What is wireless broadband?

Wireless broadband is simply bandwidth that is provided through some kind of wireless connection rather than through a copper or fibre-optic cable. There are two main ways to connect without wires – via 4G or 5G, or by using a satellite-based service.

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What does WISP mean?

WISP stands for Wireless Internet Services Provider. Most broadband suppliers are known simply as ISPs. If you offer a wireless option, you can justifiably call yourself a WISP. In fact, most WISPs tend to be locally-focused providers set up specifically to provide wireless broadband in an area where there the fixed-line coverage is poor.

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Wireless broadband vs wired broadband

For most users, the only thing that matters about broadband is that it actually works and delivers the speed and reliability that enables you to make effective use of online services.

Which is best depends on your specific circumstances. But, in general, a wired connection is always going to be a better bet. In most circumstances, it will be faster, more consistent, more reliable, and more cost-effective.

But if you are in an area in which you can’t get a good fixed-line broadband speed – typically this will be somewhere quite remote – then a cellular or satellite-based service may be a better option.

Wireless options are also useful if you are moving around a lot and need to maintain contact. Or for project work. It will always take a few days and usually a couple of weeks for a fixed-line service to be installed, whereas a small 4G or 5G router or ‘dongle’ is all you need to connect to a 4G or 5G service. You can be carried these around and use them almost anywhere.

Of course, with 4G and 5G, you are dependent on being able to get a good signal – and that can’t be absolutely assured. Clearly, 5G will offer a lot more bandwidth and as it becomes more widely available, it will be a more attractive option where decent fixed line broadband services are – for whatever reason – not available.

Another wireless option is satellite broadband. There may be some places where, as well being poorly served by fixed line broadband, you can’t pick up 4G or 5G signals. In such instances, a satellite broadband connection could be useful.

This works in exactly the same way as a satellite TV service, with signals picked up and sent through a dish. Satellite is also useful for use in off-shore locations, on sea-going vessels and in aircraft.

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Positives of wireless broadband

The biggest plus point of wireless broadband is mobility. With 4G or 5G connections you can move around the country, use broadband on trains or even while sitting in a car, in hotels, stations and airports – and at home. Of course, signals can drop out and at times, cellular services get congested and may slow down.

But most of the time they work pretty well, and if you can get 5G, that is going to be pretty fast. A survey conducted in December 2020 by Point Topic, reported average 5G download speeds of 148Mbps – twice as fast as most superfast (FTTC) broadband services – and a respectable 41Mbps for 4G.

The issue might be whether you can pick up a signal all the time or not. Clearly, if you are moving around, that can’t be guaranteed. But if you are in a fixed location, it should be fairly consistent.

The other big plus for wireless broadband is flexibility. You can deploy it instantly just about anywhere – that’s certainly the cases with 4G/5G. With satellite services there would be a bit of setting up to do, of course. Services of various speeds are available, up to 100Mbps, but faster services do cost more.

Arguably, not being dependent on the whole network of cables that all the fixed-line services use means that you are less susceptible to a loss of service. But this is not quite as simple as it sounds; all communications networks have potential points of failure – cellular masts and geostationary satellites can have the odd glitch now and then too. In practice, all connectivity services are extremely reliable. Indeed, 4G services are often used as a back-up against the potential for downtime for fixed line broadband services.

Another positive of wireless broadband is that it is less of a commitment. Most broadband contracts are for 24 months. With 4G/5G data, you can simply buy a fixed allowance and go back for more when you’ve used it up. Also, you don’t need a landline.

Finally, wireless broadband can be very affordable. You can pick up data cards offering up to 100Gb for as little as £20.

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Negatives of wireless broadband

Although 4G and 5G networks – and indeed, satellite services – are pretty reliable, service can be patchy at times. At the busiest of times, network capacity can be an issue, so you may not even be able to connect. That point made, if you are using wireless in a remote region, over-crowding is not likely to be a problem.

But the weather might be at times. Heavy rain, strong winds and storms are likely to cause interference. Satellite is not affected as much but here also, poor conditions can mean a poor signal.

Also, if you stay in one location, you will always know pretty much what to expect. But if you move around, you can’t be sure you will get the same kind of stability. That could be a problem if you are doing a lot of video conferencing, for example. As well as signal strength changing as you move between radio masts, physical boundaries, and the local geography, such as woodlands, hills, and valleys, can and often do get in the way of mobile data signals.

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Who offers wireless business broadband?

You can purchase 4G or 5G dongles and mobile routers of several network hardware makers. All you need to add then is a data card – and they are available from almost any cellular network service provider.

There are quite a few so-called WISPS out there as well. They tend to be fairly specialist and focused on one a particular area or region.

Satellite is something of a niche market and there are few suppliers. Some actually operate satellite networks, others sell space on those networks. They tend to focus on international markets as satellite lends itself to borderless networking services. Some are specialists in particular industries, such as aviation or the military sector.

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