Small Cells and hybrid networks for WISPs: Part 1

Update. Due to some weirdness with a server move this article has been updated at

The never-ending goal of any Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) is how to get ever-increasing levels of bandwidth to clients. The always increasing demands, by customers,  on WISPs, and ISPs, in general, are becoming an everyday problem for many operators.  Building a business model on unlicensed spectrum can be a shaky foundation.  Interference and changing rules are just a few things which can influence how a WISP deploys services to a customer. Before we get into this, let’s take a step back and look at how many WISPs have been deploying services up until recently.

The “historical” WISP deployment has been to find the tallest structure around and locate some access points on it.  From there they try and reach out as far as they can to pick up customers.  This distance to the customer may be 3 miles, 5 miles, or even further depending on terrain. When an AP gets too full, you typically add a new one and make sure your antennas don’t overlap as much.   In the past installing customers at these distances has been fine for the 3, 5 and maybe even 10 meg packages which have been sold over the years.  However, the modern definition of broadband by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is 25 megabyte25 Megabits download by 3 Megabits upload. A good number of households are “getting by” with far less, but these customers need access to faster connections.

One way to meet this demand is to take a playbook from the cellular carriers. Small cells, or Micropops as many refer to them as can be a tremendous tool in your toolbox. For this series, I am going to refer to what I am talking about as a small cell and not a micro pop.  Why am I making this distinction? Small cells are something folks familiar with cellular operators understand.  This distinction may seem like such a small difference to you and me, but for the banker, or the city planner this could be a critical thing.  Many times you only have a small opening to present your case for deploying services to a neighborhood or other area.   This opening could be a twenty-minute meeting on a busy Monday or at a town hall meeting with 10 other things on the agenda.  Why not use terms which everyone is familiar with.

One way to increase data rates and modulation to clients is to decrease the distance they are from the Access Point (AP) and the number of clients on the AP.  Cleaner clients on an AP make for a better performing access point. The fewer obstructions you have to go through and even the less air you have to go through allows you to increase modulation to your clients on the AP.  If the clients are closer to the AP, they experience less interference. Imagine how many fewer things your AP hears if it is limited to a one-mile radius as opposed to a five-mile radius

So imagine your typical suburban neighborhood.  This may be a collection of houses in a subdivision within a 1-3 mile radius.

Typical single family home subdivision

Due to houses, terrain, and trees, you may not be able to service these homes with the needed 25meg downloads they are expecting from the historical setup I mentioned above. The tower is just too far awa and is going through too many things to scale to customer demand.

This problem is where the neighborhood small-cell can come in and solve.  Due to land and Home Owner Association (HOA) policies putting up the typical WISP tower is not feasible.  Many homeowners do not want industrial things cluttering up their views, even if it means delivering the high-speed internet they are wanting. Towers can bring down property value.  In our photo above, several poles or small towers ranging from 40-80 feet would be inconspicuous enough to blend in with the neighborhood.

Small Cell on a Pole

Each of these poles may service as many as 20-30 homes. This small customer count per AP keeps the customer count on the AP low, so you are not oversubscribing the Access Points, and also allows each customer to have the max signal to their nearest AP. Due to customers reliance on speed test servers, being able to provide what you sell is critical.  If you are selling 200 meg packages, then the customer should be able to run a 200 meg speed test. In an earlier article, I talk about the problems with speed test servers, but your customers want to get what they expect.

So now that we know why small cells are essential to a WISP, our next articles in this series will focus on the technical aspects of small cell, integrating them into your existing infrastructure, and showing deploying them is not really that scary, hard or expensive.

Calling all Texas ISPs to the 2019 US Mikrotik user meeting

Are you an ISP in texas? Are you looking for better connectivity? Come visit midwest-ix for our new partnership in texas-ix at the US mum in Austin this coming Thursday and Friday (April 4th and 5th 2019).

If you haven’t registered today go over to the MidWest-IX facebook page and send us a message for your ticket, which includes free meals.  You don’t get the free lunches with the standard ticket.

#usmum2019 #peering #keeptrafficlocal

Cord Cutters and the ISP

Dish Network (Stock: Dish) reported a net loss of 334,000 pay TV subscribers (compared to net additions of 39,000 one year ago), which factors out to 386,000 satellite subscribers lost and 52,000 new Sling TV subscribers. The company finished out the quarter with 12.32 million total pay TV subscribers, including 9.90 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.42 million Sling TV subscribers.

One of the key takeaways is Dish lost traditional satellite customers but picked up additional Sling TV customers. These are IPTV type customers.  If your network isn’t supporting video, it needs to.

MTIN Flash Briefing Feb 7 2019: Arin and 5G news

Your flash briefing for Thursday, February 7, 2019


Potential Misuse of ARIN unmet requests list

At their business meeting in January 2019, the ARIN Board of Trustees,
in light of the potential misuse of number resources under NRPM section
4.1.8 (Unmet Requests), suspended issuance of number resources per NRPM
section (Fulfilling unmet needs), and referred NRPM section
4.1.8 to the ARIN Advisory Council for their recommendation. ARIN will
complete open transactions to waiting list organizations where IPv4
addresses have already been approved pending fee payment.

5G isn’t the answer for rural broadband

Verizon halting 5G home deployments

Firmware Updates
IgniteNet –


SaaS aka why I should pay per month for billing

The topic of paying per user for a billing or management platforms comes up every so often.  I was able to sit down and talk with several vendors at WISPAPALOOZA this year about the value of their customers paying a per-user fee.

The most prevalent thought is about innovation and new features.  SaaS allows the billing vendor to invest development and testing time in rolling out new features to support new equipment, and other software.  LTE platforms are the hot thing in billing integration. New additions to software take people power and hours of testing and tweaking. Without monthly recurring revenue to drive such things billing vendors would have to develop this and then charge to the early adopters as an add-on.  This can be a double-edged sword. The early adopters have to pay a premium in order to get a partial solution because the vendor has to really prioritize how their development resources are used. The Vendor is always chasing the next big thing, which means other additions or fixes tend to get pushed back. They have to finish add-ons they think more folks will want to buy first.

The next thing is plain old hosting. Hosting a software application, whether in the cloud or on your own hardware costs money.  Co-location, software patches on the OS, hardware lifecycles, etc.  This cuts down on the end-user maintenance side of the hardware but pushes it back to the vendor. The peace of mind of knowing the thing that collects your money is running is backed up, and is available as part of the monthly fee you pay.

SaaS also allows for quicker releases of bugs and new features.  Vendors have more resources dedicated to development and changes. This allows for new add-ons to become available quicker.  Take the traditional model where you get bug fixes, but major feature add-ons are either a full point upgrade or major version upgrade. This usually costs money and is a slower process.  Not only does the vendor have to spend resources advertising, but they have to deal with support and other issues. With billing vendors who charge a monthly fee fixes from companies such as Paypal or are almost always rolled out very quickly at no additional charge to the end user ISP.

Some companies such as Basecamp, which is not a billing platform, have taken a hybrid approach to SaaS. Every major revision that comes out is an upgrade. You can choose to upgrade or stay where you are and pay the same amount.  This can leave customers behind but still allows them to use what they are paying for.  They just don’t get new features or bug fixes.

So the next time you are figuring out why you should pay for a billing platform on a monthly, customer, or subscription basis take all of this into account.

For those looking for xISP billing, and mainly WISP billing, here is a partial list: (Platypus)

If you have more please add them in the comments.

The problem with peering from a logistics standpoint

Many ISPs run into this problem as part of their growing pains.  This scenario usually starts happening with their third or 4th peer.

Scenario.  ISP grows beyond the single connection they have.  This can be 10 meg, 100 meg, gig or whatever.  They start out looking for redundancy. The ISP brings in a second provider, usually at around the same bandwidth level.  This way the network has two pretty equal paths to go out.

A unique problem usually develops as the network grows to the point of peaking the capacity of both of these connections.  The ISP has to make a decision. Do they increase the capacity to just one provider? Most don’t have the budget to increase capacities to both providers. Now, if you increase one you are favouring one provider over another until the budget allows you to increase capacity on both. You are essentially in a state where you have to favor one provider in order to keep up capacity.  If you fail over to the smaller pipe things could be just as bad as being down.

This is where many ISPs learn the hard way that BGP is not load balancing. But what about padding, communities, local-pref, and all that jazz? We will get to that.  In the meantime, our ISP may have the opportunity to get to an Internet Exchange (IX) and offload things like streaming traffic.  Traffic returns to a little more balance because you essentially have a 3rd provider with the IX connection. But, they growing pains don’t stop there.

As ISP’s, especially WISPs, have more and more resources to deal with cutting down latency they start seeking out better-peered networks.  The next growing pain that becomes apparent is the networks with lots of high-end peers tend to charge more money.  In order for the ISP to buy bandwidth they usually have to do it in smaller quantities from these types of providers. This introduces the probably of a mismatched pipe size again with a twist. The twist is the more, and better peers a network has the more traffic is going to want to travel to that peer. So, the more expensive peer, which you are probably buying less of, now wants to handle more of your traffic.

So, the network geeks will bring up things like padding, communities, local-pref, and all the tricks BGP has.  But, at the end of the day, BGP is not load balancing.  You can *influence* traffic, but BGP does not allow you to say “I want 100 megs of traffic here, and 500 megs here.”  Keep in mind BGP deals with traffic to and from IP blocks, not the traffic itself.

So, how does the ISP solve this? Knowing about your upstream peers is the first thing.  BGP looking glasses, peer reports such as those from Hurricane Electric, and general news help keep you on top of things.  Things such as new peering points, acquisitions, and new data centers can influence an ISPs traffic.  If your equipment supports things such as netflow, sflow, and other tools you can begin to build a picture of your traffic and what ASNs it is going to. This is your first major step. Get tools to know what ASNs the traffic is going to   You can then take this data, and look at how your own peers are connected with these ASNs.  You will start to see things like provider A is poorly peered with ASN 2906.

Once you know who your peers are and have a good feel on their peering then you can influence your traffic.  If you know you don’t want to send traffic destined for ASN 2906 in or out provider A you can then start to implement AS padding and all the tricks we mentioned before.  But, you need the greater picture before you can do that.

One last note. Peering is dynamic.  You have to keep on top of the ecosystem as a whole.