Nicole Zheng

WISPAPALOOZA 2018: highlights from a newbie

Last week, I joined over 2,200 wireless internet industry professionals in Las Vegas for WISPAPALOOZA, an annual event by WISPA. Here’s a recap of my experience as a first-timer (shh, don’t tell anyone) at the show—  for attendees who couldn’t be in all places at once, and for those who couldn’t make it.

Quick context: Minim provides an equipment-agnostic, managed WiFi and IoT security solution for operators. We exhibited at the show, and we were honored to be asked to speak on 4 panels. Our topics included: IoT, cloud services, network security, and marketing best practices; and while I’m not going to review those panels here, you can tweet me @nicolechirps for more information!


The WISPA welcome

When I arrived at the show in the Rio All-Suite Hotel Las Vegas, my registration badge donned several ribbons: MEMBER, EXHIBITOR, SPEAKER, and FIRST TIME ATTENDEE. Admittedly, I removed the last one because it had “rookie” written all over it— a move I wouldn’t suggest because you will be found out!

You’ll be found out because WISPA is a 501.c6 advocacy organization with a welcoming and collaborative community of over 800 Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and vendors. The show kicks off with a big “speed dating session” where you answer everything from your favorite TV show to your company’s greatest strength. There, I met some interesting folks, mostly WISPs, but also equipment and services vendors. My favorite point in the discussion went as follows:

“Even I’ve converted [to streaming TV], said a long-time WISP owner. “At first, I tried Netflix and thought, ‘Real men don’t watch TV this way.’ You know, we click through channels on a remote control...  But then I just got used to it.”

I laughed. This was a thought I hadn't considered, and it could make for a great marketing campaign! In any case, this sparked a discussion on IPTV solutions (like MobiTV) that liken the watching experience to cable (live TV) with, you know, channel flipping. IPTV represents an opportunity for WISPs to capture higher Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) by adding value to their home internet experience.

This was a general thread throughout the show: How to deliver a better customer experience. WISPs think a lot on that because it's their competitive edge in the market. But let me backup a bit. The day prior to the show’s opening remarks was Master Monday, a day of education for all.


Starting a WISP 101

As a WISP vendor, I wanted to walk in a WISP’s shoes, so to speak. So, I attended Starting a WISP 101 on Master Monday.  Considering many WISP founders start out as tech-savvy neighbors with a vision of improving connectivity in their local community, color me impressed. This session covered the many considerations involved in starting a WISP and getting it off the ground:

  • Forming a legal entity - Choosing between Corp, S-Corp, LLC, LLC partnership, etc. 
  • Dealing with regulations - Those bundling broadband with a regulated telecom service (e.g. backhaul point-to-point transmission) need to register with the FCC, and this can entail: a Form 499, a 214 license, an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation, a state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) registration, a CLEC designation, a Form 477 broadband deployment, network outage reports, regulatory fees… 
  • Spectrum access - Last-mile or backhaul; unlicensed - including the new 6 GHz FCC proposal and Microsoft Airband program vs. licensed.
  • Business planning - Register antenna locations (ASR registration); identify stakeholders; broadband data mapping (Form 477 illustrated) with GIS consultants or a software like RGIS (QGIS is the free version); build out obligations; create a signal propagation map considering your terrain and tree clutter; build out the total addressable market; survey the market; equipment choices; develop pricing; develop your subscriber revenue model; compile financial projections; tune your financial model; hiring; marketing…
  • Other topics - Hiring, marketing, selling, documentation, asset management

Need I say, this session showed just how valuable WISPA wisdom is for an aspiring WISP. Of the Q&A, here are a few pieces of advice that stuck out to me:

  1. On equipment choices and vendor lock-in: “Can you paint yourself into a corner with 1 brand of equipment? Yes. Driving a forklift to rip out your equipment is very painful.”

  2. On how to develop public-private relationships: “Broadband equals votes. Focus on economic development, and figure out which verticals it matters most to.” (An example given was Public Safety)

  3. On competing against package deals in non-rural markets: “We don’t get down in the dirt with large carriers. We won’t beat them on price tag. We’ll beat them on customer service.”

  4. On 5G’s potential to disrupt: “A lot of higher bandwidth 5G applications will be deployed in millimeter waves. These don’t go through trees.” (LTE is another solution, and depending whose carrier network you use, you can stack on more subs. Plus the user equipment is less.)


State of WISPA

We got to see FCC Chairman Ajit Pai greet WISPA members share his views on CBRS, CAF II, and more. Okay, it was a pre-recorded interview between Pai and WISPA President & CEO Claude Aiken, but it was still quite cool to see just how involved WISPA is with influencing governance to protect members' businesses. Here's a quick overview of these Hot WISP Topics:

  • CBRS - Citizens Broadband Radio Service refers to the shared wireless broadband use of the 25500-3700 MHz (3.5 GHz Band), established by the broadband division of the FCC in April 2015. This made additional spectrum available to WISPs for improved coverage throughout the country. The current initiative: WISPA wants the FCC to auction at least 2 Priority Access Licenses (PALs) to census tracks— instead of by county—  so that small broadband providers can get access to CBRS. 
  • CAF II - The Connected America Fund (Phase II) will provide $2B over the next decade to expand high speed internet in rural areas, and WISPA members have won about half of the funding. As the CAF program evolves, WISPA has provided feedback to the FCC on behalf of its members. One substantial issue for members is the stringent and unclear speed and latency Order that the FCC issued.  In collaboration with a few other organizations, WISPA has put forth a more "balanced" framework. Discussion continues. 

In case you missed this interview, WISPA made it available their website, and here it is below! 

In addition to the video, Aiken discussed impressive industry sector momentum. I learned that the WISPs continue to have some of the fastest subscriber growth and the lowest subscriber acquisition costs in the U.S. It’s a great time to be a part of WISPA, and I was happy that Minim had been welcomed by Aiken, himself!  

“Minim is a great addition to our vendor membership and WISPAPALOOZA this year,” said Claude Aiken, President and CEO, WISPA. “Expected to be our largest yet, this show will feature over one-hundred and sixty exhibitors and sixty interactive sessions in a wide array of products and services. At WISPA, we aim to ensure our members can take advantage of the latest technology in this space. We are excited to introduce Minim’s cloud-managed WiFi solution as the growth of devices and video streaming in homes is increasing subscribers’ WiFi performance and security expectations.” [Press Release, October 18, 2018.]

Also on the regulation front, we watched a video of  the head of National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), David Redl, describe the agency's efforts to promote flexible spectrum use and eliminate barriers to rural broadband deployment. 


Dealing with subscribers’ (home) WiFi/router 

In choosing a panel to recap here, of course I had to select Dealing with Subscribers’ (Home) WiFi/Router; we live and breathe it at Minim. The panel and the audience participation in this session made it clear: Operators know they must take responsibility for devices on the home network to deliver a quality customer experience, now, and in the future. 

On the panel, two operators had 100% residential managed WiFi solutions in place, increasing ARPU by $7+ for one; $10 for the other. Like music to our ears at Minim!


Note: This image is our CTO Alec talking WISPs in the Clouds— also touching on managed WiFi!


It’s impossible to put all the highlights in one blog, but I have to land on exhibiting. We had some great people stop by our booth, and we are following up on some big opportunities. If you’re in the industry, I recommend attending WISPA events. We will be there!


If you're interested in learning more about Minim, click here.


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