Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) Technology: for a new generation of WISP entrepreneurs
It seems that every week someone asks us “How do I start a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) business”. People see an opportunity in the fast growing business segment of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology, also called fixed wireless broadband.
Many WISP owners in the USA are highly skilled technical people, they program advanced routers and develop software; they can build networks using multiple protocols and can configure any type of Internet service that the customer requires. A lot of people who would have liked to start a WISP business to sell wireless Internet access could not because they did not have the deep technical skills.
The situation has changed however; manufacturers now offer plug and play FWA solutions with subscriber management that are economical and designed for entrepreneurs with limited technical knowledge who want to build a WISP business. With the FWA technology available today the networking technical knowledge is less important than good business sense to sell and manage Internet services and build a successful WISP business.
FWA is one of the competing technologies for the last mile broadband connection to the home and office.
- ADSL via copper twisted pair (Telco)
- DOCSIS via copper coaxial cable (CATV)
- GPON via optical fiber (ISP/Telco)
- Wireless via unlicensed WiFi5/6 technology
- Fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband provided by a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) over ISM unlicensed bands
- Fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband provided by a mobile phone operator (Telco) over 5G licensed bands
- Wireless via low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Starlink
- Wireless via a geo-stationary satellite, HughesNet
Currently there is a large government and private sector investment to move all broadband connections to optical fiber as fiber has the best performance and reliability. This will not be possible for millions of homes and businesses as there are situations where fiber cannot provide the last mile connection.
- When there are physical obstacles, rivers etc.
- When the distance is beyond the limit of fiber, ~70Km
- When the fiber installation is not economic (no ROI), the installation cost can never be recovered
- When the fiber installation permitting process is impossible due to local government delays and regulations: fiber requires a lot of permits to install a cable and FWA does not
When fiber is not an option, three wireless alternatives are considered.
- Is there a Telco 5G tower within range with FWA?
- Is there a WISP WiFi5/6 tower within range for FWA?
- If none of the above consider the Satellite connection
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is a wireless technology that provides Internet access for a customers home or office. Mobile phone companies call the service fixed wireless access, product vendors and the FCC call it fixed wireless broadband. It is called fixed because the service connection is to a fixed location, a home or business. A Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) business uses unlicensed WiFi6 technology over ISM bands to connect the subscriber. A mobile phone company uses licensed 4G-LTE and 5G technology to connect the subscriber.
Telco FWA uses licensed 4GLTE/5G tower to a wireless router at the customer location. Mobile phone Telcos upgraded towers from 4GLTE to 5G with fast fiber to the tower. The unused 5G tower capacity is offered for fixed wireless access (FWA). The advantage of licensed spectrum is that there is no interference, the Telco purchased exclusive use of the frequency band.
- The Telco provides a fixed data plan and a home router with internal antenna
- The Telco wireless 5G router has an internal antenna with limited range
- The distance to the tower and data speed can be increased by installing an outdoor directional antenna connected to the home router
- The cost of the FWA plan is economical ~$50/month
- Some provider plans have unlimited data, some have monthly data caps
The WISP unlicensed WiFi5/6 technology has a wireless connection from a tower to a CPE wireless at the customer location. A WISP has a central location (Network Operations Center) with point to point (PtP) wireless links to several antenna towers. The wireless links must have line of sight to the customers. Each tower has a point to multi-point (PtMP) wireless that provides a wireless connection to several homes or businesses. Each home or business has a client premise equipment (CPE) wireless with line of sight to the tower connection to the tower PtMP antenna. The unlicensed data links are in the 5.8GHz and 6GHz bands. The tower using a point to point wireless link to connect back to the WISP network operations center (NOC).
Backhauls connect the PtMP tower to the Internet. There are three alternatives for tower backhaul connections to the Internet.
A fiber TCP/IP connection is available at the tower. Many tower businesses install a fiber data connection and power with back up supply at the tower.
Point to point wireless link back to a central location, which has a fiber circuit. Several PtMP towers can be backhauled to the network operations center (NOC)
Starlink satellite antenna at the tower, Starlink can be installed at any type of tower site.
PtMP towers are installed at high point in the terrain for visibility, usually a long way from the electrical grid. There are two power options.
- Pay the cost to bring power to the tower on poles from a point on the grid
- Generate power at the tower using solar and wind
Wireless equipment, PtMP antennas, backhaul PtP antennas, etc. equipment is low power where 50-100 watts power generation will be sufficient. If the backhaul antenna is Starlink then much more power will be required, plan for 1000 Watts power generation.
FWA Subscriber management is required. Two sub-systems are required to provide a FWA service.
- The wireless infrastructure to connect the customer to the Internet
- The subscriber management system that includes authentication, authorization, accounting, order entry, billing, receivables, network monitoring and customer relationship management
The subscriber management system is divided into two parts.
- The subscriber management software with order entry, billing, receivables, network monitoring and customer relationship management
- The broadband network gateway (BNG) with authentication, authorization and accounting (rate plan control)
The FWA subscriber management software for WISP’s has the following functionality.
- Add new subscribers, initiate the installation provisioning work order, add to the billing database
- Monthly subscriber billing and receipt of payments
- Customer relationship management (CRM) portal with helpdesk
- Network monitoring with data collection and alerting
- Reporting of billing, receipts, support status and network status
- API’s for integration with legacy systems
Subscriber Internet access is controlled by the broadband network gateway (BNG)
The Broadband Network Gateway (BNG) is shown in the center of the diagram. The easyWISP Broadband Network Gateway (BNG) software functionality is called AAA for the following reasons;
- Authenticate the subscriber and allow access to the network
- Authorize the subscriber in accordance with the billing status (in date/past due)
- Accounting, apply the subscriber rate plan, maximum down/up speeds, any data cap
The BNG is controlled by the easyWISP cloud administration software via the API interface. The BNG API also sends subscriber and traffic data to the cloud. High performance easyWISP BNG models have 250Mb/s and 1Gb/s data throughputs
The easyWISP cloud subscriber management functionality is shown in the next figure.
Before starting a WISP business, plan the WISP startup by understanding what the cost will be, how much work is required, what the income will be, prepare a detailed business plan.
A tower with a PtMP antenna is required with the maximum visibility for the greatest number of potential customers. Make a decision how this tower will connect to the Internet.
- Can a fiber be connected to the tower?
- Can a NOC be built to connect several towers using PtP links (expensive)?
- Can a Starlink antenna be installed at the tower to provide the Internet connection?
Prepare a business plan for the start-up WISP.
- Estimate the charges that can be made for Internet services, with several rate plans that are researched to prospective customers
- Estimate potential sales numbers based on what prospective subscribers can afford
- Estimate the cost to generate sales, sales people, marketing, etc. then divide by the number of expected subscribers to be acquired, this is called the subscriber acquisition cost
- Estimate the start-up costs required to begin providing the Internet service. This includes building the network infrastructure
- Estimate the on-going operating costs of the business. This includes the service charge from the wholesale network provider
- Calculate the expected income vs. costs. Is there a profit? if not then go back and increase the charge per subscriber. Will the price increase reduce the number of potential subscribers?
- Estimate the cost to scale the business, to expand the service for more subscribers and the cost of acquiring more subscribers
Expand a FWA business; add more PtMP towers to a WISP network to support more subscribers. The Internet backhaul capacity has to be increased as subscribers are added.
- Towers can be added to a NOC PtP wireless backhaul connection when in range
- Towers with a fiber connection can be added when a BNG is installed at the tower
- Towers can be added to the network at any location by installing a Starlink business antenna at the tower with the BNG is installed at the tower
Expand the WISP network; manage multiple sub-networks. The WISP has a limited radius of operation around a central office due to the maximum distance of PtP links. To expand further geographically the WISP can install additional towers, each with a different Internet backhaul connection, fiber at the tower, Starlink, etc. A broadband network gateway (BNG) is installed at each tower. The PtMP wireless access point is connected to the BNG and each BNG is connected to the backhaul circuit. Each BNG is managed by the easyWISP management and billing system. The ISP only has to specify for the billing system which tower the subscriber will connect to.
easyWISP can integrate FWA sub-networks with a Telco billing system. Telco businesses can build remote FWA networks at any location and integrate with their billing systems using the easyWISP Application Program Interface (API). The easyWISP API manages subscribers, creates traffic reports and provide failure alerts. The easyWISP API functions include:
- Set the subscriber authentication
- Enable/disable a subscriber
- Set the subscriber rate plan
- Report, subscriber use
- Status, alert on failure
Expanding a Telco FWA service when a 4GLTE tower is at capacity. 4G-LTE / 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) provided by cellular carriers has become very popular.
- 5G data speeds of 250Mb/s
- 4G LTE speeds of 100Mb/s
- DSL customers waiting to switch to fiber
- A good option where no fiber is available
Slow upgrade of 4G networks to 5G.
- Current 4G-LTE towers at wireless capacity
- Telcos can upgrade the fiber to the tower for higher backhaul speed
- Add licensed 4G-LTE or unlicensed ISM band wireless access points
- Install easyWISP BNG at the tower to manage clients via the Telco billing system API to the easyWISP API
Regarding products for FWA; The WISP decides which FWA network topology is better to deliver the Internet service.
- PtMP tower with Starlink connection to the Internet
- PtMP tower with a fiber connection at the tower, tower shared with Telco 4G/5G
- PtMP tower with a point to point (PtP) wireless connection to a location with fiber Internet, this may be a network operations center
The chosen topology depends on the availability of a backhaul Internet link and will determine the products to be installed.
We recommend a book written to help new WISP entrepreneurs get started and build a successful business.
- Start and build a successful Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) Business
- The A to Z of starting a WISP business
- Fixed wireless access (FWA), fixed broadband technology
- Wireless network infrastructure
- Subscriber management
- Internet backhaul technology, including Starlink
Please contact us to request the download link, specify the English or Spanish book.
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