Fixed Wireless Access and why it is different from Mobile Broadband

With so many Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) service offerings hitting the market as a viable internet solution for businesses, many are still confused on what it is and how it works. Some are using the term FWA and Mobile Broadband as the same, when actually they are quite different. Let’s explore and recount a bit about how accessing the internet through a mobile device has changed over the years.

History of Mobile Broadband

Mobile Broadband has been around for quite some time, and is what most people are accustomed to when we talk about using internet over a mobile connection. Mobile Broadband came onto the scene in the mid 2000’s, as the technology was shifting from 2G to 3G and as 3G coverage was becoming more widespread. The ability to plug in a device to laptops through a USB port and access mobile internet through a “dongle” became very popular and created our ability to access the internet “on the go”.

Some of the earliest versions of these dongles included an actual antennae attached to them and looked somewhat like a credit card sticking out of your computer. Eventually the hardware changed, became very sleek and small and started to resemble a USB device.

Manufacturers also began to embed the mobile function directly into the computers and 3G-enabled devices like netbooks were born which allowed even greater portability. It wasn’t before long and e-readers stormed the market at the beginning of 2010, with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Nobile’s Nook readers.

Apple joined in the mix and even though they announced the iPad in January of 2010, it wasn’t until later that year that consumers could purchase an iPad that was 3G-enabled or with cellular connectivity. (Interesting to note the iPad Air launched in November of 2013, which was essentially a marketing name and slight upgrade from the original iPad launched in 2010 that had both cellular and WiFi connections.)

In 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, two new 4G-capable devices were introduced from Novatel. These new 4G mobile hotspots which connected to a cellular network, allowed multiple devices to connect to them to access mobile internet. The internet-in-your-pocket devices (MiFi’s) became extremely popular as they provided a secure connection and alternative to using public WiFi networks.

Fixed Wireless Access

For those who have experienced all of these technology changes, we all understand how this works, right? So now enter a new era of internet connectivity for consumers and businesses. One where the new technology along with 4G LTE or 5G allows for a viable alternative to wired broadband, one where we can literally “cut the cord” for our internet services.

To understand the differences of mobile broadband and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), let’s briefly recap how FWA works. Remember FWA is a connection between two fixed locations using a radio or wireless link. The point-to-point link is used to provide broadband internet services and this wireless connection replaces “the last mile” or cabling that would normally be required for broadband internet. The tower that connects to a larger network may have wires and also radio links, but no wires are needed at a home or business, only a receiving device that is wireless is needed to work. For some of the 4G LTE or 5G FWA services, it may also require an antennae installed on the customer’s building, but the main thing to note is that unlike mobile broadband, it’s not portable. The wireless receiving device is fixed and stationary at your home or business, unlike with mobile broadband you carry it around in your pocket.

Differences of FWA and Mobile Broadband

FWA offers many advantages to mobile broadband in the following areas, reliability, and consistent speed. There are differences in price and set-up between the two technologies as well.

  • In terms of reliability, a fixed wireless access connection is much more reliable than mobile broadband due to the fact that a fixed wireless base station is likely to only be shared with roughly a hundred users at most versus mobile broadband connects directly from the cellular towers, which can be divided among thousands of users. With mobile broadband, your signal strength varies depending upon how many people at your location are accessing the network at the same time. We have all experienced this.
  • In terms of speeds, FWA offers much greater or should we say consistent speeds than mobile broadband but as we know, speeds vary based on carrier. In terms of price, mobile broadband is typically much less than FWA but as you can see, there are two entirely different ways of accessing wireless internet, however for the reliability factor alone discussed above, FWA should be considered as a first choice.
  • Lastly, the set-up time will vary for FWA based on if an antenna will be installed at your location and depending upon if you are using FWA with 4G LTE (which does not require an antennae installed, usually it is a plug and play solution) or 5G FWA and what level of service and speeds you select. With mobile broadband you can obviously order a MiFi or hotspot and have it in your hands fairly quickly but know that the reliability is not what it is to fixed wireless access and service can drop out and speeds may vary day-to-day based on how many others are accessing the cell tower that day.

Driving the need to consider FWA as an integral part of your networking needs are dramatic price increases that will begin as early as August 2022.  These increases relate to a 2010 order from the FCC that mandates all POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines in the US be replaced with an alternative service by August 2, 2022.  Major carriers have been dropping support for these copper-based lines as well as raising prices for POTS service dramatically – sometimes doubling or tripling.  Are you willing to absorb these incremental costs?

Contact OVATION to learn more about FWA solutions and migration strategies that take advantage of FWA service offerings that keep you connected with a cost effective and reliable service. For twenty years, OVATION has been helping enterprises, both large and small, navigate wireless services offerings that keep businesses operating. Our team of wireless professionals bring years of best practices and thought leadership to the ever changing world of wireless.