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Jun 15, 2023
6 min

No Fiber Yet? 3 Ways Wireless ISPs Can Still Compete To Win

Many headlines in the broadband industry still read like the Game of Thrones warning, with the tagline “Competition is Coming.” In this stark view of the post-broadband funding environment, where an influx of government and private funding opportunities are driving massive fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) deployments, wireless internet service providers (ISPs) are the helpless villagers soon to be destroyed by the mighty White Walkers, represented as the giant telecom and cable providers.

If you’re a wireless ISP (WISP), chances are you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about your next move. Time to plan your exit strategy? Not so fast—thankfully, there is a path forward to long-term success. While winning in the post-funding market may seem daunting, keep in mind you have powerful allies—your broadband subscribers.

A recent study shows that wireless ISP customers have the highest Net Promoter Scores® (NPS) compared to fiber, cable, and DSL customers, particularly when it comes to web browsing, streaming audio, and streaming video. The NPS is a widely adopted metric to measure customer satisfaction and, thus, loyalty.

What some in the industry are overlooking is that you’ve done a great job building your businesses and serving your broadband customers, whether they be consumers and/or small businesses. For years, wireless ISPs have used unlicensed spectrum to connect unserved and underserved subscribers via fixed wireless access (FWA) technology. But now, Tier 1 telcos, mobile providers, and cable operators want a slice of the market that they have traditionally ignored. 

The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding opportunity makes it easier for them to encroach on your markets. That’s because BEAD guidelines deem unlicensed spectrum ineligible for funding. Intended to expand high-speed internet access throughout the country, BEAD prioritizes fiber deployments for funding. This opens the door for the big broadband giants to expand their footprint with subsidized fiber and take your subscribers. 

Given that backdrop, how do you stay competitive so you can keep winning new customers, and keep the ones you have?

Joined by leaders in the WISP industry, I have participated in several events discussing the opportunity you have. My peers and I have these shared strategies for how you can position your wireless ISP to win in your markets. We agreed on three major steps:

  1. Manage the subscriber experience all the way into the home. I believe the giant broadband providers’ broadband services will include four features: Managed Wi-Fi, a mobile app, basic security, and basic parental controls. To effectively compete against the giant broadband providers, you will, at minimum, need to offer those table stake features. 

    Managed Wi-Fi is the first step. You need to deliver a high quality, consistent broadband experience independent of which radio vendors you use to provide access into the home. Look for an RG that can provide great coverage throughout the entire home, without satellites or pods, that leverages containerized applications via standards-based software that allow you to seamlessly offer new services without a truck roll. One example is Mercury Broadband. The Kansas-based provider chose the Calix Revenue EDGE™ as the foundation for two new business and residential offerings. Mercury deployed a fully managed Wi-Fi 6E experience on GigaSpire BLAST® systems, and introduced value-added managed services ProtectIQ® for wireless network security, and ExperienceIQ® for advanced wifi parental controls. Mercury is also delivering personalized, first-class support via Calix Marketing Cloud and Calix Support Cloud. As a result, Mercury is creating memorable, market-leading, managed internet experiences.  

  2. Get savvy on funding. Love it or hate it, $42.5 billion in BEAD funding will reshape the industry. You need to familiarize yourself with the various funding programs, but who wants to hire expensive consultants and lawyers? Calix has a team of dedicated broadband funding experts who provide complimentary consultations to give you the information you need to get started on applying for funding; or, if you’re not interested in getting funding but want to ensure your markets are not deemed under- or non-served, our team will show you exactly what is needed to comply with government performance testing metrics. 

    Wireless ISPs can secure broadband funds, just like Illinois-based Wisper Internet did, to expand rural communities’ access to high-quality fiber broadband and related services. 
    Many wireless ISPs are evolving to Hybrid Network providers, incorporating FTTH into their networks, and leveraging government and/or private funding to help grow their businesses. We help wireless ISPs navigate the process of architecting, deploying, and operating their fiber network, leveraging the power of Calix Intelligent Access EDGE™ to simplify their networks with a lean OPEX platform that will position their company for success. 

  3. Offer managed services to grow ARPU. A competitive environment often comes with significant pricing pressure, as BSP’s advertise promotional pricing offers to lure new subscribers. What steps can you take to maintain or even grow your Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)? By delivering premium software-based managed services on top of your broadband service, you can increase ARPU, and most of the services require no truck roll to the subscriber home. Wireless ISPs can choose from a growing ecosystem of Calix managed services to differentiate themselves and grow their value with consumers, businesses, and communities. These include online safety for kids with Bark, hometech protection with Servify Care™, HomeOfficeIQ, SmartTown™, and SmartBiz™.  For example, less than a year after Jade Communications launched Jade Security, a fully managed connected home camera system built on Arlo Secure, its ARPU skyrocketed 92 percent. 

Don’t risk being overbuilt. To learn more about how wireless ISPs are partnering with Calix to compete against broadband giants and win in their markets, visit our Wireless ISP page.

Senior Marketing Manager, Segment Marketing

Susan Higgins is the senior marketing manager, segment marketing at Calix. Susan supports the wireless ISP (WISP) segment and brings over 25 years of experience in telecommunications, focusing on communications, market research, strategy, and sales enablement. Before Calix, Susan worked for Frontier Communications, Verizon Wholesale, and Sprint. Susan holds a B.A. in mathematics and psychology, an MBA in B2B marketing, a professional diploma in customer experience, and is a certified digital marketing professional (AMA+DMI).

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