How to become an internet service provider
The businesses who sell us internet connectivity, ISPs can be hugely profitable. Whether starting your own or becoming a VISP, Here's how to do it
Internet service providers (or ISPs) are the businesses who sell us internet connectivity, enabling us to hook our phones, laptops and other devices up to the world wide web.
BT, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media and TalkTalk are among the giants of the UK’s ISP market. While the sector is plagued by complaints of slow connectivity and poor customer service, it’s also a massively profitable industry – and arguably one of the most crucial.
If you’d like to join the market as an ISP yourself, there are two routes to doing so. Read on to find out how to become an internet service provider…
Become a virtual internet service provider (VISP)
Virtual internet service providers (or VISPs) are local businesses who sell an already-established ISP’s services on to clients on the ISP’s behalf.
Similarly to a franchised business model, VISPs operate under the brand name of the ISP whose services they’re selling, benefiting from the brand recognition this affords. In return, established ISPs are better able to provide internet access to customers across the UK through presences in multiple locations.
In order to become a VISP, you’ll first need to do some research into which ISP you’d like to join. Get in touch with brands who have VISPs and ask about the packages they offer.
Once you’ve requested to become a VISP for a brand, you’ll be asked to sign an agreement. Be sure to go through this carefully so that you know what to expect from the arrangement.
It may be worth considering seeing if you can get a Start Up Loan (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) to help you with financing, and mentoring to start this business idea. You'll also need to think about registering your business, either as a sole trader or as a company - if a company, then Smarta Formations (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) are an organisation that can help you set up.
Usually, an ISP will sell connectivity services to you at a discounted price, which you can then sell on to your local customers at a marked-up cost, collecting revenues from these sales. A lot of ISP brands will also require you to pay them a setup fee.
Be wary that, for this to be worth their while, many ISPs will require you to be selling to a minimum number of customers in order to continue the arrangement. To keep your customer numbers up, make sure you have a solid marketing strategy in place in order to attract customers to your service.
On finding an ISP to work with, a forum user said: “If you want to become a virtual internet service provider there are many UK companies. Some charge setup fees, others don’t.
“If you are looking to start on a bigger scale with higher profit margins, I suggest looking at companies that offer re-seller services on individual products.”
Start your own ISP
The more difficult and expensive option, starting your own ISP from scratch and providing your very own internet services – rather than those of another ISP – requires plenty of complex expertise, equipment and a hefty injection of capital.
First, you’ll need to find a facility that can suitably house your hardware. Ideally, this will have plenty of space for you to safely route your equipment. You’ll also need to install a reliable cooling system, as the equipment will be damaged if it overheats (opening the windows won’t cut it!).
To gain connectivity, there are a variety of options; including fibre optic cables, wifi, peering arrangements and ethernet. Some methods will be more expensive and require more upheaval than others; for example, you’ll need to lay fibre optic cables underground.
Other equipment you’ll need includes:
- Enterprise-level routers and computers
- Power generators (in case of local power cuts)