There are many types of wireless internet access. You probably have a Wi-Fi router in your home. This is a local wireless network that connects through to the internet. Those who use a mobile data plan are also using wireless internet access.
A fixed wireless internet service is different than a mobile system because it is intended for the delivery of internet service to buildings. This communication method replaces the wired options of DSL over the telephone line or internet carried over the cable TV network. It covers the last hop of internet delivery from a nearby junction through to the home.
How Does Fixed Wireless Internet Work?
Internet service providers (ISPs) give customers internet access through the equipment on their premises. However, the customer’s traffic needs to get to those gateways. This path is formed through a tree-like structure of cables, which are either the public telephone network or a specialist private network traveling over public land.
A high volume high-speed internet cable carries all of the traffic of users to the ISP. This branches out at local junctions within neighborhoods to lead to each individual home. The difference between fixed wireless and a regular ADSL broadband internet service is the method used for that final link between the customer’s home and the local junction. With ADSL, this link is formed by a telephone wire; with fixed wireless, the link travels through the air from a radio antenna on a tower to an antenna fixed on the home.
The two antennas that create the link are both bi-directional. They are called “transceivers” because each can both transmit and receive radio signals. The system is called “fixed” wireless because the recipient is static, not a mobile device. With mobile wireless, the transceiver is embedded within the access device: a phone, a tablet, or a laptop. With a fixed system, the customer’s transceiver is a separate piece of equipment that can connect many devices in a local network within the home to the ISPs network outside the building.
Fixed wireless operates differently to mobile wireless. A typical wireless access point broadcasts signals in a ball. This creates a wide signal footprint in all directions and enables geographically dispersed devices to catch the signal. Fixed wires antennas create a directional signal, which is more like an invisible beam.
A single directional beam gives a point-to-point connection between to transmitters – this is usually only used for a private connection or as a hop on a commercial network. An internet service offered to the general public uses a point-to-multipoint configuration where the antenna on the service’s tower can communicate with the antennas of several customers sat the same time.
Broadcasting antennae use electricity to generate radio waves. The process can be expensive because it takes quite a lot of electricity to generate the many electromagnetic waves needed to transfer data through the air. Concentrating the signal in one direction enables fixed wireless to generate waves at a lower cost than mobile wireless transmitters.
Frequencies and Performance
Radio waves have different lengths. The antenna can choose the length of the wave that it creates. Waves are measured in cycles per second and expressed as hertz (Hz) – a cycle is a complete single wave. In internet technology, the waves are quantified in millions of cycles, or megahertz (MHz). Fewer waves are generated per second if they have a long wavelength. More short waves can travel within a second. The short waves arrive more frequently, hence the term “frequency” refers to the length of each wave as well as the number that arrive per second.
Transmissions maintain a constant frequency. Receivers can easily distinguish between two streams arriving at different frequencies. This is how the antenna of the ISP can keep communications between several customers separate in the point-to-multipoint system. Each message carried from each customer is also tagged by an identifier to avoid confusion.
As each wave carries binary data, a higher frequency gives a higher bit rate. Internet services express their speed in terms of millions of bits per second, which is called megabits per second (Mbps). Fixed wireless internet services can offer different frequencies and so can rival the bitrate of DSL broadband services and also offer very fast internet connections that rival the speeds of fiber through “extremely high frequency” (EHF) microwave transmissions.
High frequencies cost more money to generate and process so an ISP offering a fixed wireless service will offer several plans with different speeds. The higher the speed of a plan, the higher its price.
Check out our roundup of Best Internet Providers
Is Fixed Wireless Internet Reliable?
There are a number of problems with any wireless system that operates outdoors. The waves are electromagnetic and so they are attracted to metal. So, any metal between the two transceivers will attract all of the waves and make it difficult for the radio waves to arrive at their intended receiver.
A range of materials have high conductivity – it is the conductivity of metal that attracts radio waves. Even glass can absorb radio waves if it is heated. To ensure a strong signal, it is better to have a clear line of sight between the ISPs mast and the antenna on the customer’s home. Problems will arise should the environment change after installation. If someone builds a tall new house between the tower and the customer, it could reduce the strength of all signals. Even growing trees can turn an originally strong signal into a poor internet service.
Thunderstorms put more electricity into the atmosphere, creating interference for electromagnetic waves and heavy rains can also create obstacles. So, bad weather can impede the quality of wireless services.
Any airborne segment of transmission is prone to interference. So, fixed wireless services try to reduce exposure. Having the radio mass very close to the customers reduces distance and risk. The customer’s transceiver should be mounted onto the outside of the house and connect through to a cable to bring the service indoors securely. The wireless element of the service ends up covering a very short distance in order to make the system more reliable.
What Is the Best Fixed Wireless Internet?
About 51 percent of the USA is covered by fixed wireless internet service providers. However, the proximity of the antennae of each provider will decide which is the best service for each individual customer.
What Is the Fastest Fixed Wireless Internet?
There are more than one and a half thousand fixed wireless internet providers in the USA but none of them operate in all of the states. King Street Wireless, Rise Broadband, and AT&T offer service in more states than the rest of the suppliers. Of these three, Rise Broadband offers the highest possible speed of 1,000 Mbps. By comparison, the highest download speed offered by AT&T’s fixed wireless service is 25 Mbps and King Street Wireless can offer just 1 Mbps.
Be careful about relying on these headline maximum speeds, however. The speeds available vary from area to area even when supplied by the same company. This is why fixed wireless companies don’t like to publish exact speed promises until the prospective customer gives an address. The AT&T website, for example, promises speeds of at least 25 Mbps in its plan description but then guarantees a download speed of 10 Mbps and upload speeds of just 1 Mbps in its FAQ section.
Is Fixed Wireless Internet a Good Option?
For residential customers, fixed wireless providers aim their services at those living in rural areas. Properties that are off the grid and don’t have a telephone connection of access to cable internet don’t have many internet options.
If your options come down to satellite or fixed wireless, you would probably consider fixed wireless.
How Do I Get Fixed Wireless Internet?
You need to check on the availability of fixed wireless in your area. Each of the one and a half thousand providers will ask for your location before giving you a quote. Fixed wireless isn’t available everywhere.
How Do I Install Fixed Wireless Internet?
The internet service provider will send a technician to your home to check on the best location on the property for your antenna. If there is no line of sight to the company’s mast from anywhere on your property, they will tell you that they cannot prover a service.
If everything does well, you can start up a plan and another technician will come and fit an antenna. This will have a cable that leads to a socket within your home.
Pros of Fixed Wireless Internet
- Availability – Remote rural properties can get fixed wireless internet without having to pay for cable to be laid to the door.
- Speeds in Remote Locations – Although speeds are not as fast as DSL, cable, or fiber internet, it is faster and more reliable than satellite.
Cons of Fixed Wireless Internet
- Possible Impediments – The service needs a line of sight to the transmitter in order to work. A system that works well at first can be ruined by tree growth or construction blocking the line later.
- Vulnerable to Weather – Heavy weather will impair performance.
- Complicated Set-up – Starting the service requires two visits by technicians who might not be in your area very frequently, creating a long delay in starting the service.
Who Should Use Fixed Wireless Internet?
Fixed wireless internet is a good option for people who live in rural areas.
1. Is fixed wireless internet good for streaming?
Fixed wireless is not the best option for streaming. However, if you can get 25 Mbps, you should have no problems streaming video in your home.
2. Is fixed wireless internet good for gaming?
The upload speeds of fixed wireless tend to be very slow, which could cause you to lose if you play games online.
3. Is fixed wireless internet secure?
All transmissions between the home and the radio mast are secured with encryption, making them impossible to tamper with or read.
4. Is fixed wireless internet faster than DSL?
No. DSL is a much better option than fixed wireless. It is faster and cheaper.
5. Is fixed wireless internet better than cable?
No. Cable is one of the best options for residential internet access because it is both fast and reasonably priced.
6. Is fixed wireless internet better than fiber?
No. Fiber optic cable offers the best speeds available for internet access. Although fiber can be expensive, so can fixed wireless.
7. Is fixed wireless internet better than satellite?
Yes. The equipment to set up a fixed wireless service is much cheaper than a satellite dish. Fixed wireless is very similar to satellite only the signals just need to connect to a nearby tower rather than to a satellite 22,000 miles above the surface of the earth. Fixed wireless is cheaper and faster than satellite.
8. Average cost of fixed wireless internet plans
Most companies don’t have a set tariff but vary it from location to location. However, AT$T is prepared to publish a fixed rate nationally, which is $50 per month.
9. What is the cheapest fixed wireless internet?
You can get a cheaper rate for fixed wireless internet if you are prepared to prepay for a year. For example, AT&T reduces its monthly rate to $40 for those who pay upfront for a year.
Access the internet in remote locations
Fixed wireless internet is an attractive service for those living in remote locations. For people living in urban areas, DSL, cable, and fiber are all better options. If you don’t have the luxury of opting for wired internet delivery, wireless will be a better deal than satellite internet.