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ARTICLE: Wireless ISPs - Vital Players in the UK's Telecoms Sector?

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

As the UK races towards gigabit connectivity for every household by 2030, it's easy to think that wireless ISPs are a thing of the past. But, after attending the UK WISPA London Conference last week, I was reminded of the relevance of wireless in today's fibre-centric telecoms sector. In this article, we'll dive into the world of wireless ISPs what they do, and why they matter in the era of aggressive fibre investment and infrastructure competition driven by Ofcom and the UK Government.

Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) provide high-speed Internet access using radio or fixed wireless access (FWA) networks instead of traditional wired networks such as fibre. This enables WISPs to provide internet access to areas that are hard to reach or underserved by traditional broadband providers, making them a valuable service provider in the market.

WISPs pass just over 2 million or 7% of premises in the UK

UKWISPA is an official trade body representing WISPs and it estimates that there are approximately 120 WISPs in the UK, ranging from small community operators to large scale commercial ISPs and hybrid alternative network providers (altnets) that deliver both fibre and wireless connections. It is estimated by Ofcom and UKWISPA that the total number of premises passed in the UK by WISPs is just over 2 million which is around 7% of the UK’s premises.

WISPs are often able to provide fibre-like coverage to rural areas at a lower cost than traditional fibre operators. Because wireless technology is more flexible and scalable, WISPs can quickly deploy their networks in areas where laying fibre optic cables is prohibitively expensive. In addition to serving the residential market, WISPs also play a vital role in serving the business community by providing diverse bandwidth solutions at rapid speeds. This enables businesses in remote locations to access high-speed internet, which is essential for online collaboration, cloud computing, and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

WISPs can build broadband networks in rural areas at a much lower cost than fibre networks

Wireless networks can be also less expensive to build and maintain than fibre networks. They require less infrastructure and can be operated with fewer staff, resulting in lower operating costs. This can translate into lower costs for customers, particularly in rural areas where the cost of traditional broadband services can be high. It is estimated that the capital cost per connected premises (CPCP) with gigabit capable FWA designs can be around GBP 350, which is significantly less than what fibre networks can achieve in rural areas.

Technology innovation is making WISP and FWA networks gigabit capable

In the past, broadband services over WISP networks have been limited to superfast data rates (i.e., 30Mbit/s). However, FWA network equipment performance and pricing levels have improved significantly in recent years, with gigabit and multi-gigabit capable services now possible. This is being helped particularly with innovation being pioneered by University of Edinburgh technology spin out WhiteHaul.

WISPs can bridge the digital divide, can deploy networks rapidly, create jobs and improve resilience

With their offer lower rollout costs, higher line speeds, and greater flexibility WISPS offer additional benefits for the UK:

  • Bridging the Digital Divide: Wireless ISPs can provide high-speed internet access to rural areas that are underserved or completely unserved by traditional broadband providers. This helps bridge the digital divide, allowing rural communities to access the same opportunities and services as their urban counterparts.

  • Flexibility and Scalability: Wireless networks are more flexible and scalable than wired networks. They can be quickly deployed in areas where wired infrastructure is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. This makes them an ideal solution for rural areas where population densities are low, and the cost of laying fibre networks is prohibitively high.

  • Job Creation: Wireless ISPs can create jobs in rural areas, providing employment opportunities for local people. This can have a positive impact on the local economy, helping to sustain and grow rural communities.

  • Improved Resilience: Wireless networks can be more resilient than traditional wired networks, particularly in areas prone to natural disasters or other disruptions. Because wireless networks are not reliant on physical infrastructure, they can be quickly restored in the event of an outage, ensuring that communities have access to critical services.

In summary, wireless ISPs are important to the UK economy, particularly in rural areas, because they help bridge the digital divide, provide flexibility and scalability, are lower in cost, create jobs, and provide improved resilience to communities.


Intelligens Consulting is a telecoms and smart city management consultant to investors, operators and public bodies. We have worked with fibre operators and wireless ISPS to support their growth and market expansion strategies. Intelligens Consulting is also commercial advisor to WhiteHaul. Please contact us on should you wish to discuss anything discussed in this article.


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