Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada – Market Size & Key Facts

This blog on Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada offers

  • Quick background and data on internet access in Canada
  • Insights on the need for Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada and their contribution
  • Information on the WISP industry in Canada market size, key facts & leading players

 

Bridging the Digital Divide: Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in Canada & Their Contribution

 

In this age of connected devices, the internet is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity. Canada consistently ranks amongst the top 15 countries in the world when it comes to fixed broadband speeds. However, this fact isn’t inclusive of everyone. There are many regions and communities in the country that don’t enjoy fast internet access. Consumers in such areas are often known to exist in so-called ‘blackout zones’. Rural Canadians are more aggressive affected by this problem and lead to a widespread ‘digital divide’. Understandably, the ‘digital divide’ significantly limits growth, opportunities, and prosperity for many of us.

 

How do Canadians get Internet?

High-speed internet can be delivered in many ways. Cable, DSL & Fiber are commonly used access methods for urban centers and densely populated regions. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) has emerged as the mode of choice for most operators today to deliver stable fast internet. It follows that about 35% of Canadian households can now access the internet through FTTH. However, deploying internet services using such cost-intensive and regulated technologies isn’t ideal for rural or sparsely-populated communities. Therefore, Telcos and bigger operators are generally reluctant to make inroads into such markets. That is unless such initiatives are heavily subsidized. Satellite isn’t cheap either and is also not known for high-speed access. In other words, that makes satellite unsuitable for large regions of the country that don’t have many options. As of 2016, approximately 1 million Canadians don’t have access to broadband services.

“26% of rural households relied solely on fixed wireless technology for broadband access and didn’t have access to broadband service via wireline (cable, DSL, or fiber).”

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and CRTC

 

This gap is where entrepreneurial wireless internet service providers come in. Wireless Internet Service Provider or WISPs, as they’re often known are internet service providers who use fixed wireless technology to deliver internet to customers, both residential and businesses. WISPs are a critical and significant component of broadband access for Canadian homes and businesses. WISPs serve their customers by investing capital to create networks, often in entirely rural segments.

 

Who are WISPs?

Simply put, fixed wireless broadband providers or WISPs provide access to a single location through radio waves. This eliminates the need for cable or phone lines. Most WISPs will generally have fiber or some kind of stable backhaul access. WISPs then use routers, towers, and dishes to reach customer or business premises. At the customer’s premises, there’s generally a radio or piece of wireless gear to receive the signals. Customers can then access the internet through typical LAN or WiFi-enabled routers. Compared to satellite technologies, WISPs can provide very high-speed access with low latency (lag). There have been numerous advancements in fixed wireless technology over the last decade. Consequently, WISPs can now provide fiber-like internet speeds. These speeds range from 25-50 Mb/s as well as 100 Mb/s plans going up to 1 Gb/s in some areas!

Importantly, fixed wireless access is generally a much more cost-effective and proven choice to deliver internet. This distinction is important to under-served or rural communities. WISPs enjoy nationwide reach and success in the market down south as well. According to WISPA, the US has close to 3000 Fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers.  Together, they provide broadband access to over 4 million home and business customers.

 

Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada – How many are there?

There is a lack of capital or regulatory barriers to entry in the WISP world unlike those present in the traditional ISP world. Therefore, the Wireless Internet Service Provider market here in Canada is a competitive one. About 200 operators exist in the country today and use Fixed Wireless technologies to deliver internet to over 300,000 customers. In addition, the industry is estimated to bring in $160-$180 million in annual revenues.

 

Government Contribution

The government also does its bit to bridge the gap. They look for inventive solutions to reach planned benchmarks. Through the CRTC, the federal government has announced a 750 million dollar broadband fund. The goal of this fund is providing internet projects in areas that do not have a fair and usable level of internet access. Their stated goal is to bring internet access to 90% of the country by the end of 2021. This plan is provider-neutral. That means any business can present a plan to allocate some of these funds by providing internet to portions of the country as yet not served by broadband. Above all, this presents a massive chance for WISPs with proven businesses to take government support and further expand access to fixed wireless technology.

 

Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada: Key Players

Based on industry estimates and data shared by CanWISP – the Canadian Association of WISPs, there are about 180-220 Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada. Beyond pure-play WISPs, some indigenous communities and rural townships are known to invest in Fixed Wireless Access technologies. These are often non-profit or cooperative setups.

Some of the leading WISPs in Canada (ISPs with primarily fixed wireless offerings) are –

 

Regional Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada

 

    1. CCI Wireless – CCI now serves over 27,000 small & medium enterprises in Alberta. Post its acquisition of Winnipeg-based WiBand, CCI wireless now holds the coveted spot of being the second largest Wireless Internet Service Provider in Canada.
    2. SeaSide Wireless – One of the largest home-grown internet service providers in Nova Scotia. SeaSide Wireless is the incumbent provider of fixed wireless services to over 10,000 customers in more than 10 counties.
    3. TARGO Communications – TARGO communications, a leading hybrid ISP from Quebec, is the largest fixed wireless internet service provider south of Montreal. The company owns and manages over 200 interconnected wireless distribution sites spanning more than 6000 square kilometers in 6 municipalities and has tens of thousands of customers today.
    4. Storm Internet – One of the earliest WISPs in Canada. Based out of Ottawa, this WISP has coverage over 50,000 homes in 50+ communities in Eastern Ontario and serves over 3000 fixed wireless subscribers.
    5. ABC communications – Founded in 1989, ABC communications was one of the first companies to offer internet services in British Columbia. Today, it operates more than 175 broadband broadcast sites and serves more than 4000 customers using wireless technologies.
    6. Navigue – Another leading Wireless Internet Service Provider from Quebec, Navigue had its humble beginnings in 2007. By 2015, the company was serving over 4500 customers. The company announced capital infusion to the tune of $3 million in 2019 to further expand its offerings and geographical coverage.
    7. Kingston Online – Kingston Online has been bringing internet to their customers in the Kingston Area, Quinte, and Quinte West since 1993. It is one of the fastest-growing regional WISPs in Ontario today. 
    8. Ruralwave – An Eastern Ontario WISP, Ruralwave offers internet to over 1500 customers in Durham Region, including Brock, Scugog, and Clarington townships, a large portion of Kawartha Lakes and isolated areas in York Region.

 

National Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada

 

  1. Teksavvy – One of the largest independent ISPs in the country, Teksavvy serves tens of thousands of Canadians, using cable & DSL technologies. Post its acquisition of LightWave, Teksavvy started offering ‘Sky Fi’ fixed wireless services in rural areas of Chatham-Kent and the counties of Lambton and Essex in Ontario.
  2. Xplornet – One of the largest rural communications provider with over 300,000 customers, primarily using satellite technologies, Xplornet has charted its fixed wireless path using a string of acquisitions. Today the company serves tens of thousands of wireless customers.  Xplornet also announced its plan to invest $500 million over 5 years starting 2019 to bring 5G internet in rural Canada.

 

Incumbent Providers

 

Adding to the WISP market in Canada are incumbent telcos and other satellite operators. The incumbent telcos often experiment with wireless technologies to serve the previously ignored rural segments. Bell Canada leads the industry in offering such services.  Bell offers wireless internet to residential customers in rural communities and business customers. In fact, Bell recently announced its partnership with Huawei to experiment with new wireless gear to offer wireless internet to broadband customers in rural Ontario.

 

Going Forward: Let’s Not Forget the Challenges for Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada

 

Like in any other industry, WISPs face serious challenges in the future. Beyond traditional challenges such as financing, resources, and talent, WISPs rely critically on bandwidth and spectrum availability.

Currently, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in Canada primarily use the ‘lightly-licensed’ 3.66 GHz band. This is majorly due to the nonviable cost of operating in other spectrums, for smaller businesses. WISPs are already affected by such limitation. Furthermore, this limits their industry’s ability to offer internet that is consumer-friendly and up to modern standards. Advances in the next generation of broadband internet services only make this problem more challenging. Alternatives to the 3.66 GHz band are the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. These bands offer their own host of challenges. The 2.4 and 5 GHz bands are already inundated with a variety of uses and services. This means that WISPs using this space for broadband internet access is becoming more challenging.  The issue is traffic on these crowded bands. Understandably, this traffic leads to interference. 

In conclusion, if Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canda are to thrive, they need to be supported in their desired access to additional spectrum. Most importantly, one place where WISP access is important is the LTE bands 42 and 43. These bands cover the 3400 to 3800 MHz spectrum and are important if WISPs are able to compete in the 4G and 5G technologies that will likely dominate the future of broadband internet access. CanWISP and other organizations constantly liaison with government agencies. Similarly, their goals need to be supported by the larger consumer community and other influencers as well.

 

Summary

 

WISPs bring internet to places that wouldn’t otherwise have the option of joining the rest of the world in the internet age through fast & affordable broadband. Today, over 200 Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada serve over 300,000 Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Regulatory frameworks and spectrum options are the key concerns of the WISP industry in Canada. CanWISP, the leading association of Wireless Internet Service Providers in Canada, supports a flexible licensing approach that enables service providers flexible use of spectrum for 4G and 5G applications in the 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz bands.

WISPs in Canada offer a critical service to their neighbors and communities. WISPs are successful local businesses, powered by an entrepreneurial spirit. However, WISPs face their own challenges including access to bandwidth and spectrum. Despite that, industry insiders believe that this market is one that is poised to grow. In conclusion, with Canada set to take on the goal of countrywide broadband internet access, WISPs will increasingly become a significant part of the national internet plan.

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*Data collected & analyzed by Preseem using publicly available sources and market research.

Preseem is a one-of-a-kind Quality of Experience (QoE) monitoring and optimization platform for fixed wireless networks. For more information on Preseem or a free 30-day trial, visit Preseem.com.

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