What Is a Wireless ISP?

Wireless ISPs are in some areas with no cable and satellite internet

Ethernet cable unplugged
VisualField/Getty (Images

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

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

Using a Wireless ISP

To use a wireless ISP, a person must subscribe to the service. While a few providers may offer free subscriptions on a promotional basis, most charge fees and require service contracts.

A wireless ISP, like other internet providers, typically requires its 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.

Setup and signing in to a wireless ISP otherwise work the same as with other forms 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. Nowadays, 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 business places are also considered wireless ISPs.