What is a Wireless ISP?

Ethernet cable unplugged
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A wireless Internet 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 more traditional types of Internet service like DSL. These so-called fixed wireless broadband services have proven especially popular in larger rural areas of the western U.S. that large national providers typically don't cover.

Finding and Using a Wireless ISP

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

A wireless ISP, like other Internet providers, typically requires its customers to have special gear (sometimes called Customer Premises Equipment or CPE) installed. Fixed wireless services utilize a small dish-like antenna installed on a rooftop, for example, with a special modem-like device that connects (via cables) the exterior unit to a home broadband router.

Setup and signing in to a wireless ISP otherwise works the same as with other forms of broadband Internet. (See also - Introduction to Making Wireless Internet Connections)

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

Are Cell Phone or other Hotspot Providers also Wireless ISPs?

Traditionally,a company in business as a wireless ISP supplied only wireless network and Internet access. Cell phone carriers were not considered wireless ISPs as 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 often used interchangeably to refer to both.

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