Cut Costs & Increase Services to Remote Locations

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It’s difficult to imagine life before the Internet — when was the last time you broke out some stationery and wrote a letter?  Sought information from an encyclopedia? Called AAA to get maps before a road trip?



But if you rewind a bit to about the mid-1990s, very few people would have sent an e-mail, conducted a search on Wikipedia or “MapQuested” an unfamiliar address.



It appears Internet providers might experience a similar evolution, and to a certain extent, it’s already happening.  (Remember dial-up Internet?)



Wireless Internet started in remote locations, and it has spread to more-urban, densely populated areas like wildfire. But although city dwellers now can decide to go wireless, it used to be the only option for those in more-rural settings, said Marlon Schafer, a founding board member of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).



“Around 1999 or 2000, the minute there came a product on the market that was affordable for the masses, it went rural because there was nothing else available and nothing else on the books coming anytime soon,” Schafer said.



Wireless Internet remains a popular option for remote locations.



“People in rural markets have access to or are using wireless broadband Internet, not DSL and cable — big, huge chunks,” Schafer said. “You might get cities of 15,000 or 20,000 or even somewhere like Odessa (Wash.) — we have fewer than 1,000 people here, and we have two providers. We have wireless, which was here long before DSL, and we have the phone company doing DSL today. The wireless service is basically the same price and much faster than the DSL service — it’s a much bigger bang for your buck anyway you look at it.”



There are between 2,500 to 4,000 wireless Internet providers in the United States, Schafer said, and there are more than 1 million subscribers on those networks. Those numbers are likely to increase, though, given the “meteoric” growth rates.



Schafer’s experience with his company, Odessa Office Equipment, is no exception.



“We installed more new customers in the first quarter of this year than we did all of last year, and all of our areas are very rural,” he said. “We have not added any significant new customer areas or coverage zone to our current network. Our network covers about 6,000 square miles. We have competition from cable, DSL, other wireless operators, fiber to the home and satellite in almost all areas that we cover, but still, we’re growing at those rates.



“The growth rate in broadband rate now is very nearly mirroring what happened in dial-up in the 1999-to-2002 time frame, when everyone finally figured out that they had to have this.”



Wireless providers likely will be looking for ways to cut costs as they continue to grow, and Schafer said enterprises can use older technology to get a head start.



“I think that if a company is looking to operate or is operating in a smaller market, it needs to get on the telephone,” he said. “Most of the wireless operators, the independent shops are not very effective at getting their name out — they’re not sending out press releases and so forth on a constant basis. But they’re there.”



Schafer said his company is focused on growing out more than growing up because keeping up with the explosive growth can be challenging.



“We are spending every nickel we can come up with, and everything we don’t have to put onto the table goes back into the business, and it makes it bigger, better, faster, stronger,” he said. “There’s no outside funding — it’s all done on bank loans, credit cards and private loans, but the growth rate is so high (and there’s a bit of a loss with every new customer) that 75 percent or so of our customer-acquisition costs are covered by the customer at the sign-up point.



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