How to become your own WISP

Tue, 06/06/2023 - 10:59

By LESLEY COLMER, CEO, Wireless Access Provider’s Association (WAPA)


So, you want to become a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP), but have no idea where to start?


If you thought you could just take your existing internet connection and beam it across the neighbourhood, think again. It’s illegal to start selling internet services without a license, so you’ll want to make sure you dot your ‘i’s and cross your ‘t’s before doing anything else.


The first step, therefore, is getting yourself – that is, your registered business – licensed by the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA). That’s the government body in charge of wireless communication regulation in the country.


Thankfully getting an ICASA license is fairly straightforward. There are two types of licenses, and you need both of them to function as an independent WISP:


  1. A Class Electronics Communications Service (C-ECS) license will allow you to broadcast internet data, even if you’re reliant on third-party infrastructure to do so. As a WISP operating in a small region or community, you’ll probably have your own hardware, in which case you’ll also need:

  2. A Class Electronic Communications Network Service (C-ECNS) license, which allows you to set up your own hardware network limited to operating in a municipality or district.


The process entails writing up a formal business plan, justifying why you want to offer these services and where you intend to offer them, and will set you back R14,839 each at the time of writing.


Depending on ICASA’s backlog, you’ll be licensed in as little as a few weeks, or as long as a few months, but once you are, your license is valid for 10 years.


That’s where we, WAPA, come in. It’s perfectly acceptable to go it on your own, of course, but why would you do that when you can instead lean on education, guidance and networking opportunities from your peers?


We’ve been representing and working closely with like-minded WISPs for years, and continue to champion the WISP community in light of the government prioritising larger mobile operators when it comes to setting laws and regulations that directly affect us.


We also offer free online training, covering all aspects of wireless and fibre transmissions through our ‘Zero to Hero’ suite of training products, so you can quickly get upto speed on the latest technology and services.


Most importantly, you’ll have access to one-on-one mentorship with other WISPs that started this journey just like you, and can share their experiences so you get to avoid the pitfalls that come with embarking on your new venture.


Pitfalls, you say? A good example is network design. Many newcomers to the industry start off by overdesigning their networks, buying too much equipment and too much bandwidth at too high a cost for the customers they can initially attract. We’ll show you how to build a scalable network as you grow your business and attract more customers.


Another example is hotspots, or more specifically how to monetise them from day one. We’ll show you how to build hotspots using a low-cost hotspot model that you can roll out quickly, using prepaid billing (instead of a voucher system), that requires no credit collection, and which you can build out as more customers join your network.


Want more? You’ll also get free marketing leads as part of our community. A single successful lead will pay for your annual membership costs. We also provide free regulatory advice, keeping you informed about latest industry and regulatory developments, and, together with one of South Africa’s leading telecommunications lawyers, advising you on what you need to do to stay compliant.


Last but not least, you’ll be invited to join us at one of several regional national events taking place multiple times throughout the year, and a major international event and speaking conference every two years, where you can network with the community and take advantage of special vendor offers.


As you can see, becoming a WISP is easy. Establishing and growing your business to become self-sustaining and successful is a different matter altogether.


You’re already joining an industry that’s on the cusp of tremendous growth and opportunity in South Africa, with a market set to grow exponential as new unlicensed spectrum is released for general use. Don’t reinvent the wheel; we’ll help your business do the business, together.


About WAPA

WAPA, established in 2006, is a non-profit trade association acting as a collective voice for the wireless industry. WAPA’s primary objective is to promote the growth of the wireless industry by facilitating self-regulation, promoting best practices, and educating both members and the market about new wireless technologies and business models. WAPA offers its members regulatory advice, technical training, a code of conduct, a forum for knowledge-sharing and business-enablement opportunities.


WAPA is positioned to be an interface between the government regulator (ICASA), network operators, service providers, and consumers. WAPA regularly makes submissions and presentations to the government on regulations affecting the wireless industry. WAPA is tirelessly lobbying for more progressive and efficient spectrum management in South Africa and is focusing on the possibilities of dynamic unlicensed spectrum for interference-free access.


Media enquiries: Lesley Colmer, WAPA

Contact details: 083-408-0151, [email protected]


Issued by: Michelle Oelschig, Scarlet Letter

Contact details: 083-636-1766, [email protected]