Fixed wireless access has been lauded as an effective alternative to satellite Internet in rural areas for many years already, but today, new advancements are making the technology look even more appealing than ever before.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at how fixed wireless works to deliver Internet access to your home, and we’ll also be going over some actionable tips that you can utilize when choosing the right provider for your needs.
What is fixed wireless, and how does it work?
Up to a point, fixed wireless functions very similarly to other connection types like DSL and cable. For instance, it starts by drawing connectivity from the backbone of the Internet, which is usually provided by a fiber optic cable.
From there, data is transmitted to a fixed point, usually in the form of a radio tower of some sort. From this point, a signal is broadcast that can be used by customers within a certain proximity to said tower.
Fixed wireless differs from satellite in that it takes a direct, point-to-point approach to delivering Internet access to consumers. By contrast, satellite used a top-down “blanket” approach, resulting in a wider coverage area but more latency and a slew of reliability issues.
Pros and cons of fixed wireless
As mentioned above, fixed wireless as a technology uses a point-to-point communication system, which makes it an ideal replacement for satellite Internet in many cases. It performs better in bad-weather conditions as well, though some weather patterns can still affect your overall performance.
It can also even compete directly with conventional technologies like cable and DSL in certain locations, with speeds up to 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) offered by some providers. Google’s WebPass service in urban areas is a good example of how this techonlogy will likely expand in the future. Also, fixed wireless is usually a quick and easy install for most users.
Despite these benefits, the technology isn’t without its drawbacks. For instance, though it provides better speeds than what satellite can typically offer, it is still commonly slower than cable and fiber optics-based connections. Of course, if you live in a rural area, you might not have access to these options anyways, but it’s still important to keep this in mind.
Another potential downside is that fixed wireless works on a direct line-of-sight basis. This means that the antenna at your home or business needs to be able to “look” directly at the access point in order to get a reliable signal. In certain areas of the country where terrain is rocky and uneven, this can represent a considerable hurdle for the technology.
Cost is also another factor worth considering when it comes to fixed wireless. When compared to cable or DSL, service can cost a fair amount more for the same speeds in many areas of the country.
Overall, fixed wireless is an exciting connection type that is certainly a fantastic choice for users looking to get connected in areas where more mainline providers do not offer service. Just be aware that it does have some practical limitations.
How does fixed wireless compare to LTE and other cellular connections?
A common misconception is that there is no difference between fixed wireless and cellular connections. Mobile data comes from an array of different access points that act as a “mesh network,” allowing you to pick up data from various points as you move around the world. Fixed wireless, on the other hand, is just that; it originates from a *fixed* position and is sent directly to your home via line-of-sight.
In general, connections speeds tend to be faster with fixed wireless as well; it’s not uncommon to see speeds up to 10–30 Mbps (megabits per second), whereas with a cellular hotspot, you usually top out at around a comparatively low 1–4 Mbps.
How to choose a Fixed Wireless provider
Step one: Determine which providers are available in your area
When trying to identify all of the internet providers in a city, your best bet is to use BroadbandNow.com’s zip code search tool.
An alternative that also lists plans is ProvidersByZip.com.
Step two: Compare pricing and speeds
Remember that in general, basic Internet browsing, emails, and other administrative tasks only require about 5–10 Mbps, or even lower depending upon your needs. If you aren’t doing any HD streaming, gaming, or other network-intensive tasks, there’s no reason to pay more than you have to for a fixed wireless connection.
In addition, when comparing providers, be sure to look out for various hidden fees such as early termination (ETF) fees, as well as temporary promotional pricing items. Often, providers will lure you in by advertising a lower promotional rate, only to go in and raise the price six months or a year down the line.
In short: before committing to a provider, be sure to understand the full scope of the pricing, including setup and other applicable fees.
Step three: Sign up for service
Once you’ve settled on a service provider and are ready to sign up, there’s nothing left to do but call or go online to sign up. In general, we recommend calling in to speak with an actual human being, because doing so will often put you in the best position to be able to negotiate any startup and installation fees that come along with your new service.
Be sure to keep in mind the contract, if there is one, and also factor in where your home is located to ensure that you won’t have any issues when the technician comes out to install your service.
Choosing a fixed wireless provider is easier than you think.
By using this guide as a reference point, you should be able to successfully determine what your needs are, as well as which providers in your area are able to accommodate them.
Looking ahead, the future of fixed wireless technology is looking brighter all of the time. Networks are growing more robust and reliable by the day, and already, these connections are becoming viable, especially for businesses that are looking for scalable, flexible access.
Fixed wireless has also been in the news lately in relation to tech giant Microsoft’s “White Spaces” spectrum trials, proving that it is crucial to the future of high speed Internet access for millions of rural users. The connection is already a major step up from satellite Internet, and it’s looking ever more likely that it will have a role to play in bridging the digital divide as wireless advanced such as 5G get people more comfortable with the idea of high-bandwidth wireless in the coming months and years.
References and Footnotes
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Jessica Sims is a technology blogger and broadband industry veteran. Her background as an administrator and customer support employee for a major ISP informs her passion for helping consumers understand their service options.