Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×
The Internet

Smalltime Wireless ISPs 169

Krimsen writes: "It's nice to see we still have some stories like we used to hear all the time in the mid-late 90's of the little guy beating the mega-corporations to the punch."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Smalltime Wireless ISPs

Comments Filter:
  • by puppetman ( 131489 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:11AM (#2710662) Homepage

    and where are they now... eaten up by the big guys. Of course, lots of those big guys are out of business, on their way out of business, or just scraping by.

    Good for the little guy - might dream big, but starts with a small realistic plan, and doesn't lose billions if it doesn't work.

    The problem with big companies is that they can't see small. Every market they want to enter, they do so by spending millions of dollars. They try to hang a picture on the wall with a railroad spike, and are amazed at the size of the hole they create.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You speak of evil big companies and good little companies, but all those big companies started out small.

      In fact, most of the small companies wish they became the evil big guys you people always bitch about.

    • And we still will, too. Until the big ones hire people other people trust in rural areas.

      Disclaimer: I work for a Mom & Pop ISP

      It's in a small town in south Arkansas. My boss is from the area. For several years we were the only ISP in about 5-6 counties. None of the big ISPs seem to have any interest whatsoever in the area. SWBell just rolled out DSL in some of the bigger towns, and we've got a wireless service that's competitive in price and usually a better connection speed. Most of the people in town actually know my boss or someone that does personally.

  • do the division (Score:4, Insightful)

    by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:15AM (#2710670) Homepage
    From the article (speaking about Metricom):
    Its network cost $1 billion to build, but it had just 51,000 customers.
    That's almost $20k of capital investment per user- what a business plan that turned out to be! For that much per user, I could arrange a pretty impressive setup for the 10 apartments on my floor- $200k= $2000 in setup and 802.11b equipment plus many many months of T1 service to share...
  • by el_doop ( 235938 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:16AM (#2710671) Homepage
    the little guy beating the mega-corporations to the punch is really nothing more than the little guy building a customer base for AOL/Earthlink/MSN to buy out.

    It happened with dialup; I can't see how this will be any different. I'm getting flashbacks of my 2 mid/late 90s layoffs as a result of small ISPs "merging" with the mega-corporations.
  • Wireless access. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Night0wl ( 251522 ) <iandow@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:16AM (#2710673) Homepage Journal
    I'm glad to hear this as well.
    When people say that wireless is a bust I look at them a bit funny and point at the Atenna on my roof.

    It's quite a spectacular antenna sence my ISP up-graded it to a highly directional antenna, I was having connection problems which turned out to be software, so now I've got this wicked looking dish.

    The only downside to the wireless in my area (Omak, Washington) is it isn't really a mobile solution. And I don't feal left out either, I would perhaps if I was in a larger town, Seattle for example.

    There is no point at citysearch'ing for Omak, there's nothing to do any way. Bowling, WalMart? And one theater which often times is beat by the rental company for new movies sad isn't it?

    Our wireless is provided by the local radiostation. It's a small 4-5 man operation. Rather pitiful. But I live. :)
    • Re:Wireless access. (Score:2, Informative)

      by el_doop ( 235938 )
      Don't get me wrong; it's really cool that you have wireless access in your small town ahead of the curve. I grew up in a tiny town. We were amazed when we found that we could get local dialup access from a small startup.

      Three years later, those small startups were gone, swallowed by a major cable company and Earthlink. The idea of a small local ISP is romantic, but without offering something really special they are not able to compete when the major providers decide to roll into town, and they are in no position to turn down the serious cash these companies offer for an established local customer base.
    • This is something that really needs to be cleared up.. I think many people don't seem to understand that 'wireless' does not necessarily mean 'mobile'.

      With current technology... well, basically, it takes a LOT of infrastructure to roll out 'mobile' wireless (look at cellular for an example). Fixed wireless is much faster, and cheaper to deploy, and has much less infrastructure.

      Why is it a 'downside' that an internet connection for your house isnt' mobile? I don't understand.

      I mean, hell... if you really look at it, fixed wireless is more 'wireless' than celluar; cellular relies on TONS of wired equipment in order to do it's job.
    • one theater which often times is beat by the rental company for new movies

      If you have a high-speed Net connection, you can download movies from Gnutella. :)

  • by vanguard ( 102038 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:21AM (#2710682)
    I don't know if this guy really beat Paul Allen to the punch. He just runs a small business with low overhead. Good for him.

    However, let's not pretend he and his 70 customers are the reason these larger companies went bankrupt. They went under because their customer base was too small to support their cost structure.

    They'll be back in any market where wireless is the best option for broadband. Broadband really will be everywhere at some point. People really do want it and eventually they'll pay for it.
    • If you define "the punch" as profitability, he did beat Paul Allen to the punch.

      Also, on a side note, even though wireless ISP's and high-speed MAN's like Yipes and XO are taboo on wallstreet, I still see them being profitable, if the companies are ever run right.

      I always play with business plans in my head, and I could wire a downtown district, or an office park with Gig ethernet (which is much faster than any expensive T1, T3) and make a profit with only 40% of a building's customers. Those large companies tried to get to big too fast and never focused on getting customers, just buildings.
  • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:26AM (#2710692) Homepage
    Starting an ISP is almost like trying to start a town. You can't just say, "This is an ISP" and people magically start to dial in or connect to your service. First, you have to have something that can support the connections. The hardware to support the data transfer, and the users. That's where your routers, servers, landlines/WAP's come in. Second, you actually have to have a connection to the Internet yourself. This, along with IP ranges, would come from something like UUnet. If all goes well, you'll have a nice background for an ISP set up. For the most part, setting up an ISP requires money. And lots of it. Pay a bit of attention to being efficient, and you'll save a lot. Now that you have your ISP, what next? You'll need a team to take care of charging people (Billing), a tech support group, an advertising group, an IT group, a legal department, and last but not least, facilities and logistics to support everything. Now we can see why the 'little guy' has more of a chance of launching himself to the moon than trying to start an ISP that is the least bit competitive. If anyone wants to start one, best of luck!
    • you are missing a HUGE part of it. as a one owner of an ISP I'll tell you a bit of the problems.

      your backbone. a T-1 is 700.00-1500.00 a month and a T-3 is way too damned expensive. Those prices is without internet connectivity, that's just the wire going from point A to point B. The internet access ranges from 1/2 to the same as the line's cost per month. Now you need dial in lines. If you go woth a maximum of 28.8 as a dial in speed, you can get some really nice Boca modem racks for cheap... but at 28.8 you'll get no customers. so you need 56K modem racks, Oh and a T-1 for every modem rack of 24 incoming lines. you HAVE to buy 24 phonelines at a time as that is how a T-1 is sold. This T-1 is more expensive than the above T-1, as you get charged per call on it.. incoming or outgoing. incoming is cheap, 0.01 per call but it does add up.

      wireless is different. you need to set up 1-2 towers, and if you have a 2nd tower you need a t-1 or t-3 to it also. (selling broadband? t-3)

      t1 is ONLY for selling 28-56K speeds. if you are trying to offer broadband a t-3 is the minimum you can buy, and you should have 2.

      sorry, mom-pop types of these businesses are not normal anymore... most mom-s and pop-s dont have 1-2 mill to drop into equipment and 3 months operating capitol just to server a few dozen customers.
      • Oh and a T-1 for every modem rack of 24 incoming lines. you HAVE to buy 24 phonelines at a time as that is how a T-1 is sold. This T-1 is more expensive than the above T-1, as you get charged per call on it.. incoming or outgoing. incoming is cheap, 0.01 per call but it does add up.

        You're not far off the mark at all. We get two PRIs at a time to fill each access server. We use the EOL'd Cisco AS5248s because the just work, are dirt cheap and plentiful as hell; we've never had bad hardware and the software problems seem to have levelled out before they were EOL'd. We did get thrown for a loop when we received a shipment of them with DC power supplies, but now we can handle either. :-)

        To make things a little easier, our incoming PRIs have a monthly cost but there are no costs per connect. We'd love to use CAS signalling but that's just not available anymore. So instead of 24 lines per T1 we now have 23 (damned ISDN OOB switching). 8-bit clean DS0s are useless for dialup, so ISDN gains us nothing here. Fortunately we can use NFAS on the AS5248s and gain one extra line per NAS by using a single D channel for both PRIs. And yes, when you're a mom 'n pop, every line counts. We'd gain more lines by using AS5300s (4/8 PRIs per box instead of 2) but the equipment is a lot more expensive.

        The other thing that took a while to hammer down was the user:line ratios. Over the years we have discovered that 7:1 is pretty much optimal. Busies are relatively infrequent. 6.9 and lower is wasteful (nobody cares if there are free lines after they're on) and 7.1 and up gets nasty real fast.

        Software wise, we use GNU-RADIUSd and PostgreSQL. GNU-RADIUSd has never failed us, has SNMP suppport and runs circles around Cistron and all the others. PostgreSQL can handle the (very) large connect database (600M), not bog down when we do some funky queries and doesn't require a helper script to prop it up when it decides to gack (hello MySQL)! Back in the beginning we used Cistron and MySQL -- it barely held up with 300 customers, let alone what we've got now. I really can't say enough good about GNU-RADIUSd; it's an excellent program with a responsive developer. And Postgres? Well I use it everywhere for just about everything. Nary a complaint.

        So how are we doing? Not bad. Our price is the lowest in the area (yeah we're winning against the much larger corps, including the telco, for now) and our userbase is growing about 5-7% a month which is keeping us plenty busy. We are profitable and have been for some time now, even when we dropped to $9.95/mo from $24.95/mo (CAD). I just bought an M13 (DS3 demux; terminates a single DS3 to 28 DS1s) from Ebay, as we're rapidly approaching 28 PRIs and we can get a major price break if we buy an entire DS3 instead of individual PRIs. There seem to be plenty of AS5248s on the used market for dirt cheap and we've got the test and the config pretty much nailed down. Five AS5248s per /24 for IP allocation, slightly under 2Mbps peak bandwidth usage for each /24... It's down to a science now and we're now focussing on getting that 5% ramped up since the backend is working 100% and the growth and costing is falling into place.

    • Lets try and think this through. This is what you said that you need.

      1.)A team to take care of charging people.

      2.)A tech support group

      3.)An advertising group

      4.)An IT department

      5.)Facilities and Logistics.


      Here is my humble business plan.

      1.)My billing team: Me, quickbooks, and excel.

      2.)My tech support team: Me, until I get so many customers that I need to hire some help.

      3.)An advertising group: I'll put an ad in the local paper.

      4.)A legal group. I have a lawyer, and I'll get legal insurance.

      5.)Facilities and Logistics: What? I'll use my basement, or rent cheap light industrial space.

      Okay, starting a business is hard, but its not that hard. Just dive in and try it yourself. And I don't think you are going to need a "legal team" or an "advertising team" until you become large enough to have already proven that success is possible.

  • by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @05:35AM (#2710716) Homepage Journal
    Its bread and butter time for the smaller ISPs, they almost live month to month when they first start out they cant have a burn rate.

    Starting at a small BBS turned ISP (cet.com [cet.com]), I seen how the owner would sell a full T1 and split it a dozen ways, scam customers on software packages, replace broken hardware that wasnt broken. I moved onto another ISP, and saw how the salesmen reminded me of car salesmen, "Let me talk to the manager..."

    People dont see whats going on behind the scenes, how the young kids are working thier ass off to keep the servers up cause they cant hire professional admins. The systems are always having outages and they blame the larger telcos as a "network problem..."

    That was my biggest problem, I couldnt stand being dishonest to a customer, and you cant be a good salesmen without bending the truth, spreading on the bullshit like butter. Even with a good product, its thier job to sell or they dont eat.

    Smaller ISP's have to cut costs too, I remember when all the ISPs in Spokane moved into the tel-west building so they could cut out the local exchange. Save 200 bux on federal taxes and transport fees. A T1 that costs 900 bux wholesale could be bought for 500, since all they had to do was run some cable down the hallway (overhead). Sell the T1 (frac) to 10 people paying you 300 bux, and they pay thier own costs, you could out bid. And then charge them for any hourly work needed. (You need help configuring your router? 10 hours billed) Another reason ISPs needed to move into the telco buildings was the digital lines, to have the 56K v90 modems, the ISP has to have digital lines. I remember how everyone and thier brother was buying livingston port masters and running radius. Every ISP was the same, except for the modems on the end of the portmasters.

    I think most slashdotters can confirm the shady side of the ISPs. How some run out of computer stores in the back, or BBS's that turned ISP. H

    Hell, one of the most popular ISPs Eskimo [eskimo.com] here in seattle runs out of his living room. When I moved over here to this side of washington state, I went over and met the guy. Typical homegrown ISP, but this guy has shitloads of customers.

    Been there done that, now I work for a major wireless telco, millions of customers, and I never have to be shady. Drawbacks? Less ownership in the product. I get paid, but I dont make the choices. Management and Marketing does. Sometimes I just shake my head and say "Umm, if our stockholders only knew....)

    Someday Im going to start another business, and try to keep the "mom and pop" attitude. Actually sell what the customer wants, and give it to them. Only thing stands in my way, People are cheap. (-;

    -
    There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey. - John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    • Starting at a small BBS turned ISP (cet.com [cet.com]), I seen how the owner would sell a full T1 and split it a dozen ways, scam customers on software packages, replace broken hardware that wasnt broken. I moved onto another ISP, and saw how the salesmen reminded me of car salesmen, "Let me talk to the manager..."

      You worked for a crook, not a small ISP/computer store. Don't confuse the two. I've been the admin for a small ISP for four years now and the only thing we do that could be considered shady is overcommit the bandwidth.

      People dont see whats going on behind the scenes, how the young kids are working thier ass off to keep the servers up cause they cant hire professional admins. The systems are always having outages and they blame the larger telcos as a "network problem..."

      Our servers are rock-solid, even back when we were using the 1.x (2.0.x?) kernels and the then-new iproute2 to prioritize/mark lowlatency traffic because we had a satellite downlink and four-33k6-bonded-modem uplink. In my ealrier post I made mention of a helper script that propped up MySQL every time it fell over; that was the extent of our server problems and with the script the users rarely noticed.

      Compare that to today where our DSL uplink (UUNet) does go down and doesn't tell us, despite the service agreement. In your world I bet the big guys never make mistakes.

      Smaller ISP's have to cut costs too, I remember when all the ISPs in Spokane moved into the tel-west building so they could cut out the local exchange. Save 200 bux on federal taxes and transport fees. A T1 that costs 900 bux wholesale could be bought for 500, since all they had to do was run some cable down the hallway (overhead).

      I don't see anything illegal at all about what I quoted of you. It's ingenious, even. We're going to lease an entire DS3 instead of 28 PRIs to save money; that must be shady to you since it's a small ISP trying to save a buck.

      BTW, you don't need to be in the telco to run digital lines; just get the lines terminated at your location. Our AS5248s aren't at a telco, as an example.

      Sell the T1 (frac) to 10 people paying you 300 bux, and they pay thier own costs, you could out bid. And then charge them for any hourly work needed.

      What's wrong with that? It's called overcommit and it's done by every ISP on the planet, large and small. And if you don't buy into an SLA, you will get billed per hour for every little change you ask for. Sounds pretty above-board and level to me.

      There's a certain amount of salesing involved in any business. If you don't ask for the best price you will get screwed by any business. Not so much when you're dealing with joe consumer but B2B transactions (ordering lines, bandwidth, etc.) ALWAYS work this way. List prices are often called the idiot tax, and if your customer doesn't realize that $300/mo for a frac T1 is crazy then it's not your fault. It's called business. If you want to buy a $30000 lemon, they won't stop you.

      I think most slashdotters can confirm the shady side of the ISPs. How some run out of computer stores in the back, or BBS's that turned ISP.

      how is this shady?? It's called a small business for a reason, for Christ's sake! Was Apple for H-P shady for working out of their garage/shed??

      Been there done that, now I work for a major wireless telco, millions of customers, and I never have to be shady.

      Ok, big companies aren't shady, but then

      Sometimes I just shake my head and say "Umm, if our stockholders only knew....)

      Interesting. So as long as it's making money for the stockholders it's okay? How about "I don't have to do the shady shit, so big business is okay. I can install equipment I know works half-assed but I am not the one ordering it to be installed so it's okay."

      • Well, seems someone wants to argue my post. But thats ok. Even if you dont quote me right.

        Selling a T1 and giving 128K is illegal. And very shady.

        You cant get digital lines as cheaply in your basement, you need extra hardware and install costs per line can be very expensive.

        Bigger companies dont lie as much, they try to offer a TOS and stick to it. But I do admit the TOS a company has isnt always the best, and thats what I was refering too.

        And BTW, I was a founding member of the Spokane ISP Association. I still talk to other people in the field, and have friends working for bbnplanet, uunet, version, att, etc.. Alot of people start at smaller ISPs and tech support. It is a common theme that shady business practices occur.

        But your experiences may very, life isnt in absolutes.
        • Even if you dont quote me right.

          Where didn't I quote you right?

          Selling a T1 and giving 128K is illegal. And very shady.

          Yes, if you are saying you are providing a T1's worth of bandwidth. However the world is full of burstable rates, where you are guaranteed "up to" 1.5Mbps. I don't recall you saying "have a frac T1 and sell a T1", rather "sell it for $300" IIRC.

          You cant get digital lines as cheaply in your basement, you need extra hardware and install costs per line can be very expensive.

          Again, things may be different here in Canada but T1s are trivial to terminate anywhere. The AS5248s we use terminate a T1 directly so there isn't any need for a separate CSU/DSU; just plug in a bit of CAT5 from the telco's DSU/CSU's DSX-1 port to one of the T1 controller ports on the NAS and away you go. In fact, Portmasters are exactly the same: the telco terminates the T1s with their own equipment and you plug yours in. No more expensive than if it were located at the CO. Less expensive, in fact, since the telco has very strict rules about colocation. Separate entrances, cages, the works.

          Bigger companies dont lie as much, they try to offer a TOS and stick to it.

          Now the truth comes out. I took offense at your last post because the tone was "little company crook; big company priestlike." We offer a decent ToS with our DSL clients and do everything we can to honour it. Yes, we sell burstable bandwidth and yes we overcommit on the bandwidth we guarantee, but not to the point that we can't bring in another T1 to correct the situation within 20 days. I challenge you to find a "big" company who doesn't do this. It's exactly like monitors: they say 17" but you know damn sure that it's about an inch less unless it's an LCD.

          And BTW, I was a founding member of the Spokane ISP Association. I still talk to other people in the field, and have friends working for bbnplanet, uunet, version, att, etc.. Alot of people start at smaller ISPs and tech support. It is a common theme that shady business practices occur.

          At the risk of this coming across WAY worse than I really intend it, good for you. At least to me, being a member of some super-high-level tech association means about as much to me as being a member of the local chamber of commerce. It looks good on paper and you have a lot of meetings and discuss important things, but in the end not a whole hell of a lot changes. You still do what you have to to stay in business, and you still do what you can with what you have to keep your customer base happy and encourage it to grow. And I am serious about the challenge. Bigger companies have more incentive to honour the ToS because their customers (often more business than residential customers) are more apt to challenge them and raise a stink.

          There's no magic formula that says that big businesses are better than little ones. That was my gripe with your original post.

          But your experiences may very, life isnt in absolutes.

          Amen. Absolutely. :-)

    • I worked sysadmin for several 'mom&pop' ISP's... back in the day.

      I don't think the things you are referring to are as 'shady' as you seem to think (or perhaps you just haven't mentioned the really shady stuff).

      Splitting a T1 10 ways, believe it or not, was not the evil it was made out to be. (For the laymen, this means selling 10 T1's to remote customers when all you have is one T1 upstream).
      Splitting a T1 10 ways is only bad if people can't get the response and bandwidth they expect.. and let me tell you, in the early-mid 90's, many people coudl NOT tell the difference between 128Kbps isdn and a T1.

      Sure, if they all saturate their links, you're screwed. But they don't.

      As for 'overselling'.. the net is not perfectly heirarchial. EVERY section of it is 'oversold'. There is always more bandwidth downstream than up, or almost always. IT's all how well it's managed against expectations and actual real usage.

      In other words 'as long as the bandwidth is there when I want to use it, I don't care if its' not there when I don't'
    • Same thing happened here in this area of Florida, on smaller scale though. 3 companies all started providing wireless internet access using the free airspace Breezecom equipment. One company spent millions of dollars building a new building, setting up the best networking equipment, paying for prime real estate in tower space, hiring a medium-sized but highly trained (and highly paid) staff, and setting up multiple T3's for their backbone.

      The second company consisted of 3 guys going around setting up deals with owners of buildings to provide free wireless access in exchange for letting them put a tower on top of their building, and most of their electrical wiring looked like it was made with metal coat hangers and duct tape. They too are run by a couple kids who only partially understand the technology they're using, just enough to set it up and get it working, but not enough to prevent constant network problems, which are of course always blamed on the local telco. The 3rd company was somewhere in between these two, but more towards the expensive end.

      Now, about a year and half later, only the cheap podunks are still in business. The other two went bankrupt and sold their assests for chump change. The little guys are now picking up their former competitors clients easily, since they already have the equipment needed, just need a new ISP to connect to. All 3 of these companies overestimated the market demand and reasonable profits that could be made from it, and so the ones who spent the least money ended up winning. And so it seems that business will still remain an Art as well as a Science...
    • Its bread and butter time for the smaller ISPs, they almost live month to month when they first start out they cant have a burn rate.

      This is untrue. The company I work for started small. We got investors who gave us money due to the solidity of our business model and plan.

      Starting at a small BBS turned ISP (cet.com [cet.com]),

      This is one case. I know several companies that started small.

      I seen how the owner would sell a full T1 and split it a dozen ways,

      This is common practice, ALL ISPs do this.

      scam customers on software packages,

      The term SCAM is largely perception based, what you consider a scam, I may consider a good deal.

      replace broken hardware that wasnt broken.

      As a former technician, I have on several occasions replaced equipment I knew was perfectly functional in order to rule it out as a point of failure. I notice you didn't indicate that he charged for such replacement.

      I moved onto another ISP, and saw how the salesmen reminded me of car salesmen, "Let me talk to the manager..."

      All salespeople do this to one degree or another. I do it. Our company has certain discounts we are allowed to offer to a customer. I have to call and have every one approved. If I don't, they turn it down. This is not bad salesmanship, this is a fact of sales. Have you ever gone to a garagesale and offered some money for something and have the guy say, "Let me ask my wife." This is the same thing. Sometimes we need to defer to others.

      People dont see whats going on behind the scenes, how the young kids are working thier ass off to keep the servers up cause they cant hire professional admins.

      Again.... This is a single case. The company I work for only hires certfied engineers for our service department.

      The systems are always having outages and they blame the larger telcos as a "network problem..."

      Who's to say that's not a problem? I was a technician for PrimusTel in Canada and 99% of our problems were as a result of Bell Canada having problems. We occasionally had our own issues but it was mostly Bell.

      That was my biggest problem, I couldnt stand being dishonest to a customer, and you cant be a good salesmen without bending the truth, spreading on the bullshit like butter. Even with a good product, its thier job to sell or they dont eat.

      I am outright offended at this. I am one of the leading salespeople in my company. I have NEVER lied to a customer. EVER. If you were incapable of selling your product without telling lies, then either you didn't believe in your product or it was garbage. I have lost sales as a result of telling the truth. My boss is OK with that. When I started here, I explained that I have a reputation for honesty that I WILL NOT violate. I sell every service here with 100% honesty. If you are a liar, don't try to shuck your blame by trashing the profession. Incidentally, I make a good HONEST living.

      Smaller ISP's have to cut costs too, I remember when all the ISPs in Spokane moved into the tel-west building so they could cut out the local exchange. Save 200 bux on federal taxes and transport fees. A T1 that costs 900 bux wholesale could be bought for 500, since all they had to do was run some cable down the hallway (overhead). Sell the T1 (frac) to 10 people paying you 300 bux, and they pay thier own costs, you could out bid. And then charge them for any hourly work needed. (You need help configuring your router? 10 hours billed)

      I don't understand the point of this. It's called doing business.

      Another reason ISPs needed to move into the telco buildings was the digital lines, to have the 56K v90 modems, the ISP has to have digital lines. I remember how everyone and thier brother was buying livingston port masters and running radius. Every ISP was the same, except for the modems on the end of the portmasters.

      So what? Access doesn't sell, customer service sells. If you have two identical ISPs, the one with the better customer service will win out.

      I think most slashdotters can confirm the shady side of the ISPs. How some run out of computer stores in the back, or BBS's that turned ISP. H

      This is the same kind of logic that brings us bigotry. An ISP I work for was "shady", so all of them are. Doesn't sound too different from, "A [insert ethnicity here] person once stole my car so all of those people are "shady".

      Hell, one of the most popular ISPs Eskimo [eskimo.com] here in seattle runs out of his living room. When I moved over here to this side of washington state, I went over and met the guy. Typical homegrown ISP, but this guy has shitloads of customers.

      Again... your point? Does he provide the service he promises for a price that his customers are happy with? He must be. Good for him and his successful business. Who cares where it's run from.

      Been there done that, now I work for a major wireless telco, millions of customers, and I never have to be shady. Drawbacks? Less ownership in the product. I get paid, but I dont make the choices. Management and Marketing does. Sometimes I just shake my head and say "Umm, if our stockholders only knew....)

      Hmmm, sound dishonest to me.

      Someday Im going to start another business, and try to keep the "mom and pop" attitude. Actually sell what the customer wants, and give it to them. Only thing stands in my way, People are cheap. (-;

      What a good way to end the post, a statement that contradicts the rest of your argument.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The article says Schafer gets $50/month from 70 customers. Per year, that's $3500 * 12 = $42000.
    How many MBA's can you support on that, even if you minimize your expenses to near zero?

    Prime Directive has 12 employees and 400 customers.If each customer spends $50/m, that's $240,000 revenue per year. Even without expenses, the average salary is $12,000 max.

    The only way a high-flying CEO would be able afford to live in this industry would be to consolidate all the companies, jack up the prices a bit, and push down the salaries too. After paying all the lawyers and bankers and consultants, and crushing all the little businesses across America, he might be able to scrounge up enough to live on. (Probably $500k/year maybe)
  • so a small guy is winning now, but how long will he be small?
    diddn't our favourite person bill gates start out small
  • by po8 ( 187055 )

    The poster child in this story cracks me up. He's found a way to parlay a bank loan of $10,000 into a business that rakes in a cool $3,500/month (70 customers @ $50/month). That's $42,000/year, folks, before taxes and costs of doing business.

    In other words, if he is working the business entirely by himself, Marlon Schafer has payed $10,000 for the privilege of having a mediocre-paying tech job. Better yet, both he and the authors of this article are apparently highly impressed by this shrewd move: no regrets here!

    I think it is terrific that he is helping out his rural customers in this way, but if Mr. Schafer wants to make any reasonable amount of money, he should really consider changing his pricing structure or expanding his customer base.

    • Well, he also owns his own business and is his own boss. He also has the rights to any future profits that his company may make. If the network is up and he feels like taking the day off, he can. Being one's own boss is priceless, especialy when his busienss has definite growth potential. And of course he can be the first in line to sell his company for thousands per cutomer once wireless becomes the Next Big Thing again.

      And, more importantly, he probably has the busienss T1 terminiated in his house.
    • Do you have any idea how far $42k/yr goes in Rural Washington? If it's anything like rural Iowa I'd say he's doing pretty well. All people seem to see is $$$$, but when you get down to brass tacks and realize what the cost of living is in more remote areas, (and the fewer headaches associated with working on a smaller scale) it usually pays more to take a lower paying job in an out of the way place. What actually buys you more and provides a better quality of life $42k in rural washington or $90k in Boulder Colorado?
      • Rural areas are usually cheaper primarily in terms of housing expenses, and restaurants. However, a great many things in life cost generally the same in rural areas as anythere else:

        Cars

        Gas

        Many kinds of insurance

        Computer software and hardware

        Vacations

        etc.
        • Given how high a percentage of overhead rent is, I think it's still worthwhile to consider a rural location. BTW, gas and auto insurance are both usually cheaper in rural areas than in cities.
  • by rmckeethen ( 130580 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @06:09AM (#2710784)

    It not really fair to compare wireless service from companies like Odessa Office Supply with Metricom's Ricochet. The two markets they serve are vastly different.

    Odessa, as I understand it, is mainly in the business of being a high-bandwidth ISP to their local customers, most of which are either too far out for DSL or cable modems or not in an area that is easily served by other types of carriers. As such, they do provide a pretty valuable service to the communities they serve, communities that would not have anything better then dial-up service otherwise. It's really pretty much intended to do only point-to-point service, they're not really intending that you will be running around the neighborhood with the equipment. They do support some mobile applications but nothing like what Ricochet did. From what I hear most of the wireless ISPs like Odessa use Breezecom equipment and 802.11 stuff for their networks, again a lot less expensive then the proprietary Ricochet stuff. And Odessa serves a rural market, not a metropolitan one.

    Metricom, on the other hand, was in the business of providing a true mobile wireless service within metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, this is a lot harder to do then point-to-point service. To ensure that everyone will have service wherever they happen to be within the area you have to build the network to provide service even to areas that may not have any customers in them. That means that a fair fraction of the network, at any given time, isn't generating any revenue at all, even though it's still got to be operational. Of course, until you have good coverage, customers aren't interested in paying for your service, so it's something of the old chicken or egg situation. No in-place network, no customers. But the costs to build that kind of network can be staggering. Is it really any wonder that Merticom failed?

    Looking at it this way, it's easy to see why companies like Odessa survive while Metricom went under. The markets are simply different and it's unfortunate that CNET appears to have missed this point. Oh well.

    If anyone is interested, you can find more information on Odessa at http://www.odessaoffice.com/wireless/

    Additionally, Marlon's a frequent contributor on the ISP wireless e-mail list. See http://isp-lists.isp-planet.com/subscribe/

    • Metricom went under because they had a bad business model. You can't sell a product for less than you pay for it. They died for the same reason that @home almost died. Marlon is successful because he is smart about how he sells his bandwidth, he doesn't give away the farm. It helps that he understands what he's doing and he also enjoys it. He is a very helpful person and the ISP wireless mailing list proves it. There are others(Bob, Patrick, Jaime) as well. Check it out, if anything it will be a cool learning experience.
  • by jchawk ( 127686 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @06:21AM (#2710795) Homepage Journal
    I have a couple friends that just launched a small ISP about 9 months ago and they are finding success in the market because of the poor service provided by the other large ISP's.

    They also have the advantage of being able to roll out small wireless mesh networks in areas that are overlooked by the MegaISPs.

    These guys will probably never become multi-millionaires, but they will probably make a really nice living. Plus they work for themselves and make their own hours. As long as you keep the network running smoothly there is no way for a customer to tell that you are out on the golf course or on the couch at home, as opposed to a server room.

    Plus look at it this way, eventually when the economy turns around (6 months, 1 year, 5 years, whenever), they stand to make a really nice chunk of change if they are bought out.
  • by cosmosis ( 221542 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @06:25AM (#2710798) Homepage

    Ok, I'm going to break from the pack and say that we have not seen the end of the little guy. And by little, I mean every one of us - you, me, your nextdoor neighbor. The dot-com failure wasn't becuase of the technology, it was stupidity plain and simple. Their really is a new economy and it is going to change everything, depsite EVERYTHING you keep hearing to the contrary after the dot-com crash. The only reasons it crashed in the first place, is becuase what has always been obvious to me since the beginning of all this (pre-1994) is that the internet revolution isn't about the big guys - that is the who fricking point! It is about the little guy.

    Think 802.11a, b, g, z? Everyone will have one on their house talking to everyone else on their houses. A wireless P2P 'gnutella', 'freenet' Neighboorhood LAN (NAN).

    While the rest of the idiots continue to get more depressed at the the rediculous dot-com crash, I'm celebrating the birth of individuality that is emerging quietly between the cracks. Ha ha ha ha haaa!

    • Absolutely. I'm a senior CS undergraduate. When I was a freshman, we were in the thick of the moronic dot com business models. "We'll revolutionize online toilet paper delivery!"

      All of the ideas coming out of my classmates were equally moronic. Or moreso. (even my older classmates :) Now that no one is *looking* for businesses to start, and no one is hiring, they're just finding ways to make money. And it's working. They're not incorporating, they're not talking about venture capital, and they're thinking smaller.

      People realized that they're not going to be millionaires, and they're making money. The internet can still make you money. Small businesses rule.
  • wireless isp locator (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2001 @06:42AM (#2710816)
    here's a locator-thingy for wireless isps:
    http://www.bbwexchange.com/wisps/
  • Does anyone have good info about setting up one of these? Yes, I'll go an look around on Google, I want /. info first. I mean, it's not just getting an 802.11b transciever and proclaiming to the world "Here I am!". You need a way to control users access, billing stuff, how do you put it on their end? Do you sell them the transciever, rent it, make them buy there own? How do you decide where you wanna go first?

    I'm assuming rural here, since most urban places have broadband available. How about selling to businesses? If you can't tell, I'm pretty interested in doing this.
    • Check out http://www.ydi.com/ They have a WiPOP in a box solution that makes it easy. You can authenticate through MAC filtering or RADIUS. As far as CPE goes take your pick. You can sell it, lease it or have them buy their own. It's not that difficult to set up and get rolling. The tough part is selling because when you say "wireless" people automatically assume it's satellite.
  • by Cpyder ( 57655 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @09:20AM (#2710943) Journal
    This is the same guy of the utterly cool "Homebrew Dsl" (covered in this [slashdot.org] Slashdot story)
    Back then, he said:
    "So, having looked into wireless... My POP is at a very low point of town and it is right beside a rock bluff. Wireless would also cover the downtown corridor very nicely but it would also be limited in distance and would be much more expensive to get up and running. Especially when you consider that I would probably have to put in a point-to-point system to feed a multipoint-to-point system on top of one of the local grain elevators (If the grain company would let me)."

    Looks like he finally convinced them...
  • Transbay Wireless [sfbroadband.com] in Berkeley is offering some wicked fast fixed wireless in the East Bay. Unfortunatey, their site doesn't have the pricing info up. However, the access prices they do list on their main site [transbay.net] seem very reasonable. As a plus, they are a very Unix/Linux friendly shop. Can anybody comment on their experience with Transbay's service? I may be moving to their wireless service area, and would love to ditch the cable co.
  • A lot of the comments have focused on "only $42K," "when will he sell out," etc. I personally think that everybody is so obsessed with money here that they automatically assume that he is going to behave in a way like they would. I know several small business owners (including myself and some of them my clients) who have no interest in making it big. They want to find their niche and make a comfortable living.

    I personally have a full time job at a money grubbing corporation that pays very well. I also, on my spare time (and sometimes at work), maintain a low maintenance small business. My girlfriend also lives at home full time and has her own small business. Now I don't put in the 80 hour weeks at my real job to ever make senior management and my small business is never going to bring in more than a few grand every year but I am very comfortable.

    This gentlemen is probably good friends with his 70 customers. He probably makes support house calls for just a cup of coffee. They probably bake him cookies at christmas. Who knows? To me his business is really a joint venture between him and all of his customers. It actually reminds me of the good how set up the T1 network is his neighborhood.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Sunday December 16, 2001 @10:40AM (#2710998)
    Tele2 (http://www.tele2.co.uk/) springs to mind, however, the bigger boys are also looking at it due to the last mile problems. It makes a lot of sense.

    802.11b can't be used to provide a commercial ISP in the UK so Tele2 are using something up in the 4GHz range.

    802.11b is however being used by individuals to connect together volunteer run wireless area networks, the biggest I'm aware of being Consume (http://consume.net/).
  • At some point in the last ten years we quit paying attention to the technology and started thinking only about the score. Which big outfit would get bigger. Somewhere along the line the nuts and bolts of this industry got sidetracked. Marlon and his Odessa Office Equipment business (housed in an old warehouse in town across from the local restaurant) kept an eye on the basics: give customers a service that works and charge them a fair price for it.

    Marlon isn't a Linux/Unix guru, but his workshop is that of a "hands on" guy; littered with parts, antenna wires, soldering irons and tools. No spectrum analyzers, digital scopes, or automated test beds... Marlon uses the built-in site survey capabilities of some wireless radios to do 75% of what that equipment would do at 1% of the cost.

    This sort of "can do" thinking is why I think that the spirit of America shines brightest in its small towns and rural areas and not in the corporate hallways. Marlon learned enough about microwave systems to be able to design workable wireless networks (and DSL systems too, although the article doesn't speak to that), sell them, install them, connect them, and keep them working. My guess is that Paul Allen couldn't do any one of those things.

    Marlon probably wouldn't last a week in a corporate environment (if they'd hire him at all), but he can do something none of them can: Marlon can make money off DSL and wireless networks. Partly because Paul Allen and his ilk don't think the small towns are worth the bother.
    • Marlon isn't a Linux/Unix guru, but his workshop is that of a "hands on" guy; littered with parts, antenna wires, soldering irons and tools. No spectrum analyzers, digital scopes, or automated test beds... Marlon uses the built-in site survey capabilities of some wireless radios to do 75% of what that equipment would do at 1% of the cost.

      Umm... as a distributor/sales, you would never use spectrum analyzers, digital scopes or ATE; you buy your products and if they break, send 'em back under warranty. To do otherwise is folly. Now if Marlon were manufacturing this equipment and didn't have the test equipment mentioned, he'd also be stupid. He'd be wasting a lot of time guessing what was wrong.

      How do I know? I'm in both positions. I design equipment but I also resell other equipment. If you've bought a warranty, you better damn well use it.

      This sort of "can do" thinking is why I think that the spirit of America shines brightest in its small towns and rural areas and not in the corporate hallways. Marlon learned enough about microwave systems to be able to design workable wireless networks (and DSL systems too, although the article doesn't speak to that), sell them, install them, connect them, and keep them working.

      Strong will and common sense go a hell of a long way anywhere but you're right. Corporate environments are very good at discouraging this type of practise. They want you to do sim and sim and report and sim and before all that have an M.Everything where you spent a shitload of years doing just the same thing instead of the "country boy" way of doing things: make it work and worry about the details as they come at you. Country-engineering is almost always over-engineered. Cost isn't taken out because it doesn't have to be right then. It's not as small or as efficient as it can be because that's not important at the start. The corporate engineered way dictates that you get it to market both fast and efficiently. You're making a zillion so you need cost out up front.

      It takes a special kind of person to make something out of nothing, and a different kind of person to take that something and engineer it so that it's not bigger, faster, stronger or power-hungry than it has to be.

      • "Umm... as a distributor/sales, you would never use spectrum analyzers, digital scopes or ATE; you buy your products and if they break, send 'em back under warranty. To do otherwise is folly."

        Ummm... nope. What if you have a wireless network running nicely and someone comes into the area and installs a node right next to you with antennas pointing right at your node? How do you track them? After all, even if it's 2.4gHz spectrum, deliberate and milicious interferance is still against the law.

        You *could* use a spectrum analyzer... or you could make creative use of directional antennas and the abilities of some off-the-shelf equipment to do site surveys.
        • Being heavily involved in two-way radio systems(I own 5 commercial repeaters), I see a few here speak of 802.11b like it's "the" standard by which all others are judged, it's not. This is a demographics problem, and Bluetooth systems are few and far between and even less in "rural" America, where I do business. Connectivity "IS" the standard by which to judge. Cellular AMPS, GSM, PCS are fine, just never trust any commercial network for full-time service(9.11.01 comes to mind). Infrastructure needs to be attended to as does the site costs for any buildouts planned. "Mom and pop probably can't even think of shelling out millions per POP for for aucttion licensing for their location if it's metro anyway. Nextel has a huge "chunk" of this nation already (under)serviced with iDEN and breaking down THAT "wall" gets you calls from their army of attorneys. Network costs are a very small part of the overall picture, but I would LOVE to get involved with ANY group here that wants to connect telco gear to my "network" of UHF repeaters....HELL, I'll remove them from 2-way service and network the whole lot if this is feaseable! Let's see....Modems, packet nodes, routers, frame relays, towers, site licensing, cabling, link radios(2.4 Ghz, 5.6 Ghz.) and transmitter controllers, pre-amps(GaAs-FET of course)identifiers for the R.F. backbone service. Gee.....sounds "cheap" already...NOT! Ideas that are sound, sound good; it's the sound of money that gets the job/s finished!
        • You *could* use a spectrum analyzer... or you could make creative use of directional antennas and the abilities of some off-the-shelf equipment to do site surveys.

          A spectrum analyzer without the directional antenna is as useless as tits on a bull in this scenario. I would have done it the same way as the fellow you describe did. Use a directional antenna with a device that can tell you the signal strength and point it around. Hell get a couple and triangulate the position, then take a high power rifle with a decent scope and take it out. :-)

  • There are two big issues with wireless internet access that I see as causing a problem with widespread acceptance and success:

    1. Geeks understand interference issues, the masses don't. The RBOC calls up and wants to sell a cheap 2.4GHz phone - one that isn't broad spectrum. It's new, must be better, right? But there's an interference issue. Older 2.4GHz phones can and does wreak havoc with 802.11b networks. If I'm working and someone uses the phone (an old 2.4 bitch) we all lose our network connectivity. It's a pain. A friend fixed the problem (had lots of interference issues after installation of his wireless internet access) at home by purchasing a more expensive 2.4GHz phone with fast frequency hopping and the problem is solved, but can you imagine trying to deal with the average consumer? Eeeks! It would drive your support costs through the roof. And without widespread acceptance are there really enough of us who can deal with it for these companies to be successful?? I want them to be, but in certain parts of the country it just isn't going to work .

    2. Non-intentional FUD. Really - after the massive exodus of DSL providers, there's an issue of financial viability that has to be considered. Small wireless shops are probably great on price and work fine - but if they aren't there in 2 months you're going to have to reprovision AND, worse, deal with domain registration changes (if you've got your own domains ).

    I don't want to deal with Network Sol again or breaking in a new ISP even though wireless sounds good. I need my connectivity for play and for work and can't be down for 2 weeks if my chosen provider goes belly up.So I sit and wait.

    No one is really "out there" spreading FUD but it's natural after the past year with Metricom, @home, @link, etc... going tits up.

    -----------
  • Erielink has Broadband Wireless Internet and supports linux, *bsd, unix, windows, and mac. In Ohio: Cleveland, Lakewood, and Brooklyn so far. http://www.erielink.com/ [erielink.com]
  • When I told some of my friends that I was going with wireless net access they laughed at me. When they saw how much faster my connection was than their cable and DSL connections they stopped laughing. It's also cheaper than the local DSL provider. I'm about to move and am really going to miss the service, but if you're in the Rock Hill, SC area you should really check out CetLink's [cetlink.net] wireless access - it's as good as they advertise and they have most of the county covered.
  • We've just had a small wireless ISP statup here in my little town of Fort Macleod in Canada. There currently are the _only_ source of high speed Internet, so I will sign up with them, but I fear they won't last.
  • The Internet can no longer be used to start a profitable, small business with growth potential. We all long for the days when anyone could run a profitable dial-up ISP from their basement, have a lot of fun doing it, and make a nice bit of cash.

    However, things have changed. Broadband has arrived, and bandwidth is a traded commodity. To sell it for a profit, you must invest millions in network intrastructure.

    The smallest possible profitable ISP business that MAY be possible today is the idea of ADCos, but that's (a) speculative and (b) requires at least over a million dollars in start-up capital. So, ADCos are not, technically, the mom-and-pop business model that everyone is desperatly looking for.

    The problem has little to do with the economics of broadband resale. The problem is that there is no APPLICATION for it. Not enough people need high-speed wireless access (mobile or PPP), nor do they really even need cable and DSL (as the collapse of @Home has recently demonstrated).

    The only way that the tech industry, and especially the networking / telecom sector, will ever recover from the so-called dot-com crash, is when there are real applications for high-speed, public networks.

    Until then, it's senseless to spend your life's savings on server equipment, a T3 and a radio tower.

    Somehow, innovation in the software industry needs to be rapidly provoked. Unfortunatly, it seems that Open Source is not really fulfilling this dream, as many had hoped. We're stuck in a rut.

  • I work for a wireless ISP in Canada. We are a multi-million dollar company that acts like a small Mom and Pop operation. We don't move into an area until we have a number of signed customers already. We are one of the FEW growing ISPs in Canada and it is due to our business model.

    Wireless ISPs can work, the problem is that most are run by people who think like a phone company.

    _______________

    Shameless Plug :TeraGo Networks [terago.ca]

Bus error -- please leave by the rear door.

Working...