WISP Market Snapshot: Ubiquiti Focuses on Awareness Campaign, Portfolio Updates

Fixed wireless broadband is an increasingly attractive technology for Internet connectivity, offering a rapid ROI for operators since they don’t require last-mile fiber trenching or cabling, and can be deployed in areas with limited infrastructure. It’s a growing market, particularly for connecting rural and underserved populations. Vendors are tapping the opportunity with segment-specific gear, and Ubiquiti Networks is no exception: it has launched new versions of its airMAX, airFiber and EdgeMAX products for wireless ISPs (WISPs), in an announcement that the company called its most important launch of the year.

Ubiquiti also announced the beta release of the Ubiquiti World Network, an alliance of WISPs that will aimed at generating growth and awareness for fixed wireless broadband.

“These announcements represent the next generation of  IP infrastructure for fixed wireless, and a new set of CPE devices that are physically smaller, perform better and have an innovative mechanical design that makes mounting on side of the home or business that much faster and easier,” said Ubiquiti CMO David Hsieh, in an interview. “So we’ve built a bunch of capabilities that WISPs appreciate around functionality—but still very affordable. The CPE falls in the $50 the $100 range, to give you an idea.”

He added, “We really think that there are two key factors to WISP growth—and one is being able to provide a competitive price-performance package vis-a-vis cable and satellite and fiber. Whatever the local market requirement is, WISPs need to be positioned to provide that.”

In terms of the new products, Ubiquiti’s airMAX platform for point-to-multipoint and point-to-point fixed wireless access (typically used to provide ‘last mile’ broadband Internet access to home and businesses) now includes airMAX NanoBeam CPE family, the InnerFeed technology that improves performance, and now comes in three models (2.4GHz 400 mm, 5GHz 400mm and 5GHz 300mm). It also has an all-in-one design with a compact form factor with integrated antenna and radio.

The airFiber point-to-point wireless backhaul platform meanwhile now operates in unlicensed 5 GHz band and can offer 1Gbps aggregate throughput. Priced at $2,000 per link, it leverages the company’s eXtended Range Technology to provide a range of 100+ kilometers.

Also, Ubiquiti announced the EdgeMAX routing and switching platform for the network edge, consisting of two models: EdgeRouter and EdgeRouter Pro. An eight-port, rack-mountable Ethernet switch, EdgeRouter Pro comes with two SFP ports and offers 2 million packet-per-second throughput.

Meanwhile, the World Network is meant to be a global alliance of individual wireless Internet service providers working toward a single vision that leverages a unified technology platform, sales and marketing assets, advertising and political advocacy to help foster growth and innovation among WISPs.

Research firm IDC estimates that fixed wireless access is growing at 21.8 percent CAGR through 2017, making it one of the fastest-growing broadband access technologies and a viable alternative to cable, DSL, fiber and satellite. This growth represents a projected $5.9B service revenue opportunity for service providers in 2014, it said.

“Fixed wireless one of the fastest-growing broadband technologies, growing at 8 percent, or two and a half times the rate that broadband is growing generally,” Hsieh said. “Revenue is growing at about the same rate, so aggregate revenue is $4.8 billion this year, and will be 5.9 billion in 2014. So it’s a huge opportunity. It’s a cost-efficient approach with a fast time to ROI, and given the choice between digging a trench and sticking antenna on the side of the house, with comparable performance—well which would you choose as an operator?”

But consumers and businesses aren’t necessarily aware that WISP service is available to them. In the recent ‘State of Broadband Connectivity’ survey conducted by Research Now and commissioned by Ubiquiti, it was estimated that 61 percent of US citizens in rural areas believe there aren’t enough broadband providers in their area that offer wide enough variety of choices for competitive services and price performance. The report also points to a lack of awareness among subscribers of emerging alternatives, such as fixed wireless, which only 19 percent recognize as an option. While there are thousands of WISPs in the U.S. and tens of thousands globally, many providers are local/regional and lack the brand awareness of larger, national providers.

During the beta phase, WISPs will be able to join the Ubiquiti World Network, describe their service plans and geographical coverage, and access co-branded marketing tools developed by Ubiquiti. Consumers will be invited to use the Ubiquiti World Network to more easily discover wireless broadband providers in their area.

The next step of the program will be to roll out general awareness marketing via a national ad campaign to provide air cover to the beta phase, Hsieh said.

“Fixed wireless has been a bit of an under-the-radar technology, but the economics are so favorable that it’s really time for there to be a push to explain that this is an opportunity to connect more people to the Internet, many for the first time and in places where it wasn’t affordable or possible before,” Hsieh said. “There are already 10 million fixed wireless devices deployed around the world, so there’s history and examples and case studies to look at as this market develops. It’s really exciting to finally have a technology that closes the digital divide in an affordable way, both domestically and internationally.”

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