By Michelle Ricker May 13, 2021
Summary: Fixed wireless internet is a dependable option for rural areas and digital nomads who want great internet wherever they go. It uses cell towers, rather than satellites or underground wires, to create a WiFi network almost anywhere. Plus, the installation process for fixed wireless is pretty simple, and it’s totally portable. We break down how fixed wireless works and why it might be a better option for you than satellite internet or a cell phone’s hotspot.
You’ve heard of satellite, cable, and fiber internet. You know how to use your home WiFi network to stay connected to friends and family. But what the heck is fixed wireless internet?
It’s one of the most recent internet service types, and it has the potential to reach traditionally underserved areas (like rural or exurban locales) and people on the move (whether moving to a new town or living a more nomadic life). It’s also more flexible than many other internet types and more portable, but there are limitations. In fact, if you’re in an area where fast fiber internet is available, you should probably stick with that. But let’s dig in, and take a look.
Fixed wireless internet uses cell towers to create a WiFi network that your devices connect to. You may have also heard it called mobile broadband internet.
In some ways, it’s similar to a hotspot: it uses cell towers, requires a data plan, and has a monthly maximum. But in other ways, it’s way better than your phone’s hotspot.
Fixed wireless networks can support up to 64 devices at once. The very best hotspots can only manage 10 devices — and the average American household has 11.
Plus, it won’t burn through your phone battery.
Fixed wireless is also likely to be a much faster connection since cell phone speeds are usually only around 30 Mbps when connected to a cell tower. But fixed wireless internet allows speeds more than triple that — up to 100 Mbps, depending on the nearby towers. And it’s those towers that really dictate the speed you can get since fixed wireless devices automatically connect to the best signal available. That means you can be confident you’re always getting the best speed for your device.
If you’re thinking that fixed wireless sounds similar to satellite internet, you’re not far off base. But fixed wireless internet is largely considered better than satellite. Here’s why:
Mobile broadband offers rural areas an alternative to pricier satellite internet. It can make online activities, like gaming, more enjoyable. It’s also a better option for remote workers or students who often need to send large attachments or use video calls.
Fixed wireless internet can really be used for any function of the internet, whether it’s checking emails, gaming, streaming, or videoconferencing. Because the lag times can be much shorter than satellite internet, you don’t have to worry about in-game delays or corrupted audio during calls. But there are differences between this kind of internet and cable or fiber internet. Fixed wireless often does have stricter data limits.
Many high-speed internet providers enforce data caps, which are a restriction on the amount of data you can send and receive online. While the data limit on traditional internet varies, many providers offer up to 1 Terabyte, which is typically more than sufficient for one household.
Fixed wireless, on the other hand, often has a variety of data plans to choose from, ranging from 25 gigabytes to 150 Gbps per month. Just like choosing a mobile phone data plan, it will be important to consider what types of activities you’ll be using your mobile broadband internet for.
Mobile broadband offers rural areas an alternative to pricier satellite internet.
While surfing the web and checking email won’t require a significant amount of data, more visual or interactive activities — such as live gaming and videoconferencing — will use up data more quickly. And, of course, as the number of people in your home on the device increases, the amount of necessary data increases, too.
So you know what fixed wireless internet can be used for. But who should actually use it? Considering how flexible it is, fixed wireless could be a good option for a huge variety of people. But we’ll break it down into two general uses.
Internet access in rural areas has been a challenge almost since the beginning. It’s expensive to lay cables, so most providers have to choose where more people will benefit from adding new technology and services. It can mean that residents of less-populous areas have limited internet options, usually choosing between satellite internet and dial-up or DSL. Satellite offers higher speeds than DSL internet but requires pricey equipment to get connected and can be slow.
While internet cable is scarce, cell towers often abound in these areas. Fixed wireless internet is a way to help bridge the digital divide and offer faster internet options for rural areas. And, since it doesn’t require satellite equipment, it’s easier and more affordable to install.
Those who don’t live in rural areas can still use mobile broadband internet. In fact, it’s especially good for individuals who are on the move — whether that’s literally packing up and moving across the state or renovating a camper and heading for the digital nomad life.
If you’re in the process of moving homes, but don’t have time to wait for the internet installation, fixed wireless can offer a secure, private network to support your devices. That removes the security risk of going to a coffee shop or library and allows you to be home for other necessary appointments.
If you’re a digital nomad who works remotely and travels often, fixed wireless may be a good choice. You’ll stay connected, but you won’t use up your cell phone’s data plan as quickly, and your speeds will be higher. All without worrying about maintaining a home base with wired internet access.
Fixed wireless offers the reliable internet you need so you can get back to work or on the road as quickly as possible. It’s nomad internet in your area (wherever that is!) at its finest. And if you’re just rolling out the RV to tailgate at your favorite game, guess who’ll be the crowd favorite when you can easily stream every play — live!
Whether you’re moving to a new house or home is wherever you sleep, when you’re in an area with coverage, all you need is an electrical outlet and voilà: you’ve got internet access with fixed wireless. All engines, go!
Fixed wireless is an important step in getting reliable internet access to hard-to-reach, rural areas and traveling remote workers. But, if you live in a place where high-speed fiber internet is available, that’s still the best choice. With the ease and flexibility of a cell phone’s hotspot, but the support of a wired connection, fixed wireless could be the solution you’re looking for.
Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.
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