Swift Fox Blog

Jun 5th

This is refrain I hear often, from clients, friends, and even my own family. I consult Independent Internet providers on technical and business strategy and this is the main service complaint that they see these days.

This may not be what you want to hear, but odds are, the problem is not (entirely) with your Internet Provider.

My intent here is not to pass the buck to anyone. What we all want is to be able to sit on the couch or in the hot tub while we like the latest cat video on Facebook. So I’ll start out by describing the issue and then some possible solutions.

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have invested many many millions of dollars into delivering service to your home and since they typically own that network they can have pretty good control over it and in the majority of cases they are delivering the speeds you are paying for to your home. The troubles most often start when we decide to go wireless inside our home.

Quickie WiFi History Lesson – back in the early 90’s when WiFi was designed the engineers who designed it, went to the government and said “We are creating a new wireless thingy so that people can sit on the couch and watch cat videos, can you give us some frequencies to use for this?” The government scratched their heads and said “Cat videos? You guys are kind of weird. That’ll never catch on, here, have 3 channels that we have already set aside for microwave ovens. There is a lot of interference on those channels, but you guys are kinda weird so you probably won’t notice”

The engineers had a tough challenge, they had to transmit and receive high speed data, in channels that were essentially considered junk c

Author: Scott Armstrong

Aug 20th

Tower EngineerFor any WISP, having a robust, fast and high capacity distribution infrastructure between sites is one of the key factors in getting clients the full speeds they expect with predictable latency and reliability.

Many WISPs start by building a multi-point access point on their first tower, and then install a number of clients on that access point. This is a typical and ideal configuration.

Often at some point later, there is a need to install another AP at one of those client’s locations to act as a repeater to additional clients.  Using clients as repeaters can be a good, low cost way to expand coverage and reach additional clients.  There are legal and business considerations with this, but for this article I will focus on the technical considerations.

Many WISPs will simply connect another access point at the client location, using the existing connection as the feed for that AP.  In some cases, simply enabling AP-Repeater mode can also look like a quick and inexpensive way to get service to more subscribers.  These two techniques have some significant challenges and are not suited to professional grade services that will then be resold.  These features were included by manufacturers for hobbyists to use as experimental or home-use features only.

What’s wrong with AP-Repeater mode?

Every time an AP-Repeater is used, speed and capacity for all the customers on those access points are cut in half.  Some might say “No big deal, I only have a few users out there, I can afford to reduce speeds”, but the issue is much larger than that.  Here’s how AP-Repeater mode works:

AP#1 is where the Internet feed is supplied, it has 20 subscribers on it, one of them is a

Author: Scott Armstrong

Jun 17th

Provide reliable monitored multi-day backup power at a tower site for under $500

Power OutageProviding multi-day backup power at all transmitters reduces service calls and improves network reliability significantly.  On many WISP networks, power disruption is the leading cause of client outages.

Most off-the-shelf retail UPS units (eg. APC1100) have very limited run time for their size.  They are designed to provide computers with high wattage, short term power while they are shut down during a power outage.  What a wireless site needs is low wattage, but exceptionally long run times.  In order to obtain monitored long-runtime UPS from vendors like APC, one would have to invest in enterprise UPS products which are typically thousands of dollars and take up significant amounts of space, and will intentionally shut down when operated below freezing.  They are also designed for high wattage applications which raises the cost and space requirements significantly.  Typical tower sites have exceptionally low power draw, but require long run times.  Computer UPS units are simply not designed for this application.

If there is a power failure at a remote location on a Friday night at 10PM it is of great business utility and savings to fix the issue on the following Monday, during business hours.  Often by then, the cause of the outage has been resolved by the power utility or landlord and no site visit with a generator is required.  Also, if there are widespread power outages due to acts of nature, it is not uncommon to have several sites lose power and road access closed by emergency services or impassable roads.  If six sites all lost power, most WISPs do not have enough generator

Author: Scott Armstrong

May 16th

Providing a consistent Internet Service is a complex challenge. A strong signal and an association between the AP and the client radio is no guarantee of quality service, nor an indicator of the client’s actual online experience.

Many factors can cause either intermittent connection drops or degraded service: multi-path, network congestion, bad equipment, ice build-up, overloaded back hauls and many other unpredictable factors.

As a WISP, if you have a way of knowing the true quality of every client’s connection at all times, you can have a significant impact on your ability to provide consistent service to everyone.

For example, using Swift Fox software you can plot the quality of every client on an access point and see trends and patterns. Is weather having an impact? Is the entire sector having issues at primetime or is it just two specific clients?

Are there patterns in power failures in the service area? Is noise at play? These are all questions that can be answered quickly and easily when there is a complete view of the true status of every single connection 24/7/365.

The traditional way to manage these challenges was to monitor the backhauls and access point for association, signal level and CCQ. Unfortunately this doesn’t provide a complete picture. If the client appears in the association list on the AP, that only indicates that a packet was seen from the device recently.

CCQ is a very unreliable statistic as lightly loaded connections lack the sample size needed to give accurate calculations. Some network monitoring suites send SNMP requests or basic pings to the device every 5 or 10 minutes. This can catch major issues with a client’s connection, but int

Author: Scott Armstrong

Mar 20th

WISP Wholesale Internet Access


Internet Gateway:  Finding Fiber

You’ve found your market, they want broadband, and you’ve identified some good tower locations to get service to their homes.   Now you need to secure a high volume of quality broadband Internet to your towers – but how do you do that?

The first step is finding the closest fiber “point of presence” (POP).   This is a location where you can “co-locate” (ie. place your equipment) that has access to a nationwide fiber backbone.   One important caveat – you need real dedicated fiber here. Verizon FIOS or Comcast Xfinity are both delivered over a fiber optic cable, but they aren’t dedicated. They are built on a shared technology called GPON.  For more on this, as well as an explanation of why cable modems, DSL, and “business Internet” won’t work for gateway – see our article on Non-Dedicated Gateway.

The best place to obtain fiber is a data center, as they will usually have several providers to choose from so you can get a great rate.  However, if you’re in the middle of nowhere (the best place to be a WISP!), you probably don’t have access to one nearby.   The next best place to check is large hotels (see if management can tell you where they get service), or large office towers.  If you don’t have any of these options then you’ll have to build wireless “backhauls” to get it out to you.

Knowing the Lingo:  What to ask for

When you’re shopping around for wholesale Internet, you have to be very specific that you need a dedicated connection.  Other terms for this are “unmetered gateway with 95th percentile billing”, or “dedicated ethernet”.   These connections will

Author: Matt Beaton

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