Fixed wireless makes the cut for reliable broadband according to NTIA

In May 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) revealed a big change that promises expanded options for consumers in search of dependable broadband. In its announcement, the agency defined a few “reliable broadband technologies” as being eligible for state-level bipartisan infrastructure funding – including fixed wireless.

Why was this declaration so important and how could fixed wireless change consumer options for the better? Here’s what to know.

The BEAD Program

The May announcement revolved around NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD is a grant-making initiative that got its kickstart as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The program allocates more than $42 billion intended to help all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories expand and improve their broadband infrastructure. 

Like most funding programs, BEAD has a few distinct goals. For instance, it’s meant to improve broadband access for communities of color and other underrepresented groups. It’s also designed to create sustainable broadband implementations and ensure that internet service will be affordable for consumers. 

What the NTIA Said

The act that birthed the BEAD program was signed into law in November 2021. So what made the latest announcement so noteworthy? 

For starters, NTIA’s May declaration clarified BEAD by including what’s known as a Notice of Funding Opportunity, or NOFO. This notice brings the program closer to reality by clarifying which types of technologies would be eligible for funding – demystifying a long-standing question about what counts as viable broadband.

This was a big step forward because it defined a key term that’s integral to the BEAD program: reliable broadband service. Remember how the program had explicit goals for expanding internet service? One objective we didn’t mention is the idea that any broadband service that gets funded needs to be dependable enough to meet minimum performance criteria regarding factors like availability and the ability to meet changing user requirements.

The reliability requirement makes perfect sense. After all, there’s not much point in subsidizing broadband infrastructure technologies unless ordinary people can depend on them. The confusion arose because when the law was initially created, it wasn’t quite obvious which types of broadband would be eligible to receive funding. 

The NOFO announcement made things way clearer. It explicitly listed a few different types of technologies as meeting the standard for funding. While some of these forms of internet, like fiber-optic, DSL, and cable, are well known, the notice also included one you may not have heard of: Terrestrial fixed wireless.

How Does Fixed Wireless Work?

Most people are familiar with what wireless technology is – even if they don’t know much about the underlying details. In brief, wireless signals send data over the airwaves. For instance, it’s how your phone can browse the internet and receive SMS messages even when you’re not standing right next to a cell tower.

Fixed wireless is similar, but there’s a major functional difference. Instead of sending data from one individual’s mobile device to another, it involves transmissions between dedicated hardware that doesn’t move, which is why it’s called fixed. Although the signal still comes from service provider towers, it doesn’t go directly to things like cell phones or tablets – The receivers are also fixed terminals, usually installed by the provider on the customer’s property.

Another form of fixed wireless uses something called a laser bridge. Instead of using a radio modem, the signal travels on a beam of invisible light. With this technology, you’ll need an uninterrupted line of sight between the provider’s transmitter and your receiver.

If you’ve ever lost your mobile signal, you might wonder how fixed wireless is reliable enough to satisfy the criteria for BEAD funding. One of the key distinctions lies in how these transmitters and receivers are powered. Unlike a cell phone, fixed wireless points aren’t dependent on flaky batteries. They draw electricity directly from the same utilities that power homes, businesses, and public facilities. 

The Many Advantages of Fixed Wireless

Another obvious question you might be asking yourself is how fixed wireless compares to the other technologies that NTIA deemed reliable, like cable or fiber optic. While every type of internet service has its pros and cons, fixed wireless includes a few distinct advantages that alternatives just can’t deliver:

Easier Expansion

Wired technology is inherently hard to expand. For instance, if you move to a new house in a neighborhood where cable internet is the only option, you’ll have to ask your service provider to run cabling to your property before you can get online. In many cases, this means paying way more than you should for installation or waiting for your provider to pick up the pace.

By contrast, fixed wireless networks are extremely easy to extend or modify. Since providers can just install new receivers and update their transmitters, the bar to entry is far lower – truly making service more accessible for all.

Cost Sharing

Interestingly, fixed wireless costs depend on the number of subscribers there are. As more people join the network, the delivery cost tends to decrease, and your provider can pass the savings on to you.

Easier Modification

Fixed wireless may also make it easier to keep your service running without interruptions when you move. Depending on where you’re headed, your receiver might be able to make the trip with you.

Improved Bandwidth

One of the problems with wired internet is that it limits bandwidth. With fixed wireless, it’s much easier to make use of the full spectrum, dramatically improving service quality.

Is Fixed Wireless the Future of American Broadband?

Fixed wireless offers an effective way to get consumers connected in numerous communities, particularly those in rural areas that have historically been underserved by other providers. Now that it’s gained formal government approval, it’s likely that more states and municipalities will start looking at the technology as a viable, cost-effective way to expand regional infrastructure. 

Could fixed wireless be the ideal internet service solution for your home or business? Explore your options by talking to an expert at PCS Technologies, Inc. today.

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