Meet WISP, the Wireless Future of Internet Service
No cable or phone line required. No satellite lag. Traditional ISPs should be nervous.
Mon, December 02, 2013
PC World — The Internet connection we all rely on is about to change, now that WISP is coming to town.
Most people get Internet service from either a telephone company or a cable company because those providers already provide physical connections to their homes and businesses. A WISP (wireless Internet service provider) doesn't need to bring wire to your location, making it a good solution for serving rural areas where telcos and cable companies couldn't be bothered to invest. WISP was unable to match the speed and reliability of DSL and cable modems, however, until recently. As wireless technology has evolved, WISPs are beginning to compete in urban areas on speed and price. Here's how it works.
What makes a WISP
A WISP is distinct from other wireless services we currently use. Most cell-phone service providers offer wireless Internet service--with 4G LTE being the fastest current technology--but that doesn't make them WISPs. Cell-phone service providers don't expect you to use their service 24/7, and most place very low caps on the amount of data you can transfer over their networks each month (and charge hefty fees if you exceed that amount). Being able to access the Internet while you're out and about is a distinct advantage, but LTE data rates are relatively slow, and coverage can be spotty--especially away from large metropolitan areas.
Satellite TV providers that also provide wireless Internet service, such as Dish Network, are closer to being WISPs. They can deliver wireless Internet service to any home that has a clear view of the southern sky. But the data must travel very long distances, which limits the service's speed, and lag can be a big problem--especially for playing games.
A true WISP is a mix of cellular provider and satellite provider elements. Like a cell provider, it mounts antennas on towers (or atop buildings) to transmit signals, and it installs an antenna--or in some cases, a dish--on the customer's home or building. Like a satellite service provider, it typically delivers service to a fixed location.
Comparing pricing and features
Most WISPs offer tiered service levels, charging higher fees for faster speeds and/or more bandwidth. Like telcos, cable companies, and other ISPs, WISPs typically require you to commit to a one- or two-year contract, and they charge an installation or activation fee.
Most WISPs are regional operators that serve limited areas. Netlinx, for instance, serves residential and business customers in southern Pennsylvania. The company's prices for residential service range from $30 to $80 per month. At the low end, you get download speeds of up to 1 mbps, with speed bursts of up to 3 mbps. Upload speeds at this tier are 512 kilobits per second. At the high end, you get download speeds of up to 15 mbps (with bursts up to 30 mbps) and upload speeds of 3 mbps.