Satellites used to be the only game in town for rural Internet, but those traditional providers are no longer enough. A report published by Pew Center in 2019 found that 76% of US adults who live in rural communities say they use the internet on a daily basis. To keep up with this demand, you need to provide non-satellite Internet for rural areas.
How do you actually deliver this service to rural customers? Let’s start with an understanding of the key hardware that makes wireless Internet service possible.
1) Hardware To Access A Wholesale Internet Connection
To provide Internet access to rural areas, an Internet Service Provider must obtain access from the wholesale Internet provider. For example, you may purchase a fiber connection or other options from Tier 2 providers. In particular higher volume cases, you might even choose to use a Tier 1 provider like Level 3 Communications.
Think of this as the “raw material” that an Internet service provider offering internet to rural areas needs to get started. The exact hardware you use will depend on your wholesale provider.
2) Fixed Wireless Tower
To manage your costs effectively, let’s assume that you are not willing to install cable or similar infrastructure in the ground. Historically, installing such infrastructure is not economically viable in a rural area. Thankfully, technology has evolved over the past decade and there is now a better solution!
Set up a fixed wireless tower to offer Internet service to your customers. Conceptually, you will need a tower like a cellular phone service tower. It will need to be high up, at least 100 feet (30 meters) if you have flat terrain. If you do not have flat terrain, wireless signals will not travel as far.
Your wireless tower location may be a purpose-built structure. Alternatively, you can seek permission to install your hardware on an existing structure in the area. You may also request permission to attach your device to other tall buildings in the area. Make sure that whatever building you choose is accessible for maintenance.
3) Wireless Tower Hardware
Once you have selected a fixed wireless tower location, you need to install hardware on it. Specifically, install a device like FW-300i. This is the critical piece of equipment that acts as the bridge between your wholesale Internet service connection and your customers.
You can get started with just one antenna. However, you will probably want to add multiple pieces of hardware so that you have backups in place of equipment failure. Having additional antennas in place makes it easier to add other customers without sacrificing service levels.
Note: Your wireless antennas will also need a secure and reliable electricity source. To minimize damage and maintenance efforts, consider using additional hardware to protect your antennas.
4) Receiver Antenna
Your end customers will require compatible antennas to access your service. Depending on the business model, you may carry out installation and testing for end-user connections or contract another firm to provide that service. Keep in mind that outsourced arrangements require ongoing monitoring to ensure quality.
We suggest developing a shortlist of a few different antennas your customers can use. As a rule of thumb, test and support at least three options. That way, you will have minimal problems if a particular vendor goes out of business or retires a specific product.
5) Maintenance Equipment
Wireless equipment like antennas are exposed to threats. There are natural threats like rain, wind, snow, and tornados. All of those natural forces will impact your systems and require periodic maintenance. Unfortunately, you may also face threats from humans – vandalism, theft of service or theft of hardware.
To reduce these threats, you will need maintenance equipment and testing. Some companies, like BLiNQ, offer extended warranties and technical support to alleviate the technical support burden.
If we’re talking specifics, you’ll need radio testing equipment and tools. You might consider using drones to carry out initial inspections or take photos of your equipment in the field.
What Else Do You Need To Provide Non-Satellite Internet For Rural Areas?
A successful wireless Internet service provider (WISP) is more than a collection of hardware components. We’ve covered the technology in some detail. The remaining aspects of a successful business include effective processes and people.
Take the following list of process ideas to start your thinking.
1) Fine Tune Your WISP Pricing and Service Offering
The pricing and service package you offer to customers is crucial. Most WISPs take one of two approaches. You can follow the average market price in your region. Alternatively, you can develop a distinct offering by bundling other related services like phone service.
2) Optimize Your Customer Service
Delivering Internet service in a rural area means you will face unique customer service challenges. Specifically, you need the capability to travel in a rural setting to help customers. You may need to buy or lease a few vehicles to help your staff deliver service. Delivering better service is one of the ways you can distinguish your company from the telecom giants.
Tip: Use customer service surveys to gather feedback from your customers regularly. As technology continues to improve, your customers will have more options! Keeping customers will require a robust commitment to customer service.
3) Innovating Your Non-satellite Internet for Rural Areas Service
Internet speed expectations never stand still. What kept customers happy in 2000 or 2010 will not cut it in the 2020s. To remain competitive, make time in your schedule to look into new technologies. For example, monitor the 5G technologies coming onto the market.
As these capabilities become widespread, your customers will demand them. You also need to keep an eye on traditional competitors like Satellite Internet providers. More communication satellites are launched every year so this service will gradually change in price.
What To Do Next To Improve Non-Satellite Internet Service For Rural Areas
Your next step is to look at your company and ask yourself a simple question. What hardware can you add to deliver better service for your customers? You might need to expand your coverage area, for example. Hardware can help you with that challenge! Consider the “how can hardware help me deliver better service?” question every quarter.