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July 29, 2007

WISP Displaces DSL

In an email on another subject, online friend and wireless wizard Craig Plunkett mentioned that Fire Island Wireless, the wireless ISP (WISP) he runs, is starting to displace DSL. Tell me more, I asked.  He responded (decoder for non-nerds follow):

“Grabbing DSL customers is getting a little easier.  First, I think the DSLAM in the CO is maxed out, and VZ isn't adding any more ports.  Second, it's a marine environment, which means getting a clean pair all the way back to the CO is problematic, especially in the far western communities, which are about 3 miles from the CO as the crow flies.  We are price competitive on a yearly basis, with the exception of the CPE and installation cost.  But we have an affluent audience that demands connectivity and has to upload content ( lots of media and advertising folks).  Plus we can deliver higher bandwidth on both the up and download side. We don't do SLA's or provide public IPs (yet), but we get people online @ (1.5u/1.5d)  And we're local, we follow up and take care of our customers.  Our reliability is also increasing to be better than DSL.  And once we get folks to plunk down for the CPE, we have them for a few seasons at least because they've made the investment.  Usually, we get a call when a DSL person is experiencing an outage, and if we can do the install quickly, we've got 'em.  That's the case in my latest signup.  Plus our customers sing our praises and we get lots of word of mouth referrals.  I have one block of them in Kismet that I call "The Faithful"  They actually roped me into this, reviving the infrastructure when the original guys went bust...”

Decoding: a DSLAM is a box in a CO (telco central office) that squeezes DSL into phone lines. DSL is not where Verizon wants to spend its capex so this kind of stuff doesn’t get upgraded. A “clean pair” refers to copper wire; DSL is fussy and Verizon isn’t investing in copper either if they can help it.

CPE is customer premise equipment. It’s stuff you need at your house in order to make the service work. Interestingly, since Fire Island Wireless is WiFi based, you can get on to the service without buying any equipment if you are within one hundred feet of one of their increasing number of hotspots and have a WiFi-equipped PC; but, if you’re further away, you need to buy $300 worth of CPE to hook up. Obviously you have to want what Fire Island Wireless has to offer (and have the money) since DSL doesn’t have this kind of up-front cost.

SLAs are service level agreements, telco-talk for a level of service which is actually guaranteed in some sort of way. No one else is giving retail customers SLAs that I know of so Craig doesn’t need to feel bad; just continue to give good service.

1.5u/1.5d means that Fire island Wireless lets you upload (send) at the same 1.5 megabits per second that you can download (receive). This is an enormous competitive advantage compared to DSL which typically only provides 128 kilobits per second of upload capacity. As Craig points out, upload speed is currently more important to some people than others but it’s getting increasingly important to all of us: after all, we have to post our questions to candidates on YouTube. Seriously, we do “have” to send videos to people we care about, do online backup, and share all kinds of big files.

Noteworthy that plain old-fashioned better service is an important part of the attraction. The part about grabbing customers who are still waiting for Verizon to show up and fix things is great.

Projecting dangerously from this one data point, the economics of WISPiness could be improving. If prospects within the range of a radio include not only those who can’t get DSL or cable but also those who need something better than DSL, than wireless Internet access just got a much bigger addressable market and should get more subscribers per radio faster.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference WISP Displaces DSL:

» Props from The Green Mountain State from CEDX
Online friend and fellow energy independence enthusiast Tom Evslin writes a post on his Fractals of Change blog about our recent modest successes on Fire Island. The prospects for Wireless ISPs are indeed improving, but you have to keep in [Read More]

» A Story Of Good WISP Execution from Wireless Internet Service Provider News - WISPNews
Tom Evslin has written... or rather publicized an email from a WISP that Evslin makes into a great story, about Fire Island Wireless doing what WISPs do best - providing great service to their customers. I've featured Tom's story on [Read More]

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