In a world of satellites and super-fast fiber optic broadband generating download speeds of up to 1000Mbps, it might be tempting to think of fixed wireless broadband as old-fashioned and due for retirement. However, for several economic and technological reasons, this would be a mistake. Fixed wireless broadband offers a range of benefits that make it either a complementary solution, or a workable alternative to wired or cabled alternatives.
In this article we’ll look at the main reasons why an organization, city or region might opt for a fixed wireless solution. First let’s define our terms properly.
What do we Mean by Fixed Wireless?
Here we’re talking about networks of base stations and radio transmitters, which typically broadcast on the 1.8 – 3.8GHz frequency bands (although much higher frequencies can be used in dense urban areas for better signal penetration).
These transmitters send highly focused radio signals to local receivers and require much smaller towers than those used for 4G or 5G mobile signals. They operate on both licensed and unlicensed bandwidths (the former option is preferable due to lower interference rates).
Here are some of the main benefits of developing a fixed wireless solution:
Reaching Remote Communities
Wireless WANs (wide area networks) using fixed wireless technology prove an efficient and cost-effective way to provide data access for remote rural communities, where it would not be economically viable or practical to run thousands of miles of underground cabling or overground wires.
The frequencies used by fixed wireless don’t require line-of-sight contact between base station and receiver, so work well in forested or hilly regions, although some challenges remain in very mountainous regions. For examples of how remote communities are empowered with fixed wireless networks, read more about the Tribal Connectivity Program here.
Trouble-Free Urban Expansion
An alarming number of American citizens don’t have reliable broadband access in cities. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) over 23% of urban US citizens don’t have broadband connections. This creates a “digital divide”, as outlined in a 2021 report to Congress.
In built-up areas, demand is high for access to subterranean construction slots, and premiums for laying DSL, cable or fiber broadband are high, making it highly expensive to offer this service to, for instance, large scale suburban developments. To date, only around 43% of urban Americans have access to the fastest broadband (fiber), and supply shortages and component price increases have made it even harder to expand the optical cable network.
By contrast, setting up a base station on top of an apartment or office block and installing local receivers is comparatively straightforward and inexpensive.
Low Cost and Speedy Installation
The US Department of Transport conservatively estimates cost per mile for fiber installation at around $27,000 and there’s a direct relationship between the number of homes passed and the expense incurred. With fixed wireless, setup costs can be reduced almost tenfold. The additional cost per user is minimal, so long as they fall within the reach of their local base station.
Fixed wireless equipment can be installed in a matter of weeks (even days in some cases) and the process is relatively straightforward once planning permission and access rights are granted. Compare this to the scale of the disruption caused by digging up urban streets, and the weeks of misery locals experience as a result.
Easy to Maintain and Repair
When things go wrong with a fixed wireless network there are really onto two things that can fail – the radio transmitter and the receiver. By contrast, of course, damage to cables and wires must be tracked along the length of supply lines to locate the breach. The faulty transmission lines must then be unearthed, patched and replaced, causing further disruption.
Likewise, regular maintenance inspections of wireless base stations and receivers can be carried out with ease. There are often redundancies built in to base stations to prevent network downtime during repairs. IoT technology can provide early warnings for components about to fail, informing the network provider about the nature of the problem, often before the client is aware there even is one.
Reduced Latency, Better Throughput
DSL connections over copper wires are notorious for latency issues, and cable isn’t much better. Only fiber can provide a wired low-latency solution, but we’ve already seen the cost and technical problems that come with fiber optics.
Radio broadcasting is naturally low-latency and can even support VoIP and videoconferencing functions where latency or jitter would be a major issue. Private LTE Networks using this technology can convey real competitive advantage over companies relying on legacy DSL broadband.
Throughput is improving as better fixed wireless technology is developed too. Download speeds of up to 100Mbps are possible with new generation towers and receivers. These speeds are frequently much better than you’d get with mobile 5G data networks in the same vicinity.
A Secure and Flexible Option
Need to supply reliable and secure broadband to a 40-story building, or deliver broadband access to schools in a tribal community in rural Wyoming? These are very different scenarios, but both can be achieved with a bespoke fixed wireless network. The radio frequencies used by fixed wireless carry over sufficient distance and penetrate structures well enough to satisfy both use cases.
Furthermore, fixed wireless networks can be as secure as any other form of broadband supply. Their components aren’t readily accessible, and software is protected using state of the art end-to-end encryption. In addition, you can plug in further layers of security and require MFA (multi-factor authentication) or biometrics for individual access to the network.
Fixed Wireless – The All-Round Solution for High-Performance Broadband
As we’ve seen, fixed wireless networks offer the best compromise between performance, affordability, and ease of installation. They deliver low-cost, high-quality broadband in situations where fixed lines are simply impractical.
Whether in the form of 4G LTE networks for private companies and public organizations, or 5G public broadband supplies, fixed wireless networks are growing in popularity. It’s not difficult to see why. When clients are frustrated with the eternal wait for fiber optics to reach their neighborhood, fixed wireless might just prove the perfect solution.