Internet use in rural areas rose to 61 percent (from 2 percent) between 2000 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But recent reports show that overall infrastructural expansion has slowed down due to lack of funding. One big challenge associated with installation is the time frame needed for installation at the new customer’s household, especially in isolated areas — the towers are farther apart and the testing takes hours, without including travel time for the technician.
“Currently, technicians need to climb to a tower in a bucket truck, and they have to find somewhere on somebody’s property or on their house where they can put an antenna to supply them with best signal of high-speed internet,” says Conor Ferguson, CEO of drone startup WISPr Systems.
“We designed a drone to do all the testing so when they go to a house and try to determine what they need to do to get this person internet, they can use our drones to get up high enough and see where they need to put the antenna on the house,” says Ferguson.
The WISPr Systems-proprietary drone cuts down the installation testing time from two to three hours to five minutes — a time difference that reduces total costs by 20 percent. The integrated software platform, available on laptop, phone or tablet, maps the towers in the area to gather more data, reports, GPS location and signal strength.
WISPr Systems self-manufactures the drones and sells them to wireless internet service providers, who also pay a monthly charge to use the software. They come equipped with 360-degree collision avoidance, GPS map and first-person camera perspective; and are easy to transport and move around in the field. Companies must have a certified drone pilot in order to adhere to current FAA regulations, but Ferguson shares that they have also added safety features to their drones.
Ferguson got the idea for WISPr Systems as an engineering student at Mississippi State, where he helped build a wireless network from the ground up. “That’s when you see all the problems that are involved with installation. The biggest problem for me was the testing time. You can spend an hour running a test just to figure out the signal and then come back to the house. It ends up being costly,” says Ferguson.
He joined the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, an arm of the College of Business at MSU that supports students through the startup process. “When I graduated in 2017, I hit the ground running — I was ready to go thanks to them,” says Ferguson.
The startup, currently at eight employees, has several telecommunication companies in the Southeast as clients, with hopes to expand nationally. “Our market includes 3,000 companies nationwide that provide internet access. We want to companies across the U.S. to use our product and eventually expand internationally,” says Ferguson.
WISPr Systems closed $450,000 in funding this past March to further product development and build that roster of customers. “The hardest thing for us when we started was staying on top of customer service and support. It’s really important to us as we wanted to separate ourselves by our software, our easy-to-use drone and our support. We’ve got a good handle on it now,” says Ferguson.