Preview of the WISPAMERICA conference 2023 - ETI
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March 28, 2023

Preview of the WISPAMERICA conference 2023

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch. The Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software.

Brad Hine:

Hello, everyone in Broadband land. I’m your host, Brad Hine, and welcome to another episode of The Broadband Bunch. Today we have two great guests that are leaders of the WISPA organization. That is the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which is a group that supports, encourages, and represents the evolving interests of the wireless broadband industry in their businesses. That includes wireless internet providers as well as hardware, software, and other service vendors. Gary Helmers is the sales manager for WISPA. He works mostly with the WISPA vendor members on sponsorships and exhibit space at the national and regional trade shows. He also works with WISPA’s recruiting and retaining members group for the association also. Before coming to WISPA six years ago, Gary worked for an ISP in Reno, Nevada for nearly two decades while managing almost every aspect of that business, including sales, human resources, and operations.

Mike Wendy is the director of communications for WISPA. He directs the creation of content and messaging for the association’s event and policy operations. Mike has been in the tech policy space for almost 30 years, 1994 to be exact, focusing primarily on telecom and IT industry-related issues, which have emerged over that time. Before he came to WISPA, Mike directed a group called Media Freedom, a market-based nonprofit, which commented on tech policy in Congress, the executive branch, the FCC, the courts, the state, localities, and elsewhere. Gentlemen welcome to The Broadband Bunch.

Mike Wendy:

Hey, thanks for having us.

Gary Helmers:

Thank you. Nice to be here.

Brad Hine:

We are the bunch. Yes. Yeah, it’s great to have you guys. We’re so glad you’re joining us again. I think it’s been a few years since we’ve had someone from WISPA on the show. But given the year’s experience you both have in the industry as well as at WISPA, I wanted to pick your brain on a few things and share with our audience some of the hot topics we have in the wireless industry right now, which there are a lot of, and as well as dig into the career paths that led you to WISPA.

And I also want to talk about some of the events that you guys have going on that I know are growing in Numbers, WISPAmerica coming up in March, and we’ll say some things about that in just a second. But before we do all that, can you share with our audience just kind of a brief history of WISAP? How did you get started and really what your purpose was for forming?

Gary Helmers:

Sure.

Mike Wendy:

Well, WISPs have been around for almost, well, a generation or so. Gary actually is a sort of part of one where they found ways to disrupt competition and bring services to their areas that were ignored. And so you see them starting as early as setting up modem banks and creating internet access in the mid to late ’90s. And that technology, Wi-Fi, and others started to develop and become more mature, and companies, small companies, entrepreneurs decided that they could serve their community more broadly through wireless unlicensed spectrum connectivity. So as I say, for about a generation 20 or so years, the WISP ethos, the WISP way has been around in providing competition or services largely in rural and forgotten areas to Americans.

And they were a loose bunch and started to really coalesce at the turn of the century, the millennium, around 2004 from the Part 15 group decided to get together. They saw that they had some success in shows, they were renting space, they were part of other shows, and they saw that there was kind of a following and thought maybe there’d be a better way where they could create a more wholesome, more cohesive community, educate and provide shows for WISPs and people that wanted to do the WISP thing, provide competition and services. And then also to provide some policy cohesion so that they’re facing more and more the regulatory hurdles that became apparent in the telecommunication world.

So this is 20041, they started basically the first WISPA couple, I guess, Mavericks or pioneers, Matt Larson, I have to put my hat off to him out in Nebraska. Mack Dearman, John Scribner, and others, and they’re a whole host of others, but really they saw that they had a good thing, they saw that they could educate others, and that’s one of the great things of the community sharing of knowledge. And then they saw also that they need to have a more cohesive policy voice to confront some of the challenges that lie ahead. So that’s the short history of WISPA.

Brad Hine:

Excellent. Excellent. So I know that part of the focus of getting everybody in the US connected reaches out into those rural areas. And explain a little bit why somebody would choose a WISP network over maybe some other methods out there in some of those rural areas.

Gary Helmers:

Oh, yeah. I have some experience with this, having worked for a company that offered multiple connectivity options. We offered beginning in the early ’90s started with dial-up. That morphed into then DSL and other digital lines. Most people would have to be kind of an old timer, remember ISDN, but all of these were wired services. As we got out into pocket as the digital services became more important for broadband, as we moved away from the dial-up speeds, there were pockets even… I mean, I lived in Reno, Nevada, and there were pockets here in Reno where business sectors and residential sectors had not even access to the DSL services that they had not been expanded to their areas, let alone things like T1s and other high bandwidth broadband services.

Seems funny to say T1 is a high bandwidth service at 1.5 megs, but hey, it was then. So the advent of wireless services which we adopted fairly early on, it was in the early and mid-2000s allowed us to reach those areas without the cost of infrastructure build-out. You put a radio on a high location. In our case, we were in two of the tallest hotels in Reno, Nevada. And you then find a line of sight on any building, set up a radio, and connect to them. We would be able to have service running, especially to a business or to a residential within a couple of days generally of somebody contacting us, which during all that time was extremely important.

And then as we moved out, we put networks out in some of the rural areas of Northern Nevada. And as you’re probably aware, there’s a lot of ranching, farming, and things like that, so it’s very spread out. And again, these were places where the AT&Ts and the Verizons of the world weren’t going to extend their broadband services because there just was not a good ROI, but we could make it work with wireless. So places like Lovelock, Nevada, and I think Schurz, Nevada were places where we had small wireless networks that could reach out beyond the inner city there and get out to some of these ranchers and farmers. So yeah, that’s the reason that you choose that is you just cannot afford, in most cases, to build out wired or fiber infrastructure in an area where you have people living one house per two or three square miles. So…

Brad Hine:

Understood. This is a story that on the Broadband Bunch when we interview folks and we’re conferences we hear all too often, and obviously in the last few years with a lot of the push with the pandemic to work remotely and figure out that whole equation left some folks in the rural areas in a real bad spot. But we start adding up all of the different things that we actually need through connectivity and shortening that broadband divide if you will. Things like distance learning, and making sure schools are taken care of. And I’ve seen myself going into smaller towns as I’m seeing you have, just setting up a small fixed wireless network and how the economic impact of that in a small downtown rural area just flourishes and it’s really remarkable. Do you have some examples of that, that you guys have seen some great stories working for WISPA you could share?

Mike Wendy:

Yeah, I mean exactly, the great thing about unlicensed spectrum, first of all, there’s not a license around that. So you don’t have these hurdles that Verizon, or T-Mobile, or others have to bid for and pay for to get this license. And so this allows one to create infrastructure very quickly, and very cost-effectively. And really the biggest part here is to avoid that last mile wire. So we’re looking at about a 10th of the cost to bring people robust, ever-evolving, reliable broadband that can conserve the needs that make them safer, more prosperous, and live more enjoyable lives virtually overnight.

And I’ll give you a good example. During the pandemic, a gentleman in Kentucky, Kentucky Fry, Kentucky Five, John Gill, used his CARES Act money. He was laid off, he worked at a radio station, and he was an RF engineer there. He was laid off because advertising revenues fell by the wayside. People weren’t buying as much. He took his CARES Act money and set up a WISP for his neighbors. He had 10 or so neighbors. He took that money, bought radios, put his radios in a tower, installed CPE on his neighbor’s houses, and created a WISP. And this is only a couple of years ago, now he has over a hundred customers.

It’s self-sustaining. Virtually overnight, these people had less than DSL connections, and now they’re broadband speeds 253 or greater. This service continues to grow. It continues to evolve and deliver better services. And this is sort of the archetype, the model of a lot of WISPs across the nation. Gary, kind of touched upon it. They saw a need. They were left behind. They’re in this digital divide, this digital desert. They saw a need, they saw the hurdles in front of them, and they recognize that they were in charge, they can be in charge, and they can change it instead of waiting around. And guys like John Gill across America now, 9 million people across America use services just like John Gills to be parts of society, to access the internet, to grow, to vote, to go to the doctors, to go to work, to be entertained, and that that’s the wisp story.

Brad Hine:

Wow. Lots of stories like that out there. Yeah.

Gary Helmers:

We had a good example with the company I worked for. I’ve mentioned going to Lovelock, Nevada. One of the reasons we went in there, we were contacted by the local hospital there. They were having trouble with more and more of their tests and more and more of their records transfer were being done via the internet. And they were at the time, the best they could get was about 768 on a DSL connection. And that was just inadequate for some of the X-ray files and anything, imaging, of course, was just beyond that. So we went in and looked it over. We partnered with a local cable TV company, which we eventually bought, and they had a tower. They had a tower with antennas for receiving various feeds for their TV.

We got up about halfway on that tower and we were able to put up radios and initially, we were able to give them a six-megabit symmetric link. That was quite a long time ago. I don’t know what it eventually became by the time after I’d left, but I know that the system was upgraded a few years ago, so it’s probably a much higher link now.

And the cost of getting a fiber link or any kind of major wired link out there was beyond the budget of this small rural hospital. So we were able to solve that problem for them. And then that just led us into doing, I mean, other businesses in the town jumped on that bandwagon, and that helped them. And like I said, we were able to reach out even beyond the town where people couldn’t get DSL and they got to join the broadband community. So we knew how important it was way back in the ’90s when I went to work in this industry in ’97, there were still people saying the internet was just a fluke, a bad, it’s going to go away. You guys remember hearing things like that, right?

Brad Hine:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Gary Helmers:

Yeah. It went from fad and fluke to we’ve got to have it or else in just record time for new technology.

Brad Hine:

That’s a great example. I know that we gave a few examples already, but what you just spoke about with a hospital, or even a doctor, or a rural medical facility needing broadband connectivity? I mean today that’s crucial. It’s bordering on crucial. So when we talk about spinning up services for these folks, this is absolutely improving their quality of life. I mean, I know in living in the southeast, it doesn’t get very cold here, but it’ll get into the freezing temperatures. And literally, if we’re without gas heat for a couple of days, people just put blankets on, they put jackets on. If there’s an issue with water, you can go to the grocery store and get 10, or 20 gallons of water to get you through. But if you don’t have internet for 15 minutes and you’re trying to do school online and you’re at work, people are screaming through the phone to their provider. I mean, this becomes an essential utility.

Gary Helmers:

Now, I’ll give you an example, I give to a lot of people. I managed one of the major auto parts chains for about six years before I got into this industry. We had a service bay, and I thought at that point that having to mess with people’s cars was the quickest way to get them angry at you. No, I found out later that messing with people’s emails was the quickest way to get them angry with you.

Evolution of the ISP Industry over the years

Brad Hine:

That’s a great segue, actually. I’m a bit curious, Gary. Now, we talked a little bit about your path before you worked for WISPA, but kind of gives our listeners an idea of what you went through before you got involved in ISPs and started to get into the industry.

Gary Helmers:

I’m fond of telling people I will eventually know what I want to be when I grow up. I met my wife in high school. She already knew she wanted to be an accountant. She’s a partner in a small CPA firm to this day, I mean school into work she knew what she was going to do. I had no clue and drifted from thing to thing. I ended up managing retail stores. I managed one of the larger automotive chains for six years here in Reno. And it was an interesting job, but with most retail, it kind of has a shelf life in being able to put up with it. A friend of mine started an ISP in the early ’90s, as I mentioned. And he started it not by mistake, but just by… It just happened because he needed a connection and he figured if he sold a few dial-up connections, he could pay it in his business, his consulting business would have that. He was a programmer and network engineer.

And then after about a year of that, he had enough people buying his homemade router, his homemade dial-up service that he was making more money from that than the consulting. And he decided he’d give that a go because I think that was about 1993, he opened the internet provider, and about four years later they had about 14 employees and he was starting to run into headaches of human resources, personnel management, payroll issues, things that I had a background in, and they were good friends of ours.

And one night at dinner, he was asking me yet another question about some federal law on HR or something, and I said, “You know what? You should hire me. I’ll run this side of it for you and you can run the technology side.” And three weeks later I went to work for him, and I was there for 19 years. So I think I finally kind of figured out what I wanted to be. And fascinating industry, I mean, we went from homemade dial-up modem banks to the modem servers that had like 30 modems built into him digitally that you just plugged T1 lines into DSL to selling T1s to the wireless and just on and on and on. Watching this industry and this technology grow was fascinating.

The business started to wind down a bit, and he sold it. I worked with the new owners for about four years, but really they were going more in a different direction than what the company had done. They didn’t need all the personnel anymore. And so I started to look around for something else to do, my old boss, a friend of mine was still a state coordinator for WISPA. He was still a WISPA member, and he told me, “Hey, they’ve got a job for a salesman with WISPA.” And I’m like, “Really? That’s cool.” Well, we contacted WISPA at the time, and we had some discussions and interviews, and I ended up going to work for them in 2016 and have been there ever since mostly doing the same job.

And it’s been an interesting career from retail management and some sales to the internet as kind of an HR and personnel guy along the way learning to be everything from an installer to a customer servant, to a technical support rep. I even for a time was the admin for our VoIP servers. So just pick up a little of everything at a small company, and that helps a lot with working with WISPA. I’m able to talk to vendors. I’m able to talk to our members about what’s going on in their business. I’m not just out there selling something. I actually know something about the industry and I’ve always found that to be a major plus if you’re doing any kind of sales job. So…

Brad Hine:

Amazing. Amazing road. That’s great. Well, likewise, Mike, I know you started with a bachelor’s in telecommunications from the University of Florida and went on to some other education, can you tell our listeners a little about your path, a slightly different path than Gary’s there?

Mike Wendy:

Yeah. Well, in a similar vein, I mean, it’s non-linear, and I don’t think, I guess Gary’s wife, I didn’t have that view. This is what I want to be. And I sometimes lament that we all have friends that are like, “Oh, I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a CPA.” And then they stick to that. They did the whole thing. My thing was pretty much always communication. I play some music. I’ve always liked to be in the studio and that kind of thing. And that kind of guided the education at first. Went to Jacksonville Community College in Florida. They had as part of their Corral system, a great choir there. They had a full working studio.

And so I’m doing community college classes and a 16-track studio and ended up spending more time there recording friends. And then that accidentally led to the University of Florida and working in various radio stations, worked at a beautiful music radio station for a while where you’re just rolling tapes. They’re automated and doing hourly news and weather to working at a country station and actually spinning discs when they actually spun discs and carts and ended up in TV, finished the telecommunications program at the University of Florida.

Lovely. Several radio stations there. TV had everything that took me to my first real professional gig, so to speak, working as a floor director down in Miami for an ABC O&O down there, and found myself doing field crew sound and lighting for photographers in their newsroom. And that led me to freelance network news. So ended up traveling through the south, southeast, through Latin America, bringing big hundreds of pounds of gear, lighting, that kind of thing, working on shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach. It’s not as luxurious as you think when you see that. You didn’t see the stuff behind the scenes.

And I just knew that communications would be kind of always that… I mean, I guess if there was a loadstar guide star there, that was it. And I knew I didn’t have enough education. Went back to school in Washington thinking I’d moved back down to Florida with my wife, just never occurred. Got a couple of internships, and started working for associations, mostly around the telephone, and IT. And it’s always been around public policy. The past says 25 or so years have been actively involved in very small pieces of shaping public policy that help people get connectivity. And that’s really what WISPA is about here, is helping those people that don’t have it get it. And in a weird and non-linear way. I’ve always been working to that end, and here I am at WISPA today.

Brad Hine:

Fabulous. Fabulous. Well, there certainly is a lot to shape as we see the amount of money and funding that’s coming in, the amount of technology and innovation that we’re seeing, all the different spectrums that we know are available, and the continued evolution of that. But lets a sidebar that just a little, I know you guys have an event coming up, you have a couple of events this year, but you have one coming up in March. Perhaps we could do a little preview and overview for our audience today through your own words.

Gary Helmers:

Sure. Our event coming up in March is WISPAmerica. It’s one of the two large trade shows we do each year. WISPAmerica is done usually in March, always in the spring. WISPA Palooza is our fall show, which runs in October in Las Vegas. WISPAmerica moves around. Every year, we have it in a different city. I believe Louisville is… It was before I was with WISPA, but I believe we were in Louisville once before, several years ago. So this will be our first repeat I believe on the city that we’ve been in before. In a typical trade show format, educational sessions sprinkle throughout the multiple days of the trade show. I cannot say enough about the quality and the amount of information available at these two trade shows. We draw from our membership with experts where necessary, and we’ll bring in outside experts, but it’s a great font of knowledge that you can partake of.

And one of the things that I stress, I have been stressing about ever since I came to work for WISPA when I’m talking to new members or people that are considering membership is getting out to the trade shows. There is so much to learn, so much to talk to people about. I had some new members sign up for one of our WISPAmerica shows several years ago. I had been talking to them before the show, giving them some pointers. They showed up, they registered the first day, the Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoon they came by the registration desk where I was working, and talked to me, and they said, “Well, this is amazing. So much information in the breakout sessions.” But he said, “You know where we’re really learning the most? In the hallways between the sessions, conversations with people, others, your peers.” And there is nothing like this.

I’ve never been around an industry where people were potential competitors, most of these regions are regional, so not so much, but they’re so willing to share their experiences, and their knowledge, and I don’t know of another industry that works that way. So I would highly recommend our shows, that’s not even getting into the vendor participation. You can meet vendors in this space face-to-face, talk to their reps, talk about what they’re doing, and find out where they’re going. They can hear from you what you think. If you’re using a particular brand of radio and you have a question about a feature set or you’d like to see them do something new, you get a chance to talk and interact with them face to face. Which, I mean, email’s great. Phone calls are great, but nothing beats face-to-face. And that year, year and a half where we could not do that was really tough. It’s very nice to be back doing these shows live again.

Mike Wendy:

Yeah, I’d like to add there, I mean being in a number of different associations and in this space for a long time. I was blown away by the community, and that to Gary’s main point there, that is the main thing, that intangible thing that I’m paying for four days of panels. There are over a hundred panels in each one of these shows that cover regulation, the latest regulations, the latest legislative stuff, the latest trends, technology, operations, and administration. You get the guts there, but sitting in a room with 200 or 300 other people and listening to the panels and then the interaction between the panels and the audience, and then coming out into the halls and sharing coffee, that community is tremendously giving. WISPAmerica is the smaller of the two shows, about 1,400 or so attendees come to that, which is, it’s a lovely cost-conscious show in the middle of the country.

And again, that community just comes out and they help each other. Las Vegas, the same thing on a little bit bigger scale, almost 3000 people come to that. Again, the panels, and the exhibition halls in both. So you are able to learn, experience your brothers in arms here at the events, and get the nitty gritty on stuff that’s shared. I mean people are not hoarding knowledge. And that’s the great thing about this community. And then you get to see the latest hardware and fill up your Christmas list, and get ready for the next year on both of these shows. So I mean it’s a whole package and between the two shows it’s eight days where people can experience that community firsthand. One of the main benefits and really it was one of the first reasons why they put together WISPA in the first place. That these shows are tremendously beneficial, rich in knowledge, and rich in community.

Brad Hine:

I’m glad you said that. I can also attest to the community. Everybody is approachable and I know from attending as a vendor and also as a member of the media there that there’s nobody that I can’t go up to and speak to easily. There are constant conversations going on as you said in the hallways. I think it’s one of the easiest conferences I’ve been to gather information if you’re starting your own business or you’re just trying to figure out best practices. So I know that’s happening March 6th through 9th at the Kentucky International Convention Center there in Louisville. So you have four solid days to gather information for all our audience listeners here. I also wanted to… I know WISPA Palooza which happens in the fall is a great event. I’ve been there a few times also in the same environment. It’s great that you guys kind of divide one of them up, and WISPA Palooza I think happens in Vegas most every single year that I’ve seen it so far. Is that true?

Gary Helmers:

It does. It’s always in Las Vegas. I think the first WISPA show that was ever done was back in 2010, 2011 I believe, might have been earlier than that. It was in Orlando. It was not called WISPA Palooza, I believe. I think they started calling it that when they moved to Vegas a year later, and it’s been in Vegas ever since. Different locations in Vegas, as the show grew, we outgrew a couple of different venues and had to move on to larger spaces. So that’s always exciting. So…

Brad Hine:

For sure. For sure. Well, it’s a tradition at the Broadband Bunch that as we wind down our show, we always ask a couple of questions of our guests, and there’s a theme with both of them. The first one is what we call the back-to-the-future question. And I’m curious to get your quick response on if either of you could go back in your career, so when you started in this industry, and kind of give yourself a little bit of guidance, if you will, and maybe avoid some of the challenges you might have had. I could even say you could WISPA in your own ear. Sorry.

Gary Helmers:

Oh, that’s bad.

Mike Wendy:

Ouch. I love that.

Brad Hine:

What is your day job? I couldn’t resist. What would that guidance be for each of you?

Gary Helmers:

Boy, I think be careful how fast you grow your personnel. I’m coming into this room in HR on our personnel side. We got ourselves in some trouble with… We were like, “Okay, we could use this person to do this. So we went and hired and went this and this and this, and you’ve got to make sure that what you’re doing will sustain that because the worst thing in the world, the very worst and I’ve been there, is going to somebody you’ve hired and saying, “This isn’t working out, nothing to do with the job you’re doing. We just can’t afford to continue this.” So be careful with that.

And then as far as technologies go, really pay close attention to what the experts you trust in the field are saying about where it’s going next in the next five years, in the next 10 years because if you can get a jump on that, we got into wireless early and that was great, but we missed out on a couple of other things that we could have helped us quite a lot. So go to the trade shows, talk to your peers, talk to experts and listen to what they say and do the ones you… And work with the stuff that you can afford to work with because it will pay off in the long run. I never saw us make-

Mike Wendy:

I guess we were lucky that way.

Gary Helmers:

… new technology that didn’t end up paying off in itself.

Brad Hine:

Sound advice, Mike-

Mike Wendy:

And you mean personally too, right?

Brad Hine:

Yeah, absolutely. Personally.

Mike Wendy:

Yeah. And I agree with Gary on that. I think that’s good advice. I think in looking back, the one thing that I would like to have nurtured better, and it’s always a sort of constant work, but it’s the soft skill of speaking and being well-spoken in public and in a large public forums. And I see this, our daughters went to parochial schools and they had a very strong program of presenting in front of full-on audiences. And that always scared the heck out of me. I’ve always liked being behind the scenes, but never had the full confidence to step up in front of three, five, or 2000 people and say, X, Y, and Z. Now, I do it every once in a while. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but all you’re doing is talking.

And I think back to reading Dale Carnegie, I think it’s how to win friends, and influence, enemies, or something like that. And basically, it’s almost like a bible in a certain sense. Have confidence. You’re the one that knows this stuff, and you’re just speaking. There isn’t a line there going to chew off your foot. You’re relaying information that you know, and you know better probably than anyone else in that room. So go ahead and tell your truth.

And I look back, and I wish I had understood that earlier, and I wish I still didn’t have to develop that skill. And I think it’s so important that soft skills. Gary’s very good at it when he’s making the sale, and pushing the right buttons in a patient, coherent, concise way. And sometimes I’m all right with that too. But that is a skill I think can translate above all the others. The STEM skills, the 10,000 hours that you put into your craft, that soft skill of being well-spoken, so underestimated people take it for granted, but so key in arriving at success. So that’s one thing I’d want to develop more.

Gary Helmers:

The advice I give people, Mike, along those lines is, you know I’ve been involved in community theater for a long time. I was in an acting class at the local community college when I first got involved in theater here, and we were all standing up and saying why we were taking the class. And a lawyer, a woman I got to know quite well over the years, stood up and said, “I’m tired of losing cases to better actors.” And I think that goes right to the heart really saying. That ability to get up and talk in front of people and not feel self-conscious, or if you do feel self-conscious, be a good enough actor to hide it. I guess that’s what I learned through 25 or 30 years of theater work. So…

Mike Wendy:

I mean we should all take theater classes.

Brad Hine:

We should add that session to your WISPA conferences, right?

Mike Wendy:

Well, Gary will run it. Yeah, why not?

The future of the industry: a hybrid of connectivity

Brad Hine:

Well, on the flip side of that gentlemen, the crystal ball question is the second question, which basically as we’re bridging this broadband divide here, where do you see the industry in the next five, maybe 10 years? And what kind of innovation, what does the landscape look like?

Mike Wendy:

Well, it’s clearly going to be a hybrid of connectivity and we have a number of schools in our membership that believe should only be unlicensed. This is what they got into it. It meant less government control oversight, and we can provide this service to our members and our clients, our customers, and our community in a relatively streamlined, cost-efficient way. I think unlicensed services will remain, I think we’re going to see more sharing of spectrum and more unlicensed spectrum being brought out by the FCC and the NTIA. But I think that in terms of hybrid, more and more of our members are realizing that government is becoming a bigger part of what we do. To your point, it’s an essential service like a utility. And at least that’s the government’s point of view, and many of our members believe that too.

And the government seeking to ensure that people are protected, their property, their safety, there’s a lot of oversight, there’s a lot of money pouring into this to develop broadband, so people can make it through. Hopefully, we never have another pandemic in our lifetimes. But with those kinds of calamities, we’re going to see a more mature WISP in the next couple of years. Unlike in the past where it’s been primarily their own dollar building the business, they’ll be more accepting of public-private partnerships or government-supported growth. We’re seeing that now, there are billions and billions of dollars out there and that that’s a call to that marketplace that look, you have to play the game. Part of that game is the technology too.

So it’s not just going to be an unlicensed spectrum, it’s going to be an auction spectrum. We’re going to see more people, we’re going to see people use CBRS-like the spectrum that’s guided by stuff like the SaaS or AFCs to ensure that there’s no interference with the incumbents on the band. We’re going to start to see, and more and more, and Gary can jump in here too, more and more of our members are becoming fiber plays or pure fiber plays, and our shows are reflecting that. So I think you’re going to see this… We already have this, it’s using the right tool for the right job, but there’s going to be less of the religion around unlicensed, fixed wireless and more a religion and an orthodoxy about, “Hey, what can we do? What’s cost-effective? What serves the customer?” And let’s get it done. And that can mean anything on the table that gets the job done and serves the customer with the 59s of reliability.

Use the right tool for the right job

Gary Helmers:

Yeah, I like to refer to that ideology as the right tool for their job. Look at what you’re trying to do in a given location and choose whether it be a licensed bandwidth, radios, whether it be unlicensed, whether it be fiber, whether it be something else. And yeah, you get back to the shows, and it is getting reflected there. We have had many just fiber-centric vendors start to attend our shows on a regular basis, and they all feel like they’re getting a very good ROI on that. They feel like there are plenty of people out there in our community that are looking for their services. So it is true, as Mike said, it’s a real mix of technologies, and I think that’s only going to grow as we move forward. I’ve seen it in a major way since I went to work for WISPA just about six years ago, and it’s going to only accelerate, I think.

Mike Wendy:

Yeah, I mean, Gary, you just touched on it Calyx, is our premier sponsor and was the premier sponsor at WISPA. I mean that’s a fiber play. So they’re there for a reason. They see the evolution of our companies, they recognize the marketplace. They recognize there’s a return on investment. I mean that’s not chump change they’re putting down, they’re putting down serious dollars. And we see the equipment vendors, the services, and other of the support, the ecosystem support that huge and broad pallet of connectivity and fiber is becoming more and more popular.

Brad Hine:

That’s excellent, guys. I really appreciate your input today, and I will second that with moving forward with hybrid networks and making sure the project fits what the customer needs for that particular terrain. And before we go today, and that will almost do it for our time, but before we go, can you tell our audience where to go to get in touch with WISPA and where they can find you on the web or even about events coming up?

Gary Helmers:

Okay. Mike, do you want to take that?

Mike Wendy:

Yeah, so we have our website itself. There are a number of properties that we have. So the core property is the website itself, WISPA.org, www.WISPA.org, that’s the main website that has member entrance. So they’re able to the portal to get into their member, and billing data, and other things, the fora that are there that are behind the paywall for members. And then there’s the public face, the press releases, and that kind of thing. That’s sort of the flagship that’s being redeveloped right now. So that will change in the next couple of months, but that’s how you get in from either a member standpoint or just the general public.

There’s wispaevents.org, and just as it sounds, WISPA events, all one-word .org. That’s where a person that wants to sponsor, exhibit, or attend any one of our WISPA events generally around WISPA America or WISPA Palooza, but now with greater frequency state-oriented broadband summits, which we’re doing more of, that’s a place to go to get that information to register, to book your hotel. It’s a one-stop shop. And to work with Gary and the support staff around booking exhibitions and getting your stuff in and out of those exhibit halls.

So those are the two main properties that we have. Then we have social media that we use quite frequently. A number of sites where you’ll see some of our information are Facebook’s public page, just type in WISPA, the private group, which is an invite-only group but is easy to join. And that traffics in sort of the daily news and some of the gossip. And that’s on Facebook. We have a LinkedIn presence and we have a Twitter presence, WISPA News, @wispanews is the handle there.

So you can find us pretty readily when you type in our names. We’re pretty active in the press. You can see us get some press hits. You can see us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and then our website. And then of course you can always give one of us a holler. We’re on the website under the staff, our emails are there. That’s the best way to do it. And we’re very responsive. It’s a flat organization. There are nine of us across America, a number of us here in Washington DC, I’m here in the Washington DC area. Eric Slee, who is our VP of Government Affairs is in Washington DC. He’s our main Capitol Hill lobbyist. Louis Peraertz is our VP of policy. He’s our main FCC lobbyist. Our CEO, David Zumwaldt is in Dallas but frequently travels up here. We have an office in Washington DC.

We have Gary Helmers who is our national sales manager, and he’s in Reno, Nevada. We have Richard Bernhardt, who is our senior director of Spectrum and Industry. He’s the guy that looks at all the standards and helps ensure that the Part 15 unlicensed and shared spectrum remains that way and open for our members. So he’s in San Jose, a font of knowledge there. And Denise Kovacs, in Orlando, is an administrative support staff. And then we have Jennifer Lisaius, who’s our membership coordinator here in Washington DC. So, we answer emails. We’re very fast about that, and there’s no dumb question. So there are a lot of ways to get to us, and we’re going to answer those questions when we do see them.

Gary Helmers:

And I’d throw in there also that if you’re not sure who to contact about any given question or issue, our website has a contact form that goes to multiple people. We all monitor that daily, and if it’s not for one of us to answer that question, then we will… I often forward stuff to Mike, or to Louis, or Eric, depending on the question, or to Richard. As Mike mentioned, Richard is just a major font of knowledge, he’s been in this industry a long time in many different aspects, and WISPA’s lucky to have him. So…

Brad Hine:

Well, wonderful, wonderful. And that will just about do it today for our time. And Gary and Mike, thank you so much for coming aboard and telling us about WISPA and the little info that we dug into. I will see the two of you at WISPAmerica in March in Louisville. I’m looking forward to that.

Gary Helmers:

Looking forward to it.

Brad Hine:

And thank you to our listeners today, and until our next episode of The Broadband Punch, I won’t say goodbye, but for a little while. So long. Thanks, all.