Overall it was a great learning experience, but incredibly challenging. There was nothing like OP's guide (or HN, or Google for that matter), so the knowledge had to come from books, Usenet news, and mail lists. It helped that we had experience managing Unix servers and WAN networks at the University, but still had tons of things to figure out, from setting up dial-up lines, to keeping httpd servers up and running (we decided to use Linux 0.99 beta from the get-go, but it kept crashing, usually in the middle of the night; later we discovered it was a race condition in the multi-serial port card driver, which manifested only when several ports were under heavy use, hence only happening at night).
Although we could solve most of the technical challenges, we were absolutely clueless on how to run a business: selling, bizdev, billing customers, hiring and building teams, etc. I have fond memories for those (usually bad) decisions, but can't stop thinking how things would be different if I could magically go back and do it all over again :)
We quickly reached a few thousand customers, and realized it was turning into a capital intensive business - phone lines in Brazil in the 90's were crazily expensive, plus Cisco routers, server upgrades, etc. We decided to pivot towards B2B, thus becoming one of the first corporate ISPs: web hosting, security consulting, leased lines, some web development.
We sold the company 5 years later, when the market started consolidating, right before the dotcom crash.
If it was intentional, great job :)
Just a quick note about me - I currently work with the great folks at common.net running an ISP that is similar but not exactly like what's described here. Look us up if you're in East Bay maybe we can get you better Internet service! This site is not associated with common.net, though.
My experience has been that interference is as much a problem at the CPE side (and much harder to diagnose there) than at the AP. I've also noticed that with Ubiquity/Mikrotik-grade radios in the 5GHz spectrum you can easily get interference from your own co-located radios at the same site, using different channels (because they are not so good about suppressing out-of-band radiation).
Couple of things I'd suggest. (take/or leave) You are clearly super knowledgeable in all the products you've mentioned, but it seems like the audience for this site is the newbie trying to break into the industry. With that in mind, I'd try to stick to a single product recommendation, and deep dive into it. For instance, in the pick a hardware platform you've listed four options, consider picking one, and if you feel the need to dump your extensive knowledge of the others, then perhaps do it in another section/addendum.
Consider hosting this where you can build a community. Github pages does this sort of thing for free.
Again, thanks and good luck with the site!
I've been trying to build the community around this matrix chatroom: https://riot.im/app/#/room/#startyourownisp:matrix.org I'm not really a developer by trade so Github isn't really a go-to solution for me, good thought though!
I do like the idea of simple, base recommendations with context-driven extras. Plus, in-depth guides on what you found each piece of equipment useful for, common situations you ran into with equipment or deployments, how you dealt with them. This kind of thing could be like a blog you do regularly as you go so it's not too time consuming. A small community could help you curate it or answer common questions on a forum or something.
Anyway, thanks for your efforts as I found all that info useful in putting together cost ranges for some people. Personally, I'm wanting something similar for fiber maybe like Sonic does or those folks in Britain rolling it out in rural areas. The wireless I'm collecting for others or just as a fallback option for any project I get into if fiber is too infeasible.
I checked out riot.im but honestly I found the interface really confusing. Also, the lack of integration to a major auth service like Google/Twitter/Github/etc is a real turn off for me.
Matrix is decentralized, using centralized auth wouldn't work.
You could even host your own matrix homeserver to talk in that room. (like email, or XMPP)
It would be easy to move. Just upload the web site files to a Github repository with index.html in the root path, and turn on Github pages in the setting tab.
Other benefits that immediately come to mind are:
- Anyone can submit suggestions, these are called Pull Requests.
- Eventually you can add trusted community members as collaborators and they can edit pages directly.
- There is already a massive community that know this interface.
- It's free for public sites.
- Last but not least, it's super easy to edit the site, just do it directly in the browser, no need for builds, deploy scripts, etc.
Also there's this mailing-list (in english) dedicated to sharing knowledge between DIY ISP, a database and map of DIY ISP, this series of blog posts (in french) documenting how to build an ISP and a wiki page centralizing resources about building a non-profit ISP on the FFDN wiki (Non profit ISP Federation from France).
Things to note - you're not buying a regular residential or even a business line, you're (usually) buying a dedicated Internet Access line and dealing with an entirely different group for sales/support. It does seem kind of strange at first but I think the reality is that the raw bandwidth isn't one of the main costs for those companies, it's the support/last mile build&maintenance etc that's expensive to them - so if you're willing to give them some money and take that part off their hands they don't seem to mind.
Also - there are plenty of other companies selling fiber that don't also sell residential Internet products, so you're not always buying from them.
1. What is your advice for WISP that operate internationally to get upstream connection?
2. Can you also include about using LTE instead of just WiFi?
Transit is likely to be cheaper until you get big enough to hire someone to do this analysis for you. At that point, they will probably look at purchasing some small amount of transit from a larger ISP (e.g. Megaport, Verizon, etc) to allow you to peer freely with your largest sources of traffic. E.g. if you have a lot of Korean families who stream a lot from Korea, it might make sense to get a gig or two of bandwidth to Korea, and putting a router there to peer with Naver, etc. rather than paying for those 1 - 2 Gbps of transit. But it's probably not really going to make sense until you're in the 10's of Gbps.
My main question is, how is the latency of these wireless networks? How well do these roof antennas perform in rain or covered in snow?
Is gaming suitable with wireless ISPs such as common.net?
And finally, what are the biggest complaints from your customers?
The other questions I think were answered below but this is a great one so I'll answer it directly. Biggest complaints that I currently see / would expect people to see:
1) No public IP addresses (this is addressed on the site and elsewhere in the thread)
2) No TV package, have to cut the cord
3) Can't provide service everywhere. "My neighbor can get it why can't I?" Well .. your house is 1 story buried in trees, unfortunately.
4) Sometimes wireless is just weird and there are things that don't work, especially when you're optimizing for a cheap home install. Some customers have a bad experience and as hard as we try we can't ever get it much better.
These numbers are from an 802.11ac based network using proprietary MAC (Mikrotik NStreme), YMMV.
Here's a 2 mile link @780Mbps modulation rate, tested with ping -s 1500:
72 packets transmitted, 72 received, 0% packet loss, time 71108ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 1.051/3.132/26.567/4.466 ms
Here's a 10 mile link @650Mbps modulation:
122 packets transmitted, 122 received, 0% packet loss, time 121164ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 0.984/2.174/20.479/3.260 ms
And finally here's stats over the two links combined (the path between my office and civilization):
68 packets transmitted, 68 received, 0% packet loss, time 67102ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 1.755/4.471/14.968/3.658 ms
Note that if you allow too much traffic on these links they will saturate and QoS will go to crap. So careful traffic shaping is in order. They are half-duplex so achievable throughput is much lower than the modulation rate (these links are delivering me around 250Mbits/s).
At unlicensed frequencies (2-6GHz) snow and weather are generally not a problem. You do have to choose antenna design wisely : the satellite dish type antennas that have a separate reflector can get snowed up, but people here in snow country are aware of that issue and brush the snow away. Rain fade is not a practical problem : you need some link received power margin for reliable operation and the worst that happens is rain eats into that a bit. Lightning is a much bigger issue in my experience: you need to be aware of proper grounding techniques (which can be expensive) and you need to be prepared to replace some gear every year due to EMP damage. Also fyi you want to at all costs avoid deploying CPE antennas on a roof. The roof is a nightmare for access, insurance costs, risk of causing leaks, and potential injury. For that reason WISPs will try to mount on a eave, soffit etc rather on the roof surface.
My son uses our network for gaming and while he does complain quite often about QoS, when I investigate the problem is _always_ with our upstream provider or the server end and never to do with our network.
OP stated above that he is using licensed spectrum for backhaul (probably 11 or 18GHz) and therefore will have better latency (full-duplex radios and hence lower MAC overhead).
Secondly, looking at common.net, how did you arrive at 75Mbps as the offering speed?
75mbps is what we feel like we can reasonably achieve across our entire user base. Most of our customers are up to double that.
I'd certainly be interested in an option other than Comcast. However, I do admit to being spoiled with the 200+Mbps that I'm currently getting.
Unfortunately, to rain on the parade a little: note that it is hard using wireless (due to technical limitations to do with Shannon capacity) to compete with a copper coax provider. It really doesn't work notwithstanding the OP's claim that they can deliver 75Mbits/s to subs. I really don't know how he is doing that unless they are all fed with dedicated point-to-point links (which won't scale and costs $$).
The real scary one was servicing a relay site on top of a bank late at night and the cops showing up guns blazing thinking the place was being robbed ;)
Big disadvantage is cost - you have to run a core which is very expensive ($100k+) Or you can use BaiCells and they'll rent you use of their core for fairly cheap.
LTE itself is good but you'd need to build a proper core network for it - at the moment none of the off-the-shelf gear you can buy is any good.
This is very timely for me. I actually had just started paying a consultant to help me plan out a WISP, because it's so overwhelming starting out because you don't even know what questions to ask to get started (the internet is a great resource for so many things... but much less helpful when you don't have well-formed questions!). So far everything I'm seeing lines up with what I've researched myself or what my consultant has helped me with, so this seems to be an amazing free resource!
I even already learned something in the first couple sections - I had been using Google Earth Pro to scout potential tower locations, and I knew what a viewshed was, but I thought I was going to have to pay for ArcGIS or another program to generate them. For some reason I thought Google Earth Pro could only do elevation profiles! It's cool you mentioned using a drone; I was already thinking of doing that and it's awesome to know that's not a weird thing to do. Have you heard of drone photogrammetry before? It's probably overkill but it seems like an interesting concept for generating high resolution viewsheds (i.e. taking foliage and other obstacles that won't show up on a topographic map into account).
My consultant helped me find a fiber backhaul solution; CenturyLink fiber dominates my area so I'm either going to be buying transit directly from them or buying transport to an internet exchange at the nearest metro area (the latter sounds way more fun to me and has some interesting peering options). But I'm still at the point of evaluating the customer base. So one thing that I'd like to see is more details on how to make first contact with potential customers to gauge their feelings towards a new ISP. So far I'm thinking of buying a list of mailing address from a mailing list broker, then mailing out postcards with a link to a Google Forms survey (and maybe an alternate option of just calling me if they don't currently have internet service). But I don't know how this is typically done.
I'd also like to see a section on skillsets that an ISP operator should develop. I started studying for the CCNA because I want to be able to wrap my head around the carrier-grade networking that will belie the business. It would be interesting to hear your opinion on how much you can punt on these kinds of skills vs. what you really need to know, or even when you should just hire the work out.
I also signed up to take a course on fiber optic outside plant planning because some day I'd like to level up to being a FTTH ISP. That's a whole different ballgame since you basically have to operate a construction company to plow/blow/splice all the fiber, deal with all the permitting, insane CAPEX etc. I know that's getting way ahead of myself and I should just focus on only WISP-related things to start but that's what I wish I could do if I were a millionaire. But if you have any experience with fiber ISPs I would be really interested in seeing that on your website as well (later!).
Another cool topic to cover (sorry if I missed it) would be the whole process of putting up an actual tower - I've heard that it can often be as cost-effective to erect your own rather than leasing (like pays for itself in 2-3 years). I was just reading a series of blog articles a couple weeks ago by a guy who put up a ham radio tower that had lots of very interesting info and pics.
The Post Office (in the US anyway) will mail a postcard to every household in a defined area for reasonable cost.
Remember to get good insurance if you construct or climb towers.
Honestly I really question your sanity though. Think of all the people who decide they are going to open a restaurant: we shake our heads at the large subset of them who have absolutely no restaurant experience. We know that in order to make money at a restaurant you at least need to absolutely nail the whole making food that people like to eat and making the place pleasant and inviting and all that (execution). If you don't have that, you're doomed for sure. And then some large proportion of even the experienced restaurant folks still fail -- we look at their efforts and shake our heads "well they should have known this town doesn't have a big enough market for a fine dining place", and so on.
As someone who does know all about how to build and run a wireless ISP, I'm reading your post like how most folks look at a doomed new restaurant opening.
Sorry to be a party pooper but I figure I may save you some $$$. I think at least you need to be doing this in a place where there is _no_ competition besides satellite. If there is even just regular LTE service people will scrape by with that rather than pay you for better service. If there are traditional providers (Coax/HFC, DSL) then forget about it.
I hate comcast with a passion, they are on the only provider in my area. Here's another fantasy, I imagine two points of presence, one at my house. I run fiber to my house as part of this business, then I've got infinite capacity. Who's up for this?
How much does it cut out if it rains, probably that is a problem here.
Rain can be planned around. Rain has a very predictable effect on wireless connections (called rain fade) so what you do is look at the heaviest rain storms from the last few years and put that in to the wireless link budgets and make sure you're broadcasting loud enough and your links are short enough that they won't fail in a rainstorm.
Then of course you also have to spend some extra time making sure all your devices are weather proofed properly.
There's no reason this can't work in a heavy rain area. Heavy tree cover is a bigger problem, though.
A few UK companies (easynet springs to mind) had "virtual ISPs" where you pay to use all their infrastructure (hosting, email, dialup, etc.) and get branded pages / etc.
I don't think any of them have survived to the modern era though.
If this is something people are interested in though reach out to me! I may be able to line something like this up.
It’s run by 2 older guys who do software dev in Boulder. They use all Ubiquiti gear, backhaul with microwave and then directional WiFi between the houses.
It’s quite impressive. We’re in a heavily mountainous area, handling ~2k vertical feet and ~20 miles back to a fiber line.
Now if only I could get symmetrical 20mbps. Currently at 5/2 and it is a bit slow. From what I understand they recently got licensed for some new spectrum. Fingers crossed!
Watching them has really made me want to either join them or work on my own WISP.
Find a program that can measure the propagation of EM waves(for a WISP that's normally microwaves) Quite a few are listed at http://www.astrosurf.com/luxorion/qsl-review-propagation-sof...
I really liked the book Deploying License-Free Wireless Wide-Area Networks if you're completely new to large scale wireless.
I think my main question about starting a WISP these days is how the hell can I find out who to talk to about getting access to a certain tower and if there is fiber at the tower available for tie-in.
My grandparents live in a mountain village that gets lots of tourists in the summer, and it's in a valley with a large tower on top of one of the mountains that has los for the entire valley, but I can't seem to figure out who to ask about costs/contracts etc. With the tourist influx though I could easily see it being fairly profitable, and there is no other ISP option besides sat and frontiernet.
If it's an actual cell phone tower you're looking at you can usually find it on the FCC website and find out who manages the tower. Most cell phone towers are managed by a third party management company (like Crown Castle or American Tower). The management company can usually tell you if there's fiber although their info is often outdated or just wrong. Even if the tower is owned and managed directly by a cell phone company they are still required to allow you to collocate (FCC!) but they will usually drag their feet through the process - plan on 9-12months and lots of red tape.
As for finding fiber - you can use a paid solution like fiberlocator.com. You can also drive around and look for fiber infrastructure, although admittedly it's hard to recognize if you don't know what you're looking for (or even if you do.) Frustratingly even when you find a company with fiber in the area they usually won't tell you where exactly the termination points are. You can sometimes give them a list of addresses and they'll give back yes/no for each one, though.
A Google search for "<muni> GIS map" usually has some pretty promising leads.
No way! Is that only for ISPs or could I get a ham repeater up there if I had enough time/money?
Very cool though, always awesome to hear how this stuff works in practice.
There are Christian ones. There are Jewish ones. And there are ultra-orthodox Jewish ones that allow only a short whitelist of sites. It seems to be a declining business; "kleenweb" and "koshernet" are gone. "crosswayisp.net" is still selling dial-up.
They have some of the fastest speeds in NYC and they had uptime surpassing numerous big names like Spectrum and Optimum after Sandy.
With Verizon Fios you can get 100 Mbps symmetric at $80/month. (Also, why are bkfiber's speeds not symmetric? I thought all fiber connections had upload == download.)
These guys are just a small business trying to deliver a high quality network.
They are getting real unthrottled results from their users who have had similar speeds from Spectrum / Timewarner / Optimum.
I think their pitch (at least a few years ago) was that they would deliver the actual speeds they are promising equally.
I'll admit though I was paying $100/month for 300/15 in Bushwick before I moved. It's probably hard to remain competitive.
But then they just released a 60Ghz short range radio ... so maybe the rumor was wrong!
Having been employed by an ISP and decided to do something with less night time hours and more floors above ground with windows, I have the habit of doing free consultations (meddling) in order to stay up to date.
Currently I warmly recommend Mikrotik (not their CRS-series though) since they have very little limitations. The most recent case involved pre-purchased AirOS-devices and it's lack of virtual AP:s. Why I find this a drawback is how Ethernet and Internet Protocol are designed. It was never meant to be that customers should share broadcast domains, a privilege that enterprise customers are granted but consumers rarely are.
To make a first class network experience for both ISP and customer, give every legal entity their own broadcast domain and subnet (read: routing in access layer). As WISP:s, you should be conservative on allowing unnecesary brodcast-packets to propagate, especially through half-duplex links. This also defends your network from rogue DHCP and what not that might bring the entire network more or less down. I've designed a few FTTH-networks this way and these networks have never been disturbed by customer shenanigans.
I route because my cheap devices can route ;)
A long time ago, I looked it up again to see what the cheapest, budget setup was. I still have this bookmark of an open design I found:
Past that, I don't know any more since I just had basic training on it as I said.
The parts are extremely expensive if you want a high data rate.
The acquisition logic for creating a link is very difficult as one has to aim their beam just perfectly.
I'd say it's not ready for prime time.
What finally got me started up on it was seeing how fast and cheap some of the wireless equipment had gotten, specifically Ubiquiti's wireless mesh equipment. Still need a lot of research on how to engineer a solution to my situation.
Years later we got ADSL but last year they cut the copper wires and now wireless (up to 4G) is the only option, and it works so so.
There's kind of a battle going on between proper fiber (realistic because of subsidies/EU grants) and WISP proponents currently. Marketers of the latter like to call it "air fiber" but that's not really fair IMHO.
In the past what I've seen is that the police will ask you to identify who was using an IP and also to help them catch the person in the act if they do the thing again. So far I haven't seen them get too pushy if you can't do the first thing as long as you're willing to do the second.
> In the past what I've seen is that the police will ask you to identify who was using an IP and also to help them catch the person in the act if they do the thing again
What's the method to catch the person in the act? Is it something like creating a rule: "if [this website] was visited between [foo] and [bar] notify me" at the routing level?
Let the majors/govs do the work of spying and detecting piracy / illegal websites, and just answer to subpoenas, that will be enough.
A toxin is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms [...]
Toxins can be small molecules, peptides, or proteins that are capable of causing disease on contact with or absorption by body tissues interacting with biological macromolecules such as enzymes or cellular receptors.
I've never heard this before. Don't want to dismiss it as tin-foil paranoia without reading the data!
Re French law against Wifi in daycare centers:
Belgium bans sale of cellphones to children:
I know it's a bit personal, but would you mind attaching numbers to the notion of small scale profitability?
My back of the napkin calculations usually show that to give one person a health salary ($80-120k) and pay a few contractors or lower wage workers to do some of the grunt work you would need 300-500 residential customers.
There are already plenty in Aus:
Clear Networks (VIC - Melbourne & many regional)
Uniti (VIC - Melbourne, SA - Adelaide)
The Signal co (ACT - Canberra)
Netspeed (ACT - Canberra)
nuSkope (SA - Adelaide, QLD - Brisbane)
Red Broadband (WA - Perth)
Node 1 (WA - Perth & Geraldton)
AirFiber (NSW - West Sydney)
Good discussions on http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum/18
Your biggest challenge is likely to be access to dark fibre or leased-lines at acceptable prices that allow you to make money. Licensed wireless backhaul is often the way to go, but that gets expensive quickly and also some existing spectrum there is likely to get re-allocated to 5G.
I seem to remember a funny video on YouTube where a tech opened a radome and a metric ton of acorns fell out. I'd pull it up, but I'm on mobile.
At my current company we're in a lovely area (Bay area, no wonder everyone wants to live here!) Without too much weather to deal with.
In the past I've built networks in the Rocky Mountains (Utah, Idaho) and desert areas (Texas, Nevada, New Mexico) and Louisiana. So dealing with snow, ice, rain and lightning are the biggest issues I've seen. I'm planning a whole section dedicated to these things - sign up for updates on the site so you don't miss it :)
Judging by how extensive the guide is, I guess there's a lot of room to make things easier? perhaps someone can build a suite of tools to assist in this process, perhaps automate things?
Meanwhile, MIMO capabilities are improving steadily; not quite the same approach but functional and proven for use today. Never plan a business model on another company's promises.
Another piece of delayed hardware was Mimosa's window CPE that never made it to full production due to underperforming results.
Curious about startup costs/financing.
I wouldn't do it with less than $100k on the assumption you are burning money for the first year and any income is reinvested into marketing.
You probably need a minimum of 500 people for this to be viable.
I usually guess 300-500 customers to be able to pay yourself a reasonable salary and maintain the business, depending on how much you hire vs do yourself.
We have a high population density in the downtown area and folks favor local over corporate offerings around here.
Keep up the good work on documentation - it was very interesting to read yesterday.
One aside, what do you consider an appropriate salary to pay yourself when you reach that 300-500 user mark.
I currently run a business and it's been a situation where at times I'll trim my salary back, and make my money on the backend when I am profitable. I'd presume much of the same approach would work here, just curious.
Also seems 100MB rates down and 5mb up in my neighborhood costs around $40/month - do you try to compete heavily on rates?
> what do you consider an appropriate salary to pay yourself when you reach that 300-500 user mark.
Depends on your situation obviously but something like 80-120k.
> Also seems 100MB rates down and 5mb up in my neighborhood costs around $40/month - do you try to compete heavily on rates?
That's not too bad! If people are satisfied with that then it might be tough to get customers. It could be that those are advertised speeds but people aren't actually seeing those speeds, esp at night when they try to watch netflix, so that could be a selling point - even a lower but more consistent speed package can sometimes win over a flashy marketed package that doesn't deliver. Also if people really hate the cable company enough (many do!) then they'll switch even for the same price. Doesn't have to be the lowest cost option (but it definitely helps!)