Random thoughts about the WISP industry on a Friday:
The entire WISP industry is in many ways a giant collaborative project. Many of the early WISP pioneers did not have any kind of background in RF or wireless communications. The initial core of pioneers were independent ISPs that were disgusted with how the telcos were ruining the competitive environment and turned to fixed wireless as a possible alternative. For the first two or three years, there were no real face-to-face meetings as the discussions took place on the old isp-wireless mailling list run by Jupiter Media. In the spring of 2001, the first WISPCON in Chicago brought many of the mailling list members together in person for the first time and things really started to click. I came back from that show with a completely different perspective on the WISP business. Beforehand, I thought that it might be more like CB Radio redux (as unlicensed was often perceived at the time) than a real business, but after hearing from others that were making it work and seeing some of the equipment that was coming out (first glimpses of the Canopy platform and introduction to Mikrotik) I realized that we had a legit chance of surviving and thriving.
After that show, the relationships between the attendees were maintained online with occasional real-world gatherings. There was constant experimentation by WISPs all over the world with equipment setups, business models and how to deal with competition. Since very few WISPs were competing with one another, sharing was very open and honest. We certainly had our share of know-it-alls and charlatans, but they followed Darwin’s path to irrelevance as the industry evolved. WISPA was created in early 2004 and for several years it was almost entirely virtual. The board held meetings online and the mailling lists contained the core of the interactions between members as the industry slowly gathered steam. WISPCON died after five or six shows and didn’t really get replaced until WISPA put on its first trade show in summer 2010. The trade shows are accelerating the collaboration, as some in-person contact is still extremely valuable when it comes to interacting with people.
A couple of points to throw out with regard to this discussion.
1) Take a look at the last ten years of telecom and compare it with the last ten years of the WISP business. Telecom has evolved into the price-gouging, anti-competitive, government pork-fed monster that we all love to hate. 4000-5000 WISPs sprang into existence with little or no government subsidies, delivered broadband to places that didn’t have it and competition to places that needed it and took advantage of technology that is now capable of delivering comparable or better services than the telcos.
2) Defining characteristics of Telcos and WISPS:
Telcos = closed, anticompetitive, profit driven, dependent on subsidy, use regulation against competition
WISPS = open, competitive, service oriented, profitable without subsidy, work around regulation
3) Collaboration was done without access to “ultra broadband” research networks or fancy systems – it was done through simple mailling lists and the building of interpersonal relationships.
4) In-person meetings were critical to the development of the interpersonal relationships. 100gig broadband is no substitute.
Open networks and collaboration are the keys to progress in ICT. 100gig broadband is nearly worthless if it is a closed network. Collaboration can be done without it. Money will not fix our country’s broadband problems.
Have a great weekend!