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Step 1: Assessing the Geographic Area

Before initiating any construction or expenditure, it is crucial to carefully choose a geographic area with specific characteristics that align with your business goals. Consider the following key factors for evaluation:

1. Usable Relay Sites:

  • Your wireless network will rely on relay sites hosting wireless access points for customer connections.
  • Ensure potential relay sites are strategically positioned on buildings, radio towers, water tanks, or homes.
  • Maintain a clear line of sight from relay sites to customer rooftops for reliable service, considering obstacles like trees, hills, or buildings.

2. Home Density:

  • Suburban areas often prove ideal for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs).
  • Balance between rural and urban areas, avoiding low tower occupancy in rural settings and line-of-sight challenges in dense urban environments.
  • Aim for at least 50 customers per tower, considering a 10% take rate, and verify the visibility of around 500 rooftops within a 3-5 mile radius.

3. Types of Houses/Roofs:

  • Assess the types of rooftops prevalent in the chosen area.
  • Differentiate between easy-to-install shingle roofs and more complex tile roofs.
  • Plan installations accordingly and consider the need for specialized technicians for certain roof types.
  • Explore opportunities and challenges presented by Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs), such as apartment buildings and townhomes.

4. Topography:

  • Consider the topography of the area in terms of hills and valleys.
  • Hills can aid in establishing clear line of sight, especially if relay sites are positioned at higher elevations.
  • Be cautious of excessive hills, as they may hinder finding suitable relay sites with adequate line of sight.

5. Fiber Availability:

  • Secure an upstream fiber connection for customer connectivity, typically obtained from a telecom provider.
  • Preferably choose areas with existing fiber connections (on-net buildings) to minimize additional trenching costs.
  • Explore options for Dedicated Internet Access from data centers and potential co-location of wireless equipment.

6. Competition:

  • Evaluate the existing Internet service landscape in the area.
  • Identify customer satisfaction levels with current providers and potential hurdles in convincing them to switch.
  • Understand preferences for bundled services (TV/Phone/Internet) and consider educating customers on alternatives like streaming services.
  • Conduct surveys among neighbors and friends to gauge willingness to switch providers and tailor service packages based on community needs, emphasizing factors like price, reliability, and speed.

By thoroughly evaluating these characteristics, you lay the groundwork for a successful Internet Service Provider venture in Kenya.

Fiber Providers: A Comprehensive Guide

Launching an Internet Service Provider (ISP) necessitates a robust connection to the public Internet. Opting for a fiber connection from an established provider is often the most effective strategy. Fiber infrastructure, funded through grants and sometimes underutilized, offers unexpected opportunities.

Sourcing Fiber:
If speed is of the essence, Outpost Plus, the organization supporting, can assist in locating the right fiber circuit at a competitive price.

Finding On-Net Buildings:
Identifying an on-net building with an existing fiber connection is advantageous. Consider the following criteria for selecting an ideal on-net building:

  • Cost: Seek reasonably priced options (typically $1-3k/month).
  • Existing Infrastructure: Prefer buildings with pre-installed fiber to avoid the cost and hassle of new installations.
  • Proximity: Choose a location close to your customer base, facilitating the establishment of an efficient relay site.

Start your search in suburban office buildings near larger cities, as they often have available fiber and may offer lease options for relay equipment placement.

Leased Fiber Lines:
Explore reputable companies providing leased fiber lines in the U.S., including but not limited to:

  • Lineserve
  • Comcast
  • Crown Castle
  • Fiberlight
  • Hurricane Electric
  • Lumen (CenturyLink)
  • Verizon
  • Zayo

Use tools like FiberLocator for a paid solution to access a fiber map of your area.

Local Providers:
In many regions globally, local providers may not disclose service maps but can provide on-net building information if presented with a list of addresses. Compile a list of potential buildings and contact fiber providers to inquire about on-net status.

Determining Bandwidth Requirements:
Contrary to common belief, a 1Gbps fiber connection can serve 150-250 customers effectively, regardless of the speed plans offered. Customers tend to exhibit consistent data usage across different speed packages.

Lease Negotiation:
Once you identify a building with a fiber connection, engage with the property manager to negotiate a lease for installing your equipment. Refer to Step 3: Find Relay Sites for tips on effective lease negotiation.

Ordering Fiber Connection:
Initiate the order for the fiber connection as early as possible, considering a potential 90-day lead time for activation, even if the sales representative suggests otherwise.

Qualities of a Good Relay Site:

Establishing an effective relay site is crucial for the success of your Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP). Here are key attributes to consider when selecting a relay site:

  1. Line of Sight (LOS):
  • Back to Fiber or Another Relay: Ensure a clear line of sight from the relay site to your fiber connection or another relay. This is essential for establishing a wireless backhaul connection.
  • To Customers: For profitability, the relay site should have a clear line of sight to several hundred rooftops to cover a substantial customer base.
  1. Access to Power:
  • 115V AC Power: Ensure easy access to 115V AC power. Overlooked at times, this is critical for powering your equipment. Confirm that rooftops and structures like telephone poles or water tanks have accessible power outlets.
  1. Mounting Space:
  • Equipment Attachment: Verify that there is a suitable place to mount your equipment on the structure. Ensure secure and feasible attachment options.
  1. 24/7 Maintenance Access:
  • Maintenance Accessibility: Guarantee 24/7 access for maintenance. In case of equipment failure, quick access is essential for replacements. Obtain your own set of keys and key codes for prompt access, considering the option of a lockbox on-site.

Tips on Contacting Owners and Negotiating a Lease:

  1. Cost Negotiation:
  • Negotiate the lease cost wisely. Successful WISPs typically pay between $100 – $500/month for relay sites. Offering free Internet service can sometimes be a viable negotiation strategy.
  1. Written Contracts:
  • Draft contracts carefully. Legal documentation is invaluable, so have a lawyer write or review your contracts to ensure enforceability.
  1. Lease Terms:
  • Aim for longer lease terms and secure adequate time to relocate customers if the contract is terminated unexpectedly. Consider the potential challenges of moving a significant customer base to a new site.
  1. Ownership Information:
  • If unable to contact property owners directly, check county land records for ownership information. Land titles may provide insights into property ownership.

Identifying Potential Relay Sites:

  1. AirWaive Leases:
  • Utilize services like AirWaive to identify available broadcast locations. Streamline the process of identifying and securing contracts for relay sites.
  1. On-Site Exploration:
  • Drive around the target area, visually identifying buildings or structures visible from the streets. Physically visit these locations to assess line of sight and rooftop visibility.
  1. Drone Surveys:
  • Employ a drone with a camera to survey the landscape from roof level. Fly the drone at the height of rooftops and review footage for potential relay sites. Ensure compliance with legal and responsible drone usage.
  1. FCC ASR Database:
  • Check the FCC Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) Database for registered communications towers. Contact tower owners listed in the database to explore lease possibilities.
  1. Google Earth Analysis:
  • Use Google Earth Pro for high-resolution topographic data. Identify potential relay sites, considering buildings and topographical features. Run a viewshed analysis to determine areas with line of sight to the relay site.

Selecting the right relay sites is a critical step in building a reliable and profitable WISP. Thoroughly assess each site based on these criteria to ensure the success of your network.

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