In the early days of the Internet, most people connected to the Internet via dial-up, over the phone lines. It was slow, and couldn’t be used at the same time as the phone. Dial-up was eventually replaced with more dedicated lines for Internet, such as digital subscriber lines (DSL) or cable. These are generally only available in urban or suburban areas, where the high number of people justifies the cost of laying cable. People in rural settings are generally left with one option: satellite, which is generally known as being slow and unreliable when compared to wired options. However, another option is available for people looking for reliable Internet access: fixed wireless.
Fixed wireless is a way of transmitting data (in this case, Internet access) using radio waves as opposed to physical cables. Generally this is accomplished by running a dedicated Internet cable to a tower. The tower broadcasts the Internet out, and dishes are installed on customers’ roofs to receive the transmission. The radio waves act as the cable, connecting the tower to the dish at your house.
The use of a tower on earth is one of the main reasons fixed wireless differs from satellite in speed and reliability. The physical distance between a satellite in space and your home causes satellite Internet to be slow compared to other option. A tower, however, must generally be within 31 miles of its target in order to deliver the signal. This limits a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) to that range for customers. This means towers have to be built periodically in order to cover greater distances.
Besides distance, fixed wireless has another caveat: line of sight. The space between the antenna on the tower and the dish on the roof of the home or business must be clear. If anything, a building, a hill, a tree, is blocking line of sight, fixed wireless cannot be used. This further lowers the number of people who can use it. Potential clients must both be within 31 miles of the tower, and have clear line of sight to the tower. This has lead some serious customers to build towers on their property to clear trees and other obstructions so they can achieve line of sight with the main tower.
Fixed wireless rarely can achieve download speeds higher than 100 Mbps. While this is superior to satellite, which on average lies between 1 and 25 Mbps, it is not as good as cable, which can be in the hundreds of Mbps, or fiber, which can reach 1 Gbps.
While cable is still the superior choice if you are looking for fast reliable Internet access, if you live in an area where cable is not available, fixed wireless may be an option. While not as fast as cable, it is faster and more reliable than satellite, which if you live in a rural area, is likely your only other option. So, if you are in the market for reliable Internet access, and want to avoid satellite, fixed wireless may be for you.