Fixed wireless is a growing broadband method that allows customers to connect to the internet like cable or (Digital Subscriber Line) DSL. However, fixed wireless looks to close the gap for consumers who lack access to a reliable connection.
Overview of Fixed Wireless Performance
Most residential fixed-wireless plans favorably compare to cable or DSL. When it comes to speed, fixed-wireless plans operate between five to 50 Mbps. All types of broadband connections vary based on the provider, location, and the type of plan selected, which in turn, affects speed.
Those looking for a faster connection should consider a fixed-wireless plan designed for business. Some leading companies offer 500 Mbps symmetrical plans. These plans not only provide speed, but the reliability and security often associated with fiber optics.
For some, that speed may not be enough. However, potential users should still see fixed wireless as a viable option, especially when compared to going with a satellite option. Internet services providers (ISPs) may offer fixed wireless in areas that lack wired options. In this instance, fixed wireless becomes the most flexible solution because of its lack of reliance on fiber.
Rural Areas Benefit from Fixed Wireless
Rural areas may benefit the most from fixed wireless. Those areas rely more on dial-up or satellite connections, which are becoming outdated ways to get online. In this case, rural populations may find the speed they need with fixed wireless.
To better understand fixed wireless, it is helpful for potential users to visualize it. Like cable or DSL, fixed wireless still has to connect from a starting point to an actual residence.
While cable uses a television connection and DSL uses a wired phone line, fixed wireless looks to provide another way to get online. It uses radio waves from an access point, which is typically found mounted on a tower, to get reception to its customers. Fixed wireless ISPs often take into account bandwidth requirements as well.
To decide if fixed wireless is the optimal choice for a consumer, it is important to first understand what fixed wireless is not.
While fixed wireless broadcasts from towers, the connection is not made via use of a satellite.
A fixed wireless connection is not mobile. Mobile coverage operates via Wi-Fi – users receive coverage from towers or other devices that are within the range of connection. Fixed wireless looks more like an invisible wire that connects two locations together. The coverage itself comes from the tower and it follows a straight-line pattern to reach the customer.
Fixed wireless is not in the same category as Wi-Fi. A fixed-wireless connection acts as a point-to-point connection. It requires that an access point like a tower have a direct path to the device it connects to. While Wi-FI can overcome and pass through some slight barriers, fixed wireless cannot. It must travel via that invisible wire to operate.
A Look at the Technology
A fixed wireless customer uses a stationary location. In that sense, the fixed wireless connection is seen as a focused one. An analogy is to think of it like a magnifying glass. The magnifying glass channels a light source, which then makes the light project like a stronger beam. That is stronger than a one-dimensional broadcast that occurs from a radio.
While fixed wireless is newer, it has the capability to rival cable or DSL. To boost a frequency, users may attempt to take advantage of a connection that uses a higher-frequency microwave or extremely high frequency (EHF) band. When properly implemented, users see gigabit speeds.
Major players in the social media realm are starting to see the benefits of fixed wireless. Facebook and Google have accessed EHF to further develop their fixed wireless networks. Additionally, start-up companies have decided to explore fixed wireless. Starry Internet uses fixed wireless as a way to compete against traditional ISPs.
There are two connection types for fixed wireless.
Point-to-Point – This type of configuration works like a bridge by connecting two locations to each other. Usually, the connection takes place between an access point on a tower and the internet, which acts as the backbone. Point-to-point may also refer to two buildings that connect because of the need to share a network.
Point-to-multipoint – This type of configuration connects a set number of locations from one access point. It bridges the gap between the actual tower and a residence.
A Look at the Advantages and Disadvantages
Like all technologies, fixed wireless has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Some of the advantages include:
Installation – Fixed wireless is easy, quick and affordable to install.
Flexibility and Coverage – Fixed wireless provides an alternative to traditional coverage, especially in rural areas where tower locations are fewer and traditional coverage may cause a spotty connection. This gives fixed wireless a broader consumer appeal.
Latency – Fixed wireless has a low latency, which is the time it takes for data to travel from one place to the next. This means residents of less-populated areas may take advantage of more online tools like video conferencing or online gaming.
Competition – Fixed wireless creates competition for traditional ISPs. That competition opens up the marketplace and gives consumers a greater number of providers and plans to choose from. In the long run, it may also drive cost because ISPs do not have to invest in new infrastructure.
Some of the disadvantages include:
Line-of-sight requirement – Fixed wireless must directly travel via the invisible wire. Therefore, it cannot overcome minor barriers that block the data pocket.
Cost – Fixed wireless currently has a higher average cost than cable or DSL. However, the service received often offsets the higher price tag. Fixed wireless providers are smaller than bigger corporations like Cox or Comcast XFINITY. In the case of an outage or another issue, a customer is likely to receive a quicker response or resolution time.
Spectrum shortage – Fixed wireless has to compete for the airwaves, which could create further spectrum shortage issues. However, this situation is not unique to fixed wireless.
Security issues – Fixed wireless has its own set of wireless security concerns related to encryption and authentication.
Weather issues - Severe weather or storms, often called rain fade, can affect all internet options. Those with fixed wireless may experience slower upload and download speeds during rain fade.
Overcoming a Spectrum Shortage
All kinds of wireless solutions have to fight for airwave space. Even a microwave fights for that space. One way to overcome that is to require licenses to use the space. In the case of the spectrum shortage, fixed wireless has the ability to use data across many microwave and radio spectrums. The frequency will vary based on implementation and what is available at that time.
Wireless internet service providers (WISPs) that operate in rural areas may broadcast using unlicensed bands because that mitigates the risk of having interference from other devices. In urban areas, people face signal jams from competing broadcasts like 3G and 4G. Using high-frequency microwave bands are a way to reduce the issue.
Additionally, private corporations and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fight to share the spectrum, which could further enhance fixed wireless’ position in this realm because it will not have to fight for the same fiber, cable or phone line.
Providers and Availability
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