WISP Market Snapshot: IPiFony Sees Escalating Hosted PBX Opportunity

The wireless ISP market, which traditionally serves rural and underserved markets, is growing in volume and uptake as advancements in radio technology and the availability of spectrum have opened up big growth opportunities in the market. For its part, Birmingham Ala.-based IPiFony, which offers voice services for service providers, particularly wireless ISPs, has seen accelerated growth in the past few months.

The company specializes in hosted PBXs for small- and medium-sized businesses in North America. Its “PBX in the cloud” can be hosted within a wireless ISP network, so that the provider can offer that functionality as a bundle with connectivity to its end-user clients.

Matthew Hardeman, IPiFony’s founder, said that as the WISP market matures, many of the providers are “getting to that place in company life cycle where they want to add a voice offering.”

“There are a number of different factors that have increased the relevancy of the WISP,” he said. “The advancement of technology has made it possible to deliver a better product at a lower cost, and also there have been improvements in the capabilities and utilization of spectrum. That means that the cost point for an install has come down significantly. It’s one thing to have a great solution, but it’s another to have one that WISP customers can afford to install.”

The WISP value proposition is at its core the same as it has always been: There is a wide swath of America that is simply underserved with respect to broadband—still. The local phone companies and cablecos are looking at these segments and often decide that the subscriber density isn’t high enough to get the return on investment that makes it worth their while.

“They decide to invest in other areas, so we have a gap in the heartland of America that WISPs continue to fill,” Hardeman said.

However, the opportunity has snowballed as WISP advocacy has ramped up. “They can take advantage of public-private funds [under the National Broadband Plan], and while it’s little more complicated than what entrenched players do for funding, some are getting public subsidies and money to add fiber and to expand their wireless offerings,” said Hardeman. “Progress is being made there, and that’s a very recent change. The WISP Association has done a phenomenal thing and has embraced lobbying at the right level in D.C., and it’s actively represented in front of the FCC. And it’s made a difference.”

The landscape is changing though as new players reconsider that traditional underserved WISP sweet spot.

“As we go forward, what I think is coming down the road is a lot of opportunity and a lot of competition,” Hardeman noted. “I advocate to every WISP that you have to build the network today as if you already have that competition, and treat your customers that way. Every WISP has to worry about other forms of encroaching access. Even if you’re the first to offer broadband in a market, you won’t be alone forever—and you have to earn the business to be the preferred provider.”