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ISP Wireless - Plan, Build & Scale Your Business With ISP Design Center

Traditionally, the need for capital and hi-skilled workers has precluded many entrepreneurs from entering into the ISP industry. For existing Internet providers, such obstacles also limit how effectively they can expand/grow their business. This article discusses how to effectively kickstart a Wireless ISP (WISP) using the all-in-one ISP Design Center, Ubiquiti's comprehensive software platform for planning your Internet provider business.

Software Features

ISP Design Center is Ubiquiti's comprehensive software platform freely available to anyone planning hi-speed outdoor wireless networks using cutting-edge technology solutions. Listed below is a summary of the most important features that help with planning/designing your ISP:

Feature

Description

Signal/RF Coverage Quickly draw ISP coverage areas to receive helpful recommendations about placement of network infrastructure such as Base Station APs & PTP links.
Topology View Show hi-level view of all network connections for planned ISP network.
Equipment List Generate inventory lists to assist with faster purchasing via integration with our online store.
Profitability Calculator

Review your business ‘break-even’ point based on upfront/recurring costs vs. user-defined service plans.

Internet Marketplace Help find, request & lease a dedicated Internet backbone via third-party vendors (currently available in select areas of US).
Tower Marketplace Help find, request & lease tower sites via third-party vendors (currently available in select areas of US).
Rainfall Map Integration Display annual rainfall data based on geographic region, helpful for estimating uptime/capacity for vital wireless links.
AI-Assisted Networks Drive automatic device selection via differently-optimized network profiles: RF performance, low-cost, etc.
Manual Product Selection Simulate & plan links with built-in support for latest ISP Wireless products.

ISP Concepts and Terminology

In this section, we'll cover the most basic/fundamental concepts & key terms to help orient you when starting an Internet service provider. Using the ISP Design Center will help you more quickly advance through the three main steps to planning your network, after which, you'll be ready to install.

  1. Contract a Backbone
  2. Research Coverage Areas
  3. Identify Relay Sites 

Backbone

Backbone refers to the site of your ISP's primary Internet connection. As the name suggests, your Internet backbone is vitally important for providing sufficient bandwidth to your customers. Moreover, your backbone should connect to one or more higher-tier providers for reliable, uninterrupted Internet access with Service Level Agreements (SLA) stipulating your contracted speed/uptime.

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Note: Check with local government/authorities to determine whether you have permission to start an ISP.

Also known as Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), the most popular backbone sites are located at large data centers around the world, where Internet traffic passes at transfer rates of terabits/second. When first starting an ISP however, you'll only need a tiny fraction of that speed to support your growing customer base. While 1Gbps (up/down traffic) is perhaps a good starting number for new WISPs, you'll undoubtedly use the UISP platform to monitor/track speeds as your business scales with time. By carefully monitoring your total Internet traffic activity, you can also determine ratios of oversubscription, the common practice of overselling more Internet bandwidth than contracted. 

When contracting an Internet backbone, inquire with as many large providers (located at or near to your target coverage area) as possible to compare pricing, available fiber locations, redundancy, etc. Often, a fiber provider will allow you to connect via "on-net" building where terminals/access already exists; in such cases, you'll also need to work with building owners to request rooftop access to relay your connection to your coverage site.

Note: Within the ISP Design Center, the Internet Marketplace helps you find, request & lease a dedicated Internet backbone via third-party vendors (currently available in select areas of US). 

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Subscribers

Subscribers (also known as "subs") are your ISP customers to whom you sell your triple-play service package: hi-speed internet, VoIP, and IPTV. The key to any profitable ISP business is to efficiently scale the network with subscribers, and listed below are a few research ideas to help get you started:

  • Is there sufficient density of subscribers to offset initial costs to provide Internet coverage?
  • What kind of short & long-term growth exists in/around the coverage area?
  • What kind of service plans do existing ISPs offer?
  • What reputation do the competitors have among customers?
  • What application/bandwidth needs do subscribers have?
  • Are subscribers primarily residential or business?
  • What kind of oversubscription ratio is viable?

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Speaking with your potential customer base & researching existing ISPs in your area will help you develop a business strategy to create competitive service plans and more effectively market your brand.

Note: Using ISP Design Center's built-in Profitability Calculator will help estimate you ‘break-even’ point based on costs/revenues, and ultimately, secure capital as you pitch your business idea to outside investors.

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Backhaul

In order to relay your Internet connection to your downstream subscribers, you'll typically deploy a series of backhaul links from your backbone site to your coverage area. Wired backhaul typically refers to fiber runs (ex. UFiber), whereas wireless backhaul refers to outdoor point-to-point (PtP) radio links (ex. airFiber). In either case, backhaul links play a vitally important role in transferring all the network traffic sent/received by your Internet subscribers, and should therefore be planned carefully so as to not become traffic bottlenecks. Wireless backhaul links require clear line-of-sight (LoS) in order to successfully connect, and pass data at maximum possible rates.

Note: Unless building data exists for the coverage area, ISP Design Center only shows elevation terrain. When visiting both ends of the proposed link, conduct site surveys at each side to check for buildings, trees, and any other obstructions that may impede LoS.

Furthermore, link distance & signal/capacity are negatively-correlated, which means that as link distance increases, link signal/capacity decreases. On the other hand, as link distance decreases, link signal/capacity increases. Therefore, to maximize the speed/performance of your network, it is therefore preferable to design your backhaul as a series of robust, interconnected point-to-point links, each at short/medium distance, rather than overextending the range of single wireless link to cut costs.

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Shown above, an example link LoS is obstructed by land terrain.
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Shown above, raising height of antennas at either link end provides sufficient clearance for LoS from land terrain, but likely still obstructed by buildings, trees, and other objects not depicted by the link simulator tool.
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Show above, designing the backhaul with an additional PtP link (i.e. "hop") to bypass the terrain obstruction.

In wireless PtP scenarios, operators pair a radio with a hi-gain antenna (ex. parabolic dish) to focus the signal into a narrow beamwidth to reach longer distances. With Auto Product Selection mode enabled (by default), ISP Design Center's built-in link simulator automatically optimizes the link using suggested devices for best performance, cost-savings, etc.

Importantly, you should design your most important backhaul links with redundancy to ensure uptime/failover in case of site/environmental issues, especially in 60GHz deployments. Wave AP PtMP family & AF60-XR/XG feature backup 5GHz radios for such scenarios. 

 
Shown above, wireless backhaul deployed in different topologies. Shown left, a ring topology for redundancy; shown right, a series of point-to-point-to-point links to extend connectivity.

Note: ISP Design Center also features a detailed Topology view to review end-to-end connectivity throughout your ISP network.

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Relay Sites

Also known as Point-of-Presence (PoP), or "Towers" in ISP Design Center, relay sites refer to buildings/structures in your ISP topology used to connect various segments of your network, whether via point-to-point backhaul links, or point-to-multipoint base station APs. When looking for relay sites, consider the following characteristics:

Characteristic

Description

Fiber-Ready When possible, procure backbone/PoP sites with fiber capabilities to maximize throughput & reliability.
Low Costs Co-locate new wireless links at existing relay sites; reuse existing subscriber rooftops in micro-PoP scenarios.
24/7 Access When issues occur or upgrades required, 24/7 service access ensures as little network downtime possible with minimal impact.
Line-of-Sight (LoS)

In wireless PtP & PtMP scenarios, tall buildings/structures at high elevation locations make excellent relay sites.

Power On-Site Ideally, AC power, but for remote relay sites, planning for DC power with battery banks.
Strong SNR Use ISP Design Center to plan strong, robust links; conduct site surveys to ensure sufficient, clear channels exist at PoP sites.

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Note:Within the ISP Design Center, the Tower Marketplace helps you find, request & lease a tower sites via third-party vendors (currently available in select areas of US). 

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Base Station

The base station refers to your point-to-multipoint device, such as an access point, used to connect other devices into your ISP topology (usually subscribers). Ubiquiti's fixed wireless PtMP platforms like airMAX AC, Wave, and LTU offer significant advantages over other physical-layer access technology platforms. Familiarizing yourself with these technologies will help you challenge the status-quo in areas where long-time ISPs can monopolize despite mediocre/outdated service:

Technology

Advantages

Disadvantages

Fixed Wireless Lowest upfront costs
Very low infrastructure costs
Requires little/no training
Deploys/installs rapidly
Scales easily
Frequency/channel availability
High capacity
Low latency
Virtually noise free (60GHz)
Low maintenance
Noise/interference susceptibility (5GHz)
LoS requirements
Propagation concerns
Regional EIRP limitations
Shared channel access
Copper Low latency
Dedicated (DSL)
High capacity (Cable)
High infrastructure costs
Contention-free (DSL)
Shared channel access & peak contention times (Cable)
Not immune to EMI
Fiber Ultra hi-capacity
Low latency
Future-proof
Immune to interference
Very high infrastructure costs
Costly deployment
Requires some training
Satellite Global availability

High subscriber costs
High latency
Requires LoS to sky

In wireless PtMP scenarios, a base station AP pairs a radio and hi-gain sector antenna with sufficiently wide beamwidth to provide coverage over a given area (ex. 30°, 60°, 90°). By co-locating multiple hi-gain sector APs at a single base station site, you can provide strong signal to subscribers over 360° of coverage (ex. 12x30° Wave AP, 4x90° Prism Sector AP).

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Shown left above, 4x90° sectors; shown right above, 6x60° sectors.

With Auto Product Selection mode enabled (by default), ISP Design Center's built-in link simulator automatically optimizes PtMP coverage using suggested devices with consideration for the following factors:

  • Antenna heading/pattern, tilt & azimuth angle
  • Maximum average PtMP capacity based on all associated devices
  • Regional EIRP limits (based on geographic site locations)
  • Power spectral density (based on channel width)
bs-ap-120_.png
Shown above, ISP Design Center simulates a PtMP network with a 120° beamwidth sector to reach all subscribers.
bs-ap-30_.png
Shown above, ISP Design Center optimizes the same simulation with 30° beamwidth sector as subscriber sites move to narrower coverage area.

Customer Premise Equipment

The Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) refers to your managed devices installed at the subscriber site. As a wireless ISP, you can mount a CPE radio/antenna on the subscriber's roof, or using a mast to provide LoS clearance to your base station AP site.

Listed below are the most common CPE devices (both wired/wireless):

CPE Device

Description

Platforms/Types

Radio A wireless radio (usually 5GHz or 60GHz) configured in PtMP-Station mode to connect to the PtMP-AP radio at the ISP base station. airMAX AC, Wave, LTU
Antenna Usually hi-gain devices (ex. parabolic/dish reflector), paired with the wireless radio.
Router A device segmenting the internal ISP network from the downstream subscriber's own local network.

UISP, airCube

Access Point

A device providing WiFi access at the subscriber site. 

ONU In GPON (PtMP fiber) networks, the equivalent of the Station device. UFiber GPON
Switch/PoE A device providing power to PoE-ready devices. UISP, EdgeMAX
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