Fixed Wireless Access and Why Does it Matter?
What is Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)?
High-Speed Broadband Access, No Matter Your Location
With the growing popularity and implementation of 5G technology by Mobile Carriers and Broadband ISPs, we are beginning to see more users choosing Fixed Wireless Access instead of traditional broadband connection methods such as Cable, Fiber, DSL, or Satellite. To help break down what Fixed Wireless Access is and to prepare for future discussions on the topic, the team has prepared a brief overview of the technology.
What is Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)?
Fixed Wireless Access, or FWA, is the general term for broadband internet connections where a connection is shared between two fixed points via radio signals rather than wired links.
FWA differs from Mobile and Travel Routers, as Mobile and Travel Routers are meant to move from location to location. On the other hand, FWA can create reliable high-speed connections due to points not moving and roaming between cellular towers. For most residential users, a Fixed Wireless Connection will consist of one fixed location in their home (FWA Compatible Gateway/Modem), which connects to a transmitter managed by your provider, usually from a nearby cell tower or building.
How Does Fixed Wireless Access Function?
Most Fixed Wireless Access Providers use 4GLTE or 5G connections to provide a high-speed internet connection directly to your home. These are the same regulated bands and technologies mobile device carriers use to deliver cellular connections to your phone.
With the growing use of 5G, the technology has become more popular as it supports gigabit download speeds. Without running new wires or laying fiber lines, providing gigabit access to entire neighborhoods has become far more economical to ISPs and accessible to homeowners everywhere.
Is Fixed Wireless Access the Right Option for Me?
Fixed Wireless Access is not the right choice for every network, especially if you already have access to gigabit-capable lines on your property or are in crowded urban environments where communications are subject to excessive interference. FWA, however, IS an excellent choice for any user that does not have a broadband connection readily available, such as in rural areas where it is not cost-effective for ISPs to lay new cabling to every house.
Fiber is the latest and greatest entry to broadband connectivity, as it can support unheard-of bandwidth and low latency, but it comes with a steep cost for ISPs to implement. To put things in perspective: in 2020, the Department of Transportation reported the price to lay new fiber lines for a one-mile length as requiring anywhere as low as $15,000 up to potentially even $160,000*. Besides the installation cost, fiber connections also suffer from extremely high repair costs, often up to thousands of dollars.
This would not be worth the cost in rural areas where properties can be more than a mile apart or with terrain that prevents wires from being laid. In these situations, you can take advantage of the existing mobile networks to establish a broadband connection using an ISP offering FWA Connections.
Broadband Satellite Connectivity:
Satellite broadband connections have always been the go-to solution for rural areas. You may even recognize a few of the leading providers, such as HughesNet. These connections are made by connecting a small satellite dish attached to your home with an orbiting satellite. While this has worked for many users over the years, the low speeds (often limited to 25Mbps), high latency, and potentially unstable connections have caused ISPs to develop other methods, such as FWA, for users in these areas.
If you currently use a satellite-based ISP, you might find alternative providers using Fixed Wireless Access, which may provide more consistent and higher-speed connections than what you currently have.
This is the most widely-used and cost-effective method of providing broadband connections to large areas. Currently, cable connections use the DOCSIS 3.1 standard, allowing up to 10Gbps connections.
Due to the nature of the wiring running to your home, broadband cable connections also suffer from asymmetrical bandwidths for uploading and downloading. Oftentimes, you will see plans from your ISPs that offer up to 1000Mbps downloading while only offering 30Mbps for uploading.
For most users with access to cable connections, this is usually the best option, but you are limited to the ISP that serves your neighborhood or area and the plans that they are offering; depending on your location, you may be able to take advantage of the newest 5G FWA Providers.
What Is Fixed Wireless Access Capable Of In Terms of Bandwidth, Latency, and Stability?
In general, the bandwidth and speed of your network are determined by your choice of provider, where you are located, and what technology is being used to distribute the connection. As with traditional broadband providers, multiple service plans are typically available, depending on your needed speed. Some providers have even offered gigabit speeds via FWA, making Fixed Wireless Access a viable alternative to traditional broadband connections.
It is recommended to check which ISPs offer a service plan for your location, what speeds each can provide, and whether they have a data cap.
Does my Internet Provider Offer Fixed Wireless Access for my Home?
Often, there will only be one ISP providing a wired connection to your home, leading many to believe they have no other options. FWA uses radio waves to transmit and receive data, meaning that multiple providers are most likely available in an area and no longer need to rely on a provider having access to the lines running to your home. This depends entirely on your location, with many smaller ISPs also beginning to offer high-speed FWA connections to users.
What is 'FWA' vs. 'FWA via WISP'?
While researching available providers in your area, you may discover a few providers considered WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers). These ISPs use a combination of licensed and unlicensed frequencies to create FWA connections between your home and a fixed point in your area. The service range of a WISP can be much lower. Depending on how the signal is delivered to your home, it may have different limitations on network quality.
In most areas, you will find Fixed Wireless Access Options offered by the Mobile Network Operators we all know and love, such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T. Some carriers have been providing FWA connectivity for a few years. However, the emergence of 5G, making the technology viable for high-speed wireless connections, has caused most vendors to begin exploring the different applications of Fixed Wireless Access.
Join our Community Tech Talk on Reddit: Exploring Fixed Wireless Access