In Over My Head -- What do I need to setup a tiny ISP?

Notify Me wrote:

That being said, some people who have a lot more faith in my abilities than
I do seem to think I am the go-to guy for network information. And they
foolishly asked me for assistance in putting together a small ISP network
which is supposed to cater for home users inside of a residential area,
very likely wireless (wifi/WIMAX).

A key question: is this going to be a commercial service run as a
business, or an internal operation like a campus network? The
operations aren't that different, but the scope and organiation can be

Another key question: Are you focusing just on the infrastructure
(wireless IP) or will you be providing email, hosting services, and so

I confess I am really interested in helping my questioners put this
together, not just for whatever material gain (which is unlikely at this
point), but just for the experience which is very valuable to me. I also
have to state that I live in Nigeria, so whatever advice you offer has to
be fourth-world applicable.

I admit that your query raised my interest, so I did a little looking,
and found this:
A guide put together by the "First Nations Technology Council" - on how
to put together an ISP on tribal lands in Canada - which might be
somewhat analogous to your situation. It's somewhat basic, but gives an
overview - then you can start looking into the individual topics it
talks about. You might drop them an email.
There's also been a lot of work on US tribal reservations that might
apply - you'll have to do some googling to find resources.

Now the guy you really want to talk to is Dave Hughes, of Big Sky
Telegraph - who used to do a lot of network building for rural areas in
the US and remote areas around the world - unfortunately he's long
retired - but two sources you could look at that might give you a lot
of background: (which now seems to lead to the Dillon
Center of Excellence, focusing on best practices for rural America,
including networking)

There used to be an "Association for Community Networking" - folks
involved in building cooperative local networks (used to be a lot of
what I was involved in the 1990s) but that kind of activity has dried up
as more and more commercial players entered the market. And an
"Organization for Community Networks" ( - but their web
site seems to be kind of dead (some useful links, though). If you
google "community network" you'll find a buch of current operations -
and you might want to contact some of them.

There are also a growing number of community mesh networks in various
places - WikiPedia's page on might be a good
starting point. There's also an association of wireless ISPs

Then there's this guy: - who seems to
have written a book on "so you want to be an ISP" - can't say anything
about how good it is.

Or.. you might just go looking for other ISPs in Nigeria (of which there
are quite a few) and see if you can get some advice (amazing what you
can learn over a few beers). Maybe contact the networking people at the
nearest college or university. I don't know what it's like in Nigeria,
but in the US, the academic community was really active in getting a lot
of early ISPs started - particularly in smaller communities.

One other thought: there are quite a few software packages floating
around for managing aspects of ISP operations (see for starters) - I expect
their user communities (and email lists) would be excellent sources of

Hope this helps.


Miles Fidelman