Wireless Internet: asking the right questions.

Author:Stewart, Tim
Position:Tech Talk

I once heard the founder of a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) say, "When I started doing wireless Internet, I couldn't even spell RF!" Sadly enough, those were famous last words from yet another profitable company digging itself deeper and deeper into debt with every new market it launched. He should have learned other important letters, like P(rofit) and L(oss) and R(eturn) O(n) I(nvestment).


Consider wireless Internet as just another telecommunications product; the key is to identify the need and build a profitable business around an unfulfilled demand for Internet access. Who do you want to serve? What are the data speed requirements of your target market? Do you have wireless competitors in the area and what systems are they using? Do you have access to affordable DS1 or DS3 services in your area?

A wireless Internet service provider who seemed to have all the technical answers on how to approach this marketplace recently made the following statement: "I want to provide wireless to my neighborhood and maybe also to some of the local businesses. We still don't have DSL or cable modem in the area, and as far as I can tell, there's nobody else in the area providing wireless Internet.

"I was thinking that I'd need a DS3 or better so that I can offer 11 Mbps service. I'm going to have it pulled directly into my office and run it to the roof to feed the access point tower. My office is above most other buildings in the area, so with a high gain antenna, I should be able to shoot 10 miles beyond the nonline of site coverage," he concluded.

My suggestion to this prospective WISP manager would be that he step back from the engineering of the system and take a 10,000-foot look at what he is trying to accomplish.

* Who do you want to serve? This question is critical to financial planning. It asks if there is consumer demand and if the customers can pay for the service. It allows you to decide the price point that supports the revenue plan, yet does not create a barrier to entry for customers.

This is your demographic for the people in the coverage area that own computers, use the Internet and want broadband. It needs to be a tangible quantity so that you know how to scale the business. This is the hardest question to answer because it, more than anything else, impacts revenue. Your customers are the ones who require speedy results when they use the Internet to do research, communicate with friends and co-workers...

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