Rise of the WISPs: Offering more than just Internet

The South African Broadband Internet industry began its digital evolution in the mid 2000s. Since then, internet access – fixed, wireless and mobile – has become a commodity.

Wireless Operators have been investing in new and expensive technologies to create more sources of revenue, improve their ARPUs (average revenue per user), and overcome the competition in a heavily saturated marketplace. Infrastructure, customer acquisition and retention costs has all got higher and higher, however, income never has reached the optimistic levels expected for it.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in particular have been the most affected. The majority are technically-minded owner-run small operators. Many have grown their network wide, rapidly and considerably due to their advanced technical knowledge, the high demand for internet in their area and a somewhat good and reputable uptime record.

In order to achieve quicker ROI (Return on Investment), the WISP has had to maximise the usability of the under-utilized network, by offering more than just internet access. Increasing services has meant increasing income and profitability.

VoIP has been the natural service to offer. The incumbents’ failing network, lack of connections in the rural areas and poor levels of after sales service was the catalyst in the rise of VoIP over Wireless. The low cost of network deployment is privately funded, hence there is no financial pressure to recover the investment, but the vision is to deploy a wider network rapidly.

What WISPs do not realize is that opportunity is on their doorstep. Since the inception of Geographic Number Portability (GNP), the end user client no longer requires hybrid hardware (converters of analog to digital telephony) to terminate his incoming POTS number over the analogue line. A full digital telephony service can now be offered by cancelling the user’s telephone service with the current analogue provider.

Deployments are quicker; a wireless installation can be done within 24hours. The user can be offered additional services, such as Unified Communications, Hosted PBX and IPTV.

With a carefully chosen Internet Telephony Infrastructure Service Provider (ITISP), a competitively priced all-inclusive package and a stable wireless network, the WISP can take on Goliath in any town in South Africa.
Setting up a full VoIP backhaul and service can take a day. Porting a number requires completing a couple of forms, which is then submitted to the ITISP.

Yes, it is a matter of confidence. Most WISPs can’t keep up with the demand, suffering from all sorts of growing pains. Most think offering such service requires major capital outlay. Little do they know that their current infrastructure will handle the service adequately. A month of testing with a free trial would surely build up that confidence level. A good ITISP will support the WISP by charging him according to his growth.

After all, when opportunity is knocking, open the door now, as it will not knock for much longer. The room might just be too overcrowded by the time you decide to open the door.