WISPs shaking up broadband space

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) are going from strength to strength – mainly due to improved service delivery and more competitive pricing.

July 30, 2007
WISPs shaking up broadband space

The Wireless Access Providers’ Association of South Africa (WAPA) has doubled its membership over the last nine months and continues to show strong growth.

According to WAPA secretary, Eugene van der Merwe, the 32 WAPA members are currently supplying broadband to around 10 000 residential and business customers. The WAPA members are however mostly situated in the Western and Eastern Cape, and the total number of WISP clients country-wide most likely exceeds 30 000.

Van der Merwe – who also founded the ISP and WISP Snowball Effect – said that they have seen a drastic change in the type of customers using WISPs over the last year. While their initial subscribers were mostly residential users, an increasing number of medium and large businesses are now making use of services from these wireless providers.

He believes that this change is due to the fact that larger corporations are beginning to realize that many of the wireless providers are not fly-by-night operators and that their services are stable and reliable. He further points out that WISPs offer more affordable services than the larger operators and that their service levels are generally superior.

Van der Merwe says that businesses are starting to trust the technologies used and the technical know-how of WISPs. WISPs generally roll out WiFi networks using the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz ISM spectrum bands.

Network coverage growing

The area covered by services from WISPs has increased rapidly over the last year.

Conservative estimates suggest that over 80% of the greater Cape Town area has been covered by WAPA members, and that this coverage has already extended to more rural areas in the Western and Eastern Cape.

One of the biggest growth areas has been the farming regions of the Western Cape where farm owners have no access to broadband offerings from the likes of Telkom or iBurst. Unhappy with slow dial-up, ISDN or EDGE connections, the farm owners are keen to support the faster and more affordable services offered by WISPs.

Van der Merwe further points out that WISPs – through WAPA – have formed a supportive relationship where they assist potential customers to get connected and share technical knowledge about network design and other related issues.

Some WISPs are also interconnecting with each other to expand their coverage areas and to create a more robust network.

WiFi has long been touted as a great technology to bring affordable broadband access to a larger portion of the South African population, and despite critics questioning the technology’s capabilities, WISPs are forging ahead – providing thousands of clients with stable, reliable broadband services.

The most impressive part of these developments is that it is not done through government funding or on a trial basis, but rather on a sustainable commercial level requiring competitive prices and acceptable service levels.

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