Broadband for Remote and Rural Communities
Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) networks are an essential part of providing Internet connectivity in remote and rural areas. Typically operating where large commercial Internet service providers deem it financially unviable to do so, WISPs frequently deal with sparse population densities and financial constraints that inhibit reliable network performance. Venture Networks, a research partner, and a WISP that serves the rural Horowhenua Region, has observed that many WISPs fail to become sustainable businesses, and pondered what could be done to improve outcomes for those providing Internet access where limited other options exist. This research proposes to investigate what commercial opportunities may exist for assisting WISP operators to run their networks in an easier, sustainable manner.
To encourage the ubiquitous deployment of high-performance WISP networks, it was recognised that first the unique challenges faced by WISP operators on a wide scale must be understood. A Grounded Theory research methodology was adopted, and a study was conducted to develop an objective understanding of issues commonly encountered by WISP network operators. Interviews were conducted with WISP network operators, digital advocacy organisations, and network engineering consultants. Interview participants came primarily from New Zealand and North America. Of the New Zealand participants, nearly every WISP known to operate within the country was interviewed.
Results of the Grounded Theory study helped to isolate a potential Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and formed the basis for product development and commercialisation. It was shown that start-up and established WISPs frequently lack the technical knowledge to design and implement high-performance networks. Unsurprisingly, a WISP operator that does not thoroughly understand their network will struggle to operate it without difficulty. Consequently, it was proposed that developing a platform around the shortcomings in the knowledge that WISP operators have would be appropriate. Given the proposed platform would take form as a physical network appliance, it was decided that initially leveraging a disruptive, solution provider business model would be appropriate. The business model chosen enables Venture Networks to work directly with other WISPs, ideally forming long-term relationships through a customer-centric approach.
Venture Networks has several engineering resources devoted to continued development of the proposed MVP, and envisions developing an ecosystem of products to assist WISPs in operating higher-performance, higher-reliability networks. Ongoing testing of the platform is being carried out with Venture Networks, and a small number of other WISPs selected during the interview phase of this research. Feedback from the trials is continuously integrated into revised versions on the platform. Development of the platform has been carried out using the Agile product development methodology, which enables feedback-responsive development and quick-to-release iterations of the platform.
Upon final release, it is envisioned that the platform designed will not only enable WISPs to design and implement networks in a straightforward manner, but also offer significant cost-savings over alternative solutions available for sale today. For a prospective WISP operator without strong technical competencies, improving Internet connectivity in a remote or rural area would be a daunting challenge. The proposed MVP seeks to make such a task achievable.