What Is a Wireless ISP?

These providers offer internet service in areas with no cable or satellite

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A wireless internet service provider (sometimes called a wireless ISP or WISP) offers public wireless network services to customers for a fee.

Wireless ISPs sell residential internet to households as alternatives to traditional internet services, such as DSL and cable. These fixed wireless broadband services have proven especially popular in rural areas of the U.S. where large national providers don't typically offer service.

Using a Wireless ISP

To use a wireless ISP, you must subscribe to the service and sign a service contract. Additionally, a wireless ISP, like other internet providers, typically requires customers to have special gear (called Customer Premises Equipment or CPE) installed.

Fixed wireless services use a small dish-like antenna installed on a rooftop with a special modem-like device that connects via cables to the exterior unit of a home broadband router. Otherwise, setup and signing in to a wireless ISP work the same as with other types of broadband internet.

Internet connections through a WISP typically support slower download speeds than traditional broadband providers due to the kinds of wireless technology they use.

Are Cellphone or Other Hotspot Providers Also Wireless ISPs?

Typically, a company in business as a wireless ISP supplies only wireless network and internet access. Cellphone carriers are not considered wireless ISPs because they also have a substantial business around voice telecommunications. However, the line between wireless ISPs and phone companies is blurring, and the term WISP is sometimes used interchangeably to refer to both.

Companies that install wireless hotspots in airports, hotels, and other public places are also considered wireless ISPs.