How to Start a WISP/ ISP Business in Kenya

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  • Internet demand is on the rise and ISP business is more profitable than ever.
  • There are two ways to become an ISP in Kenya. The first is to resell your network to neighbours and the second is to go large scale.
  • Large scale ISP businesses require permits
  • Market research is critical before starting an ISP business in Kenya
  • You must also make hardware considerations prior to investment
  • Use an automated billing system for your wired and wireless network
  • Simple WISP billing automates payments via M-Pesa and works with both wired and wireless networks. The system automatically connects users when they pay and disconnect them when their payment is overdue.

The year 2020 revolutionized the way people do business globally. The need for social distance has started a new trend of working from home. Also, many schools around the world have sent their learners home to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With more people working or studying from home, the demand for WiFi to the home has never been greater. Statistics show that internet demand has increased by 60% since the start of the pandemic. As such, it is clear that the ISP market is ripe for picking and investors must act quickly to reap the benefits.
Before investing your hard-earned cash in becoming a WISP make sure you conduct thorough research on the current market. How many people are in the business in the region? What is the consumer demand for the product? And what are the market rates for the product? Getting into the ISP business without adequate research is a terrible idea that can cost you severely. Ask around for ISP from cyber cafes and businesses to gauge your competition. Learn the pricing strategy of competitors as well as their reputation to determine how much work is cut out for you. Security is a major challenge for Internet Service Providers in Kenya. So be sure to consider this when determining your relay positions.

Selling your home WiFi Network

Starting an ISP business in Kenya has never been easier. With so many internet options, you can become an ISP at nearly any budget. Also, selling your home internet does not require special permits or expensive hardware to setup. You can even start immediately and monetize your network. A popular trend is reselling the internet to neighbours and charging them a monthly fee. The method is ideal on a small budget since the only cost to incur will be the cost of installation to your home. To achieve this all you need is to share your WiFi Password with your neighbours and allow them access for as long as they are paying. However, this approach can lead to unnecessary squabbles and leave you with perpetual headaches.
Sharing a WiFi network can put you at a security risk as other network users might be able to infiltrate your devices and monitor your activity. However, selling WiFi to neighbours does not have to be a nightmare. If you do it professionally, you can protect yourself and your privacy. One of the most efficient ways to achieve this is to create a wireless local area network (WLAN). You will need to invest in a managed access point. This will enable you to determine user data speed limits and access to your network. It will also create a distinction between your home network and the network you sell to your neighbours.
After setting up the system, you need to invest in an automated billing system to ensure your clients pay their bills on time. Simple WISP is a reliable ISP billing solution that eliminates the hustle of chasing down clients for payments. It works with a managed access point and is ideal for both small-scale and large-scale ISP billing. The system is integrated with M-Pesa and automatically disconnects users that have not paid when their payment is due. The system also reconnects clients automatically when they pay. This affords you the peace of mind you deserve as an ISP. Unlike disconnecting the users manually, an automated ISP will eliminate any possibility of bad blood with your neighbours.

Becoming a large scale ISP provider

The second approach to starting an ISP business is to go large scale. Large-scale ISP billing is serious business. Many Kenyans are raking in millions through this and have scaled up tremendously. As you might expect, large-scale ISP demands a higher investment and has more regulations. The process requires acquiring the relevant permits, filling out application forms, making fee payments, and receiving an ISP license. ISP regulations in Kenya are under the Communications Authority of Kenya. Under their regulations those interested in large scale commercial license must:

  • Be registered in Kenya as a company, sole proprietor, or partnership.
  • Their business must have permanent registered office premises in Kenya.
  • Document details of all their shareholders and directors.
  • Provide a minimum of 30% of your business shares to Kenyans. The requirement is for on or before the end of three years after receiving a license.
  • Have updated evidence of tax compliance.

Please note that the Communications Authority of Kenya offers licensing for different tiers and thus the requirements for each tier may vary. You can visit their website for comprehensive details on the tier system and determine the tier that best describes your needs. 

Fibre providers and hardware requirements

After completing these steps you need to find a fibre provider. Popular options in Kenya are Safaricom, Liquid Telecom, Internet Solutions Kenya, Wananchi Telecom, and Jamii Telecommunications among others. It is important to compare the various fibre providers to determine which is the most reliable and best suits your needs. Different regions have different receptions and thus one fibre provider may be highly reliable in one region and a complete let down in another area.
Hardware consideration is another important step in becoming a large-scale ISP in Kenya. You will require the technical skills to set up a secure base station for network distribution and a power generator to ensure your clients do not have network disruptions. Also, you will require litebeams, cables, switches, routers, servers, and powerful computers to manage the system efficiently. As with sharing your home network, you will need to invest in access point management. Keep in mind that more relay stations will require a greater network and thus more equipment.

M-Pesa integration for ISP/WISP Billing

The most important part of becoming a WISP or Internet Service Provider is making money from the trade. One of the biggest challenges of being an ISP is delayed payments and difficult clients. Most ISP/WISP find themselves chasing after internet users to pay their monthly bills and sometimes have to disconnect them manually. The process is both daunting and outdated and can sometimes lead to unnecessary confrontation. Keeping track of several clients and following up on payments is much harder than dealing with a home network. To avoid all that frustration, you need to automate the process using a powerful WISP or ISP management system. In Kenya, M-Pesa is the most popular mode of payment. So having M-Pesa integration is vital for the ease of billing.  
Simple WISP billing solution works with managed access points (e.g. Cisco Meraki, Ubiquiti Unifi, etc.) to help you identify users, sessions, and costs hence increasing your WISP billing efficiency. The system automates billing via M-Pesa and works with both Paybill and Till Numbers. It offers both an external captive portal as well as a voucher system. In the external captive portal approach, clients are taken to a splash page to renew their subscription and cannot access the network until they have paid. Similarly, the voucher system disconnects clients once they have exhausted their bundles and are required to purchase a new voucher for top-up to continue enjoying your services.
Another great advantage is its remote access. Simple WISP Billing System allows you to access, monitor, and control your WiFi network from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, including from a smartphone. The system can work with both cable and wireless internet hence eliminating the need for manual connection and disconnection. It also ensures clients pay you promptly to eliminate the inconvenience of network disruption.

By Christine Njoki - Published 28th Feb 2021, 10:00pm

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