Mixed Signals

Whipping Up The WISPs: Why The Nation’s Wireless Internet Service Providers Need Video

11/05/2013 9:07 AM

 

WISP Lite, WISP Classic, and WISP Turbo are three nicknames I recommended to identify the types of video service packages North America’s Wireless Internet Service Providers should be offering their roughly 3 million mostly rural subscribers, as part of a keynote speech I was asked to deliver October 16, in Las Vegas.

The event was the annual conference of WISPs, cleverly nicknamed WISPALOOZA 2013; the conference/show drew roughly 800 participants to the South Point Hotel, just off of I-15 in south LVC, from October 14-18. Dozens of panel sessions, covering every conceivable panel topic, and a large, well-organized and well-populated exhibition hall, were a few additional highlights.

Much of the reason video is so important to these WISPs is because the entire world is moving that way. The globe is moving not to just more video, and more ways to produce it, but also to higher and higher quality video, be it mobile or be it video sent to and viewed on whatever device, wherever you are. 

We see the proliferation of that video ecosystem business in face-to-face dealings (e.g., services such as www.freeconference.com, www.bluejeans.com, and www.webex.com), audio-only phone service morphing more and more toward audio/video, and analog standard definition screens transitioning rapidly to high definition, and then to 4K, and then, not too far from today, to 8K TV. Plus, perhaps most importantly, as the world moves closer and closer to what many call “Internet Protocol TV (IPTV),” and what many more believe should be instead called “Broadband TV,” video becomes more and more a part of every website on the worldwide web. 

As examples, I investigated one of the more articulate of the WISPs in rural America, i.e., Council Bluffs, NB-HQd, Vistabeam, founded and operated by WISPA board member, Matt Larsen. He is also a core blogger on the industry’s top blogger site, the Wireless Cowboy, at www.wirelesscowboy.com, and one of the industry’s more articulate spokesmen. The other WISP I looked to for signs of inevitable movement toward more and better carriage of video by WISPs, was my Monterey County local WISP, RedShift, founded and managed by CEO, Tony Cricelli.
 

WISPs For 20 Mil. Cord Cutters/Cord Nevers?
The Carmel Group offers two-three reasons why a predicted 20 million users will be opting for Broadband TV instead of traditional pay TV (i.e., cable, satellite, and telco TV), come 2020, or just seven years from today. One core reason is the generally high costs and lack of flexibility of those traditional pay TV distributors and their content cousins.

A second reason deals with alternative sources for informational and entertainment video. Broadband TV is more and more answering that call, especially for ever-growing hordes of young people. One of the better examples of that amazing phenomena is the remarkable Kevin Spacey YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0ukYf_xvgc) I came upon, and which entertained the WISPAs quite well for four minutes in the middle of my on-stage comments.

Because these millions and millions of mostly younger folks are leaving traditional pay TV providers, there might very well be an amazing opportunity for WISPs everywhere to fill that intensified need for more Broadband TV. And one imagines that there is generally no reason why WISPs have to confine their services and operations to rural America. Thus, especially where line-of-sight from a central tower to a user’s actual antenna is possible –and that certainty is an awful lot of suburban and even rural America – the WISPs might have a real shot at competing for a lot less money to deliver more of what consumers are truly seeking, at much lower monthly fees than traditional providers.

WISP Video Examples: Redshift and Vistabeam
As Vistabeam’s Larsen claims, “Robust video offerings give my company and my customers a ‘true future.’”        

Larsen details that message by noting that the investment in video and the competition with other video providers made the Vistabeam system better, to the point where today Vistabeam maintains it “…can compete with anyone.” One of the ways the company does that is by offering new advanced services, such as home and business security and local business management capabilities. In short, Vistabeam has found that it can do more for less, especially against the cable and telco video providers. It has also learned to scale from small rural, to larger suburban, neighborhoods.

And perhaps one of the best proofs in the WISP pudding: Vistabeam’s average revenue per month per unit since it began its aggressive bigger bandwidth and video push has risen from $42/month to $47/month, a rather short-term rise of more than 10%. Importantly, the enhanced video service has driven greater usage, which means Vistabeam’s subscribers are more and more not looking at (or for) other content.

RedShift’s Tony Cricelli, on the other hand, has made “RedShift Is Your Video Expert” his company’s mantra.

Offering a mix of DSL, T1, fiber and wireless lines into customers’ homes – and soon Roku set-top boxes – RedShift has constantly invested in building that “better infrastructure.” Redshift maintains what it calls “low prices on installation and bandwidth…but not too low,” with also a solid mix of residential and commercial customers (“Which works,” Cricelli notes, “because in the late afternoon/early evening, when  businesses shut down, that’s the perfect time to transition over to greater residential use.”).   

Cricelli also emphasizes RedShift’s local presence, working constantly with local business toward trades and other good will. In that “local” category, RedShift offers its own Monterey County repair shop, as well as an education and consulting arm. Plus, Redshift works with local doctors’ offices, for example, to solve most if not all of their technical needs, and it will work with residential customers, right down to the proper answer to the question, “My printer is stuck, what do I do?”   
 

Summing Up: WISP Lite, WISP Classic, WISP Turbo
And, at the end of the day, just what are these three video offerings, i.e., WISP Lite, WISP Classic, and WISP Turbo?

WISP Lite is an offering that involves WISPs doing the minimum to upgrade their respective infrastructures, so that each of their systems can deliver just the basic bandwidth necessary to deliver basic streaming video.

WISP Classic is an offering that is already being delivered by the RedShifts and the VistaBeams of Global WISPLand. WISP Classic provides advanced services, and constantly seeks more spectrum bandwidth, as well as set-top boxes. This is the minimum of what every WISP should be offering its customers today. This WISP Classic offering would be available to WISP customers on both the residential and business sides.

And third, WISP Turbo means WISPs begin to take real advantage of the cord-cutter and cord-never phenomenon, by beginning to offer their customers actual video packages themselves, that the WISP either controls itself, or hires others to assemble and manage and control, according to the newer demands of these very non-traditional new customers. WISP Turbo offers a business model that involves local over-the-air (OTA) broadcast network programming, video on demand (VOD) movies and TV shows, as well as a few more traditional pay TV “channels,” and services like Netflix, GoogleTV, Vudu, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Xbox, Sony TV, and the like.       

At minimum, my strong conviction is that every WISP has to offer at least one of these basic video services during the next three to seven years, or their competition will. Indeed, some I talked to suggested a higher standard: if the typical WISP today does not offer at least one of these basic services over the aforementioned span, that WISP will be out of business (and a lot of those cord-cutters and cord-nevers will be pretty disappointed)!
 

Jimmy Schaeffler is a telecom author and chairman and CSO of the Carmel-by-the-Sea-based streaming, broadcast and pay TV/video consultancy, The Carmel Group (www.carmelgroup.com).

September