Wireless internet service providers (WISPs) are seeing a 36% increase in average traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a WISP member survey conducted by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). The emergency has enabled 83% of WISPs to add subscribers – a figure that is 33% above normal.
Providers are working to handle the increased traffic. “I have planned for increased usage in my system design and can accommodate the needed capacity for this emergency,” said an anonymous WISP that responded to the survey. The survey was conducted during the week of March 23.
WISP COVID-19 Responses
The increase in subscribers has led 22% of companies to hire staff to take care of growth and/or service needs. Eighty-seven percent of WISPs are doing in-home and/or in-office service calls, and call levels are 18% above normal. “We are remaining open, to connect as many as possible due to the shelter in place order for non-essential workers,” a WISP responder commented.
It’s important to note that WISPs primarily serve rural areas.
While 87% say that they have equipment to support new subscribers, some are concerned that equipment eventually will become scarce. “If we are not able to get equipment, we’ll have to stop all new installs and reserve equipment for service restoration only,” said one.
WISPs also are supporting their communities. Almost half – 48% — are offering free WiFi or other connectivity to customers and public institutions and 40% are working with other communications providers to help their communities. “We are providing free services to families with school age children and no current internet service to ensure children can access public school resources from home during school facility closures,” a provider said.
Though they are trying to remain up and running for their communities, organizations are looking out for their people as well. Twelve percent of service calls have been cancelled. “We are still doing home installs and service calls but with caution,” one said. “We call the appointments prior to going to the house to be sure no one is ill. We also have our installers wear masks and gloves.”
The organization’s survey was based on about 155 responses. “On the whole, WISPs appear to be weathering the storm relatively well, with the overwhelming majority of them growing business even in light of new use dynamics, workforce bandwidth issues, potential equipment supply chain shortfalls and the practical safety concerns that the pandemic poses to keeping everyday operations running safely for all,” the organization said in a press release.
In mid-March, the FCC extended the deadline for most fixed wireless providers to new rules for the CBRS spectrum band — a move designed to give the providers more time to focus on customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those that have deployed fixed wireless in the band between 3650 and 3700 MHz have until October 17 to replace or upgrade equipment to conform to new rules covering the entire CBRS band, which is between 3550 and 3700 MHz.