Interesting topic on discontinued gear

So an interesting topic came up on Facebook tonight that got me to thinking. As WISPs grow and evolve, what are your thoughts on hoarding gear you have been using for years when it becomes discontinued? We will examine some ideas as to why this isn’t necessarily all a technical problem. It’s also a philosophical thing with the WISP owner/management.

First off let us examine the whys you would hoard equipment. One big reason is that you have a significant investment in the gear you are using.  This gear has been proven to work, and you have deployed large amounts of it. As a company grows, the ability to introduce new gear into things facing the customer becomes a slower process. To use the analogy, the larger the company grows, the slower the ship turns.

Another reason is the amount of capital needed to migrate to new gear.  Many times when a product line gets discontinued, there is no clear replacement for it. The Facebook post which brought up this post involved the Mikrotik NetMetal 9s.  These are now discontinued by Mikrotik and have no replacement.  If a WISP were to migrate to something else there would be a significant cost in new access points, but more costly, would-be customer CPE. “But just put up the new gear alongside the old and migrate customers over,” you say. This brings us to the next point.

Frequency plays a big role in any migration path. In a perfect world, everyone has open channels and there is no interference. However, that is hardly the case in many scenarios.  This scenario is especially true of 900mhz.  You only have 902-928 MHz to deal with in the US FCC realm.  At 20 MHz wide this is only one non-overlapping channel.   If you put up another access point on 900mhz on top of your existing you will be interfering with yourself. Besides, the frequency may be the reason you are able to reach customers.

Finally, the pros of hoarding equipment are the soft costs of upgrading. Training, engineering, customer service, and possible re-work of some installs can add to the overall cost.  Anyone who has had to change the pins on a reverse polarity Subscriber Module knows the pain I am talking about.

The Cons

The biggest trap I see operators fall into is they horde equipment and then forget about i.  They have spares on the shelves, and enough to service customers. They fool themselves into a false sense of security and kind of wait for something to fall into their laps.  Then, it seems all of a sudden, something happens, and they are scrambling for a solution.  Sometimes this is a software update current equipment gets, but the older stuff does not. This could be some critical security vulnerability or new code to interface with a new system.  Either way, this equipment is stranded on a software island.

Next up is hardware failure.  As equipment gets old it, is more prone to failure.  A WISP may find their reserves depleted after a weekend of storms or bad luck. What may have been plentiful supplies a month ago is now an issue.

Lastly, the performance of the equipment is a big issue.  In today’s bandwidth-hungry consumer ISP radios are needing to perform better and deliver more bandwidth to the customer. Sometimes a manufacturer discontinues a product because they see the limitations of the band or the equipment. Sometimes the manufacturer sees operators are moving on to other ways of doing things. This could be newer frequencies or data algorithms. Usually, it boils down to the equipment was too expensive to make or wasn’t selling well enough.

So whats a WISP to do?

The number one thing a WISP needs to do is not fall into a rut of doing the same old same old for too long when it comes to equipment.  What worked five years ago, may work okay today, but will it work two years from now? Always have a strategy to dump your equipment if need be for something better.  Whether that strategy makes business sense is a different question. Sometimes the approach is to have money in the bank for when the right equipment comes along. Until then, it’s business as usual. Don’t let yourself keep saying you will figure it out tomorrow.

I believe that WISPs should have three lines of thinking.

  1. What am I doing in the immediate future to run my business?
  2. What am I doing in the next 18 months to keep my business competitive?
  3. What am I doing in the next 24-36 months to grow and keep up with customer demand?

If you have strategies for each of these then hoarding equipment is no big deal.  You have plans in place. Just don’t let yourself fall into a false sense of security. Always be learning about new rules, technologies, equipment, and methods.  As your business grows you can delegate this to others, so you don’t have to be in the thick of it and can concentrate on your business.  If you are that “techie” who is doing all of this, keep an open mind.  Don’t be the typical I.T. guy stuck in your ways. None of this is saying hoarding discontinued gear is wrong, just have a strategy.

#packetsdownrange

 

WISPs and Tower assets – LLC or what?

As a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) grows, they tend to acquire some tower assets of their own.  Sometimes these are ones they build and sometimes these are towers they acquire from various sources. What is a WISP to do with these assets and, how should they treat them? In this article, I give you some options to consider. *DISCLAIMER* This article is not to be construed or viewed as actual legal advice.

One of the first business questions is how will owning a tower affect my current business? Will it cause your insurance rates to go up? Do I have liability concerns, especially if the tower is required to have lights according to FAA rules? Will I rent out space to other entities? All of these are valid questions and can affect how you structure these assets.

One of the everyday things a WISP can do when they build or acquire assets is to form an LLC for the tower side of things.  The question is do you form an LLC per tower or an overall LLC for your tower assets.  Let’s look at what forming an LLC will help you with before we get into the above question.

If you are a WISP, forming an LLC for your tower assets will most likely save your WISP operations from insurance penalties.  You may not have to carry extra business insurance or even have to switch carriers because your current insurer does not cover towers. Sure, you have to carry insurance for the LLC, but it can be a cut-down policy and causes things like workers compensation for the WISP side to rise. You are mainly concerned about the tower causing damage or damage to the tower.

Secondly, by having an LLC own and manage your assets, you have put yourself in a better position if you decide to sell your WISP operations.  On paper, your WISP is renting space and whatever from the Tower LLC.  If you have other forms of income from the tower you can decide whether to sell the tower or keep it. If the towers are separated from the WISP operations a sale of either side is much cleaner come sale time.  This is not to say you can’t sell the tower assets with the WISP operations, but it gives you more flexibility.

The last question is, should you form an LLC for each tower.  Some operators like this approach for several reasons.  The first is it allows one tower issue not to affect the other LLCs.  Should you come into legal problems with a tower, a properly set up and documented LLC will shield the members from potential personal liability.  With the ease of online LLC formation, it is easy enough to form an LLC for each tower asset. As mentioned earlier the separate LLCs give you more flexibility. Should you own some carrier-grade assets you have the potential to sell these to a larger tower aggregator without affecting your WISP operations. This is one way several of my clients have infused cash into their operations.

The downside is you now have more paperwork and filings to keep track of.  You have to keep up on LLC renewals, filings, and other paperwork. If you have processes or teams in place, this may not be an issue. Legally, you need to make sure you are not mixing the LLCs, which could cause you to lose the protection of the company.  It just depends on how savvy you are or if you have proper legal representation which is affordable.

At the very least I think it is very advantageous for the WISP to move any tower assets into at least one LLC. You are doing your business a favor.

RouterOS v7 limited beta

I did an overall video of the New Mikrotik RouterOS v7.

From Mikrotik forum: https://forum.mikrotik.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=152003

We have released a very limited test variant of RouterOS v7. Currently only available for ARM systems with a slightly limited feature set.

What is currently unlocked / available:

– Only available for ARM architecture
– Based on Kernel 4.14.131, which is currently the latest and most supported LTS version
– New CLI style, but compatible with the old one for compatibility
– New routing features, but see below
– OpenVPN UDP protocol support
– NTP client and server now in one, rewritten application
– removed individual packages, only bundle and extra packages will remain

Other features not yet public.

What is not available:

– BGP / MPLS disabled
– Extra packages
– Winbox does not show all features, use CLI for most functionality

DO NOT USE IT FOR ANYTHING IMPORTANT, THIS RELEASE IS STRICTLY FOR TESTING AND DOES CONTAIN BUGS

Download link: https://mt.lv/v7

Water tower install with mounting frame

We recently headed up a job for a client of installing some RF elements horns, Cambium ePMP, and Baicells LTE for a client.  One of the gems of this job was the frame the client designed for the job.  We can’t take credit for this. We just think it’s cool. Some of these pictures were taken during construction, thus post clean-up.

The frame is truly an example of how WISPs are stepping up their installs to become more standardized and carrier-grade. It costs some money but is worth it in the end.

 

Need help identifying fiber optic ends?

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Corporate vs ISP networks for the ISP

This content is for Patreon subscribers of the j2 blog. Please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber for as little as $1 a month. This helps to provide higher quality content, more podcasts, and other goodies on this blog.
To view this content, you must be a member of Justin Wilson's Patreon at "Patrons Only" or higher tier

j2 Briefing: FCC news, Microsoft whitespace, polls

The j2 Podcast for August 29, 2019

Microsoft is pushing it’s Whitespace product as a solution to the Digital divide. This has been branded “Airband”
https://www.multichannel.com/news/microsoft-brands-rural-divide-national-crisis

The FCC
The commission unanimously voted to distribute more than $20 billion of Universal Service Fund subsidies over the next decade as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. It also adopted a long-awaited proposal to get more detailed information from broadband providers about where they offer service in order to improve the agency’s coverage maps.  <let’s hope this revamps the form 477 reportin>

iOt is showing it’s age
Amazon is killing off the gimicky Dash buttons.
https://www.engadget.com/2019/08/01/amazon-dash-buttons/

Verizon turns up 5G

In the ever-changing 5g race Verizon turns up 5G in Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Washington DC

New poll says the Internet is more important than Air conditioning while on vacation
https://www.swnsdigital.com/2019/08/majority-of-americans-would-rather-give-up-air-conditioning-than-have-no-internet-on-vacation/

Mobile Users double since 2013
The percentage of respondents who said their primary online access devices is mobile has effectively doubled since 2013, and many of those are using mobile as a substitute, rather than a complement, to wired broadband service.
https://www.multichannel.com/news/pew-mobile-broadband-users-double-since-2013