone buildings around some of the taller multi-tenant buildings. We initially used a lot of 5 GHz, then we moved to 60 GHz."
"Since we’re in such an urban environment, we can provide fiber easily inside the multi-tenant buildings, but going across the street would be very difficult putting either in-ground fiber or aerial fiber in. That’s where we’re able to use wireless - either PTP or PTMP. We can use 60 GHz for really high throughput for the customers around them, or expand our coverage and offer fiber service in other multi-tenant buildings."
"We also provide service to customers using last-mile fixed wireless. We consider distance, throughput, and cost to decide which technology to use in each case. Being in such an urban environment, we have a lot of densely populated businesses. For a warehouse complex with 100 customers in a mile radius, we might go with 60 GHz for a lot of capacity (up to 1.8 Gbps) in a short-range. For a customer that’s 3-4 miles away, we’d go with 3 GHz and offer 100 Mbps symmetrical."
Mitch, President of a Florida ISP, conversely shared why fiber is their sole method of deployment:
"We’ve deployed unlicensed WiFi building-to-building and not had great success with it. We haven’t looked at it more in depth recently, but this is only because all the properties that we’re deploying at have access to fiber. If they do, from a business standpoint, we prefer to always have fiber. Not that it can’t go down, because it does. You’re depending on no one cutting it in the road, and your fiber provider not losing connection to a switch in their operations center or in one of their points-of-presence. But to us, fiber is still a more reliable solution than wireless. Even though I know that wireless, especially licensed spectrum, is extremely reliable. I’m not saying anything negative about that."
Having Fiber and Wireless in Your Tool Belt
As stated at the beginning of this chapter, using both wireless and fiber creates more opportunities. The example above demonstrates how fixed wireless mmWave can be used in support of fiber deployments. Similarly, solutions like Metrolinq Terragraph (MLTG) can also be used to form rings and build hybrid fiber-wireless networks to extend the existing fiber infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively.
On the flip side, remember the opportunity mentioned by Rob back in chapter 5: His WISP was able to capitalize an unexpected new piece of business thanks to fiber:
"We were brought in for WiFi and we also wound up rebuilding and managing the client’s private fiber backbone. It started as a small deployment, but now it’s become a pretty major one. We just did a shopping center that wanted pre-cabling for fiber. We built a whole fiber network and brought in a dedicated circuit to the property as it was outside of our footprint."
Rob, Owner of a Pennsylvania WISP, also commented on the various ways his company utilizes fiber in their network:
"We use fiber where we can as the backbone. We put in a high-capacity wireless link otherwise. Our last mile is wireless. We’ve got a lot of fiber backbone throughout our local downtown area. We supply bandwidth to some of the local businesses directly off the fiber."
"Some WISPs in the Midwest especially have a tower with 100 subscribers. Due to where we are geographically, if we have an access point with more than 10-20, that’s a big site for us. Due to the amount of attenuation we have from the trees and hills, it’s really hard to get that much mileage out of a deployment. So we adjust for that by using hybrid technology, using fiber to supply a micro-pop."
"One of the nice things with fiber when competing with the cable company in town is that we beat them hands down. They might offer 20 Mbps upstream, where we offer symmetrical service, up to a gig. That has been helpful for gaining customers, as upstream has become more important than it used to be."
Tying It All Together
As the examples show, having the adaptability to tackle fiber, wireless, or hybrid projects pays dividends. This chapter focused on two technologies, whereas this WISP guide in its entirety covers many aspects of succeeding in the business of broadband. As we move to the conclusion, it’s time to wrap everything up with a bow.
Conclusion: Adapt for Success!
Adapting the Business and Technology of Broadband
The theme of our 2022 WISP Guide has been adapting for success. The twelve areas we covered - half on the business side and half on the technology side - will be critical for each WISP’s success moving forward. We hope that the information and ideas have inspired some decisions.
We don’t know what 2022, or the years to come will bring. We do know that the wireless industry will continue to adapt and advance, stepping up to answer the call of each new connectivity challenge.
The goal of DoubleRadius is to be your partner for building better networks. This is stated in the tag line of our logo, but more importantly, you should sense it in each conversion you have with our staff. We are here to help, and it will be our privilege to support your WISP’s growth and success in the years to come.
Thank you for reading our 2022 WISP Guide, and for more information, please contact us today.