What is one piece of advice that you would give to a new WISP just starting out? Any tricks of the trade that would help others?
Spend your money from the beginning and make your network as reliable as possible from the start. Don't buy cheap equipment, because it will only end up costing you more in the long run. We are having that issue right now. Started out building our networks and providing service with Ubiquiti. A couple years later, and we're finding out that they are not reliable whatsoever, and we are losing radios left and right on top of several security flaws, and untested firmware versions that are causing more problems. We have quite a few customers with ubnt equipment, and its costing us a lot to try to start transitioning them over to Cambium.
Long story short, buy the best equipment you can afford from the start. This will minimize your headaches in the long run. By using reliable equipment, you have more happy customers. Those happy customers will do all of your advertising for you.
I 100 percent agree.
We started 17 years ago with the motorla canopy gear. We then waited for cambium to buy out the canopy equipment from motorla but the wait was to long so we went to ubquity and replaced most of our canopy 2.4 gear worst 2 years of service our company provided. Ubquity was awful well all ptmp stuff the airfibers are great backhauls and we still use them but besides that we had nothing but problems with ubnt and once we heard cambium dropped the new epmp line we jumped ship right away. We actually started putting up our old canopy gear again to replace the ubnt gear. Anyways we now are using the epmp 1000, 2000 line and 450i 900 products. Company has grown again and reliable as ever.
both tips above are spot on!
to add to that further. plan ahead. plan for disaster recovery. many people new to the business don't understand the importance of grounding theory until its to late and have lost a lot of money in gear. money spent on copper is worth its weight in gold. stand by power and recovery plans can go a long way in a good experience for your customers.
its rare but extended outages can happen, our longest so far has been 4 days without electric service at a cell tower. prior to that event we had always just gone for 24 hours of batteries only to find out how wrong that was.
customer service! huge for a lot of Internet companies period. develop a support flow and be sure everyone follows it, the early days can be hard to afford enough staff. call centers are reasonably affordable and something needing help at 11 pm will be very happy when help desk answers the phone.
take the time to research the product quality you plan on using. most of us here have had quite the headache with some popular brands like UBNT or microtik. the upfront price is appealing but when your customers experience suffers, so do your profits.
get proper training on any equipment you plan on using.
reputation amongst the general public can be the difference of making it and not.
learn your markets. take the time to ask possible customers what they do and don't like about available services in the area before you launch.... try to fill thier wish list (within reason of course). happy customers usually won't shop for another provider.
All the posts here have great adivce. I found while doing research on hardware, the forums can be great places for help but they can also be pretty hostile. This tends to be vendor specific and you'll see what I mean as you start reading and posting on different vendor forums. Don't be discouraged.
We decided to do a hardware "shoot-out" when we started up. Every RF environment is different and different vendor gear will perform very differently in different environments. There are 1,000's of WISPs providing great service with Ubiquiti gear. We tried it and it did not work for us in our environment. We tested gear from 4 different vendors and ePMP worked the best. That was us. Your mileage may and will vary. The performance I get will not be the performance you get. You need to test and this is time consuming.
We are a non-profit co-op WISP that started on a $8,000 budget. We went the cheap road on some gear early on knowing it would have to be replaced as we grew. That worked for us. We still have some shortcuts in our system that I wish we could afford to fix but haven't yet. But it allowed us to get going and grow. We don't have redudant core routers. We don't have enough battery back-up across the entire network. We don't have spare switches sitting around waiting for failures. But, each month, we get closer to more redundancy.
If you involve your customers (ie: great customer service), they will tollerate issues better if they pop up. Our members know we are small and run as a co-op. They love that. It's not for everyone but those that are a part are much more understanding of problems when they arise becuase we keep everyone informed and involved. It feels more like a community than a business and that goes a very long way.
We have not spent $1 on advertising. Every customer has been a referral starting with our first "test" customer. We give a $50 service credit for every referral and that has paid off far more than I think advertising ever would.