Introduction

What is a WISP?

A WISP is an ISP that uses wireless technology to provide Internet service to homes or businesses. WISP networks are often called fixed wireless networks as opposed to mobile wireless networks. A WISP using modern technology can provide customers with low latency connections and speeds up to about 150Mbps at competitive prices. WISPs can also provide higher capacity (up to 1Gbps, maybe even more) at prices that are competitive with what a business would pay for a similar dedicated connection.

A common WISP network architecture looks like this:

  • Fiber connection to the Internet at a datacenter or commercial building along with leased space on the roof of the building. The leased space on the roof becomes the first relay site with wireless access points and backhauls.
  • Relay sites installed on a variety of types of structures to extend the wireless network from the fiber connection to where the customers are. Relay sites are connected to the fiber connection using point-to-point wireless backhauls.
  • Customers will have equipment on their rooftop that will connect wirelessly to an access point on a relay site. Typically a customer does not ‘roam’ between relay sites - the customer’s equipment is configured to connect to one specific access point on a specific relay.

It’s just city-wide Wi-Fi, right?

Well, not really. The problem is that Wi-Fi is designed to work indoors and at relatively short distances, and for various reasons doesn’t work very well outside and with city-wide distances. WISP hardware manufacturers break away from Wi-Fi standards to get around these limitations (by using TDMA instead of CSMA, for example).

Another problem is that Wi-Fi signals don’t go through houses and rooftops very well, which is why we put equipment on top of the customer’s roof rather than inside the customer’s home or attic.

Why a WISP?

In many parts of the U.S. there are only one or two broadband ISPs, typically the cable company and the phone company. Both often provide unreliable connectivity and poor customer service.

WISPs offer a relatively inexpensive (as opposed to laying new cable) way for individual entrepreneurs, municipalities, co-ops or other organizations to build better Internet service for their communities.

Terminology

Some terms that will be used throughout this guide:

  • PtP / PtMP - Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multi-Point. Wireless access points (including the one in your wireless router at home or the office) are PtMP - multiple client devices connect to one access point device. PtP connections are commonly used for wireless backhauls - one device on one relay will connect directly to one device on another relay. This distinction is important when deciding what types of devices to use in your network.
  • Access Point - A PtMP device typically installed on a relay site. Multiple customers can connect to one of these devices.
  • CPE - Customer-Premises Equipment. Common name for the client device that goes on a customer’s roof and connects to an access point.
  • Backhaul - A high capacity PtP network connection. In this guide backhauls can be assumed to be wireless. Backhaul can refer to either entire link (2 devices) or one side of the link (1 device).
  • Relay Site - Any place where access points or backhauls are installed as part of a WISP’s infrastructure. Common types of structures are buildings, water tanks, homes, and cell towers but they can be anywhere.
  • Fiber Connection - A WISP’s upstream connection to the Internet. It doesn’t have to be fiber, but for this guide we assume that it is.
  • Radio - Common name for any wireless device - access point, CPE or backhaul.
  • Mbps / Gbps - Megabits per Second and Gigabits per Second. A measure of the throughput of a network connection and the most commonly used way to compare the speed of Internet connections. 1Gbps = 1000Mbps (usually). More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_rate_units Commonly falsely stated as mega bytes per second, which is not the same thing. 1 byte = 8 bits.