Have WISPs Finally Found Their Voice?

By Jim Wagner

October 11, 2002

The success of this year's WISPCON (WISPCON II), hosted by Part-15.org, has brought a disparate collection of individual fixed wireless and Wi-Fi operators under one banner.

To date, the impact and legitimacy of the license-exempt operator crowd has been in question, notably in its inability to choose one organization to speak on its behalf.

That problem may have been answered with the success of one organization's efforts at WISPCON II, held in Chicago this week at the Oak Brook Resort. Only the second conference of its kind--catering specifically to fixed wireless operators--it drew almost 1,000 attendees from around the world to hear the latest information affecting the industry.

That's not to say the efforts of other organizations haven't had an impact.

There's no question the work of the License-Exempt Alliance (LEA) of the Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI) has been a boon to the wireless ISP community. That organization's efforts helped stop several key petitions before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), notably one by satellite radio operator Sirius Satellite Radio, Inc., to limit the movement of 2.4 GHz operators.

Sirius and XM Radio, both of which operate in the 2.3 GHz range, tried to claim 2.4 GHz interference could have an affect on their satellite radio operations. Its doubtful that WISPs on their own, without one standard to rally behind, could have pulled off the same results.

But the WCAI also has interests of its own to protect, judging by the board of directors who chair the organization. They include members of BellSouth, Sprint, Winstar, and WorldCom. While the efforts by these companies are often in line with the actions of WISPs, sometimes it's good to have a voice that speaks directly for the small fixed wireless operator, for those who don't have operating budgets in the millions and billions.

WISPs have been trying to set up an organization to call their for years now. But the small-town WISP, where every dollar spent on an organization is one less spent on improving the network, have been reluctant to join. Take, for example, the WISP Association (WISPA), which created a lot of buzz in the community and signed on a lot of early members. After setting up a website and several forums, the group has largely languished under lack of activity.

Enter Part-15.org, which was originally set up as a one-stop shop for WISPs to hunt down information about the confusing regulations surrounding the FCC's Part-15 equipment guidance.

Michael Anderson, one of the founding members of the organization, has been a long-time WISP operator at PDQLink, which operates in the Chicago area. Almost on a lark, he set up WISPCON I last year so that WISPs around the world could get information about the industry under the umbrella of one convention.

By WISPs, for WISPs, the convention drew more than 500 attendees with only six weeks notice. This year, WISPCON II had the benefit of almost a year of phenomenal word-of-mouth endorsement and drew somewhere between 900-1,000 visitors and more than 40 vendors, some of whom launched new products from the showroom floor.

Anderson, who goes by the nickname "Bullit" in the WISP community, and a small team of co-workers were responsible for all the back-office support and setup at the convention, and are generally credited with doing a great job.

The "Bullit speed factor," or the speed at which Anderson must run around the conference floor to put out brush fires and make last-minute changes (don't ask for a mathematical formula, it's one entirely of my devising), was much slower this time around than last year's event. Now that Part-15.org will take over official support of the show going forward, Anderson expects the "Bullit speed factor" to be even more diminished.

Reaction to this year's event was much like last year's, with one notable exception: the vendors. Last year, it was hard to justify sending out a marketing team to pitch wares at a booth for a little-known event at a time when the telecom industry was going through a serious hangover from the dot com exuberance, but this year the bigger crowd was more to their liking.

According to Michael Cochran, sales manager at Trango Broadband Wireless, the leads and sales generated were much better than you'd expect from a show of this size. While the 1,000 attendees don't make for very many sales pitches, he said the crowd was tailor-fit to the products his company sells.

Anderson agrees, saying that vendors like Motorola, Alvarion, and Redline Communications said they were pleased with the show.

"They said that they got the same amount of interest they would get from a convention with 50,000 attendees," Anderson said. "They were more than happy, actually, because the people they talked to were people that were actually looking to buy the product, not just somebody walking around the floor."

The sessions this year went a step beyond the WISP 101 classes in setting up a wireless network, though there were plenty of configuration classes by particular vendors throughout the convention. Many focused on enhancing the service to provide value-adds to the WISP customer, and a surprising number of tracks on Wi-Fi setup and maintenance.

If attendees had any one complaint, it centered on the large number of vendors conducting the sessions and "inadvertently" pitching their own solution, though most included a WISP operator to provide "real-world" examples.

Part-15.org also had an awards ceremony for some of the industry's notable standouts in 2001. The awards were presented by Part-15.org vice chairman Lynn Kline. They were:

  • WISP of the Year--ShreveNet, for distinguished service to the deployment, viability, advancement, and pursuit of the license-exempt WISP industry objectives and those of the Part-15 organization.
  • Manufacturer of the Year--Redline Communications, for outstanding contribution to design, support, innovation and commitment to the license-exempt and WISP industry through the medium of innovative products, emerging technologies or systems, which have resulted in major advancements the License Exempt Wireless Internet Service Provider Industry.
  • Advocate of the Year--FOCUS on Broadband Wireless (Steve Stroh). The award is reflective of the preeminent stature in the eyes of the license-exempt and WISP industry whose inspirational, creative, and professional contributions have been extraordinarily successful, exemplary, and persuasive in pursuing the recognition and advancement of the license-exempt and WISP industry.
  • Reseller of the Year--Electro-Comm, for outstanding contributions to the field of exemplary customer sales and support and meeting important needs of the license-exempt and WISP industry.
  • Consultant of the Year--Marlon Schafer, to recognize outstanding contributions and commitment to the support and integration of wireless technologies and equipment.
  • President's Choice Award--ISP-Planet.com. The Part-15.org's President's Choice Award is the organization's highest award. It is presented to those individuals or companies that have attained preeminence through outstanding contributions.

The success of WISPCON II has prompted Part-15.org officials to plan a similar convention in Europe early next year, as well as WISPCON III later in 2003 in the U.S.

WISPs are hearing that call loud and clear.

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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