Fixed wireless high-speed internet is an alternative to traditional wireline broadband services from fiber and cable providers. Also known as fixed wireless access (FWA), this wireless broadband service is gaining traction as the United States seeks to rapidly build out high-capacity broadband and bridge the digital divide.
Fixed wireless is a type of wireless broadband service which connects fixed locations, such as homes and businesses, through mobile networks. Internet connectivity is delivered via the transmission of radio signals from base stations, which are often mounted at high elevations on cell towers.
Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of fixed wireless, including how it works and its key characteristics like speed, latency, and reliability. Additionally, we review how fixed wireless technologies utilize spectrum to deliver wireless broadband services on 4G LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi standards.
Subsequently, Dgtl Infra compares the major fixed wireless internet providers in the United States, such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Rise Broadband, Starry, and AT&T. Finally, we contrast fixed wireless vs fiber, cable, satellite, and DSL broadband technologies.
What is Fixed Wireless?
Fixed wireless, also known as fixed wireless access (FWA), is a type of wireless broadband service which enables the high-speed transmission of voice, video, and data, for homes and businesses, through mobile networks.
How Does Fixed Wireless Internet Work?
Fixed wireless internet works through the transmission of radio signals from base stations, which are installed on tall vertical structures at high elevations, such as on cell towers, building rooftops, small cells, and utility poles. These base stations are connected to the Internet via backhaul connections, which are routed through a point-of-presence (PoP) in a particular market.
Fixed Wireless Network – Example
Legend: 1) base station, 2) antenna / transceiver, 3) wiring to bring service into building, and 4) modem & Wi-Fi router (or gateway, which combines the functionality of both).
Typically, fixed wireless networks serve end customer locations through either:
- A combined modem & Wi-Fi router (also known as a gateway) placed inside a home or building
- An antenna / transceiver, which is installed on the outside of a building to receive the radio signal. Subsequently, existing wiring (e.g., G.Fast) brings the internet service into the home or building
As shown above, these fixed wireless antennas require line-of-sight with the vertical structure transmitting the radio signal, such as a cell tower.
Ultimately, in both scenarios, the combined modem & Wi-Fi router (or gateway) in the premises delivers internet service to the end customer.
How Fast is Fixed Wireless?
On average, fixed wireless internet delivers fast download speeds ranging from 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to 400 Mbps and upload speeds between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps. While millimeter wave (mmWave) fixed wireless internet service is capable of delivering download speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) and upload speeds of 100 Mbps to 500 Mbps.
However, 4G LTE fixed wireless internet service offers much slower download speeds, ranging from only 10 Mbps to 50 Mbps and upload speeds between 1 Mbps and 5 Mbps.
As a general rule, fixed wireless internet services provide unlimited data usage, meaning that there are no data caps or data overage fees for consumers.
What is the Latency of Fixed Wireless?
Fixed wireless networks deliver low-latency connections, ranging from ultra-low latency of less than 30 milliseconds (ms) for millimeter wave (mmWave) service and low-latency of 50 to 100 milliseconds (ms) for mid-band service.
As a reference point, the latency for wired broadband connections, like fiber and hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC), is better, typically providing less than 20 milliseconds (ms).
Overall, low-latency connections are essential for gaming (particularly cloud-based), video conferencing, and streaming video with no buffering. As such, fixed wireless, particularly mmWave service, is a good alternative for gaming and video streaming.
Is Fixed Wireless Internet Reliable?
Fixed wireless internet is reliable, with networks being designed to achieve 99.99% uptime, which implies a maximum total annual downtime of only 52.6 minutes, equivalent to 0.9 hours. However, in reality, fixed wireless internet faces more downtime than wireline broadband networks, like fiber and cable (hybrid fiber-coaxial).
In fixed wireless networks, service performance can be affected by a customer’s proximity to a base station, the capacity of the cell site, the number of other users connected to the same cell site, the surrounding terrain, and radio frequency interference.
Additionally, fixed wireless networks require a clear line-of-sight. Therefore, obstructions, such as trees, can block radio signals and impact the reliability of fixed wireless networks.
Does Weather and Rain Affect Fixed Wireless?
Poor weather conditions, including rain, can affect the availability and quality of a customer’s fixed wireless service.
Fixed Wireless 4G LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi
Fixed wireless technologies utilize licensed and/or unlicensed spectrum to deliver high-speed data and internet services over wireless devices. This spectrum is often deployed on 4G LTE and 5G networks to deliver wireless broadband services.
Wireless carriers, like Verizon and T-Mobile, are using the same network, base stations, and antennas to operate both their mobility and fixed wireless services. As such, these wireless carriers are delivering fixed wireless internet services over their 4G LTE and 5G networks.
In contrast, wireless internet service providers (WISPs), like Starry, establish a fixed wireless connection by utilizing Wi-Fi 802.11 standard radios.
What is Fixed Wireless Spectrum?
Fixed wireless internet service is being delivered over mid-band and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. For example, specific spectrum frequencies used for fixed wireless include:
- Mid-Band: 2.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz (C-band) frequency bands
- mmWave: 24 GHz, 28 GHz, and 39 GHz frequency bands
READ MORE: 5G Spectrum Explained – Phones and Carriers
What is 5G Fixed Wireless Internet?
5G fixed wireless internet means that broadband service is being delivered under the mobile 5G standard, called 5G NR (New Radio), to homes and businesses. Specifically, mid-band and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum is being deployed on 5G networks to deliver wireless broadband services.
What is 4G LTE Fixed Wireless Internet?
4G LTE fixed wireless internet means that broadband service is being delivered under the mobile 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) standard to homes and businesses. Particularly, mid-band spectrum is being deployed on 4G LTE networks to deliver wireless broadband services.
What is Wi-Fi Fixed Wireless Internet?
Wi-Fi fixed wireless internet means that broadband service is being delivered over Wi-Fi 802.11 standard radios to homes and businesses. These baseband radios upconvert signals from unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum (i.e., spectrum in which Wi-Fi operates) to licensed millimeter wave (mmWave) bands in which fixed wireless networks operate.
Fixed Wireless Internet Providers
Fixed wireless internet providers in the United States include Verizon, T-Mobile, Rise Broadband, Starry, Nextlink Internet, C Spire, and to a lesser extent, AT&T. Each of these fixed wireless internet providers have different strategies, targeting homes and businesses in urban, suburban, and rural settings.
Generally, fixed wireless providers price their internet services at a flat monthly rate, which is at a discount to the “headline” rate of wired broadband offerings from cable and telecommunications companies. Furthermore, fixed wireless providers include equipment (e.g., a Wi-Fi router) in their monthly service fee, do not require long-term contracts, and do not levy early termination fees.
Below is a summary of the major fixed wireless internet providers in the United States, as well as their service tiers, download speeds, upload speeds, and pricing:
|Provider||Service Tier||Download Speed||Upload Speed||Price|
|Verizon||5G Home||85 to 300 Mbps||10 to 50 Mbps||$50/month|
|Verizon||5G Home Plus||300 to 1,000 Mbps||10 to 50 Mbps||$70/month|
|Verizon||4G LTE||25 to 50 Mbps||4 Mbps||$50/month|
|T-Mobile||5G Home Internet||33 to 182 Mbps||6 to 23 Mbps||$50/month|
|Rise Broadband||Standard||25 Mbps||4 Mbps||$35/month|
|Rise Broadband||High Speed||50 Mbps||5 Mbps||$50/month|
|Starry||Connect||30 Mbps||30 Mbps||$15/month|
|Starry||Plan||200 Mbps||100 Mbps||$50/month|
|Starry||Pro||500 Mbps||250 Mbps||$65/month|
|Starry||Gig||1,000 Mbps||500 Mbps||$80/month|
|AT&T||4G LTE||10 to 25 Mbps||1 Mbps||$70/month|
Verizon – Fixed Wireless Internet
Verizon offers two fixed wireless internet plans, namely 5G Home and 5G Home Plus. To deliver fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband, Verizon uses the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz (C-band), 28 GHz, and 39 GHz spectrum frequency bands.
Verizon charges $50 per month, including taxes and fees, for its 5G Home fixed wireless internet plan. This service delivers download speeds ranging from 85 Mbps to 300 Mbps and upload speeds between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps.
5G Home Plus
Verizon charges $70 per month, including taxes and fees, for its 5G Home Plus fixed wireless internet plan. This service delivers download speeds ranging from 300 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps and upload speeds between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps.
Additional Information – Verizon’s Fixed Wireless Internet
Verizon charges no equipment fees, meaning that a Wi-Fi 6 router and 5G Ultra Wideband receiver is included as part of a customer’s plan. Additionally, there are no data caps or data overage fees for Verizon’s 5G Home products.
In terms of commitment, Verizon 5G Home has no annual contract and no early termination fees.
Finally, the Verizon 5G Home Internet service is self-setup, involving the mounting of Verizon’s 5G Internet Gateway in a customer’s home and a step-by-step guide through the My Verizon mobile app.
READ MORE: Verizon Expands its 5G Home Fixed Wireless Access Product
T-Mobile – Fixed Wireless Internet
T-Mobile offers its fixed wireless internet service under the 5G Home Internet branding. To deliver fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband, T-Mobile uses the 2.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz (C-band) spectrum frequency bands.
T-Mobile charges $50 per month, including taxes and fees, for its 5G Home Internet fixed wireless service. This service delivers download speeds ranging from 33 Mbps to 182 Mbps and upload speeds between 6 Mbps and 23 Mbps. Presently, T-Mobile does not offer tiered pricing based on speeds.
T-Mobile charges no equipment fees, meaning that a 5G Wi-Fi Gateway device, which combines the capabilities of a router and a modem, is included as part of a customer’s plan. Additionally, there are no data caps or data overage fees for T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet product.
In terms of commitment, T-Mobile 5G Home Internet has no annual contract and no early termination fees.
Finally, the T-Mobile 5G Home Internet service is self-setup, involving the placement of T-Mobile’s 5G Wi-Fi Gateway device in a customer’s home and a step-by-step guide through the T-Mobile Internet app.
Rise Broadband – Fixed Wireless Internet
Rise Broadband is one of the United States’ largest fixed wireless broadband service providers, delivering high-speed Internet services to homes and businesses across 16 states. Particularly, Rise Broadband operates in rural and suburban areas of the Midwest, Rocky Mountain, and Southwest regions.
As shown below, the company provides services in parts of Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Rise Broadband has two primary service tiers for its fixed wireless internet offering:
- Standard: delivers download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 4 Mbps, at pricing of $35/month
- High Speed: delivers download speeds of 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 5 Mbps, at pricing of $50/month
Starry – Fixed Wireless Internet
Starry is a wireless internet service provider (WISP) which was founded in 2016. Presently, the company’s fixed wireless network only serves customers in parts of six U.S. metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Denver, and Columbus.
Starry offers four service tiers for its fixed wireless internet offering, namely Starry Connect, Starry Plan, Starry Pro, and Starry Gig. These service tiers deliver download speeds ranging from 30 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps and upload speeds between 30 Mbps and 500 Mbps. Starry charges $15 per month at the low-end of these service tiers and $80 per month at the high-end of these service tiers.
READ MORE: Starry – Business Overview: Network, Spectrum, Pricing
AT&T – Fixed Wireless Internet
AT&T offers its fixed wireless internet service to customers living in select rural areas who cannot get a traditional wired broadband AT&T Internet service.
For its fixed wireless internet service, AT&T charges $70 per month, plus taxes and fees. This service delivers download speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps.
Fixed Wireless vs Fiber, Cable, Satellite, and DSL
Fixed wireless internet service is frequently compared against alternative connectivity options including fiber, cable, satellite, and DSL. Below is a summary comparison, followed by further detail, on each broadband alternative:
|Speeds||Moderate||Very High||High||Low||Very Low|
Fixed Wireless vs Fiber
Fixed wireless access (FWA) service competes with the fiber broadband offerings of telecommunications companies including AT&T Fiber and Verizon Fios.
Fiber-based transmission technology is able to deliver superior download speeds, as compared to fixed wireless. Firstly, a fiber-based gigabit passive optical network (GPON) can supply download speeds of nearly 2.5 gigabits per second (Gbps) and upload speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps. Secondly, a fiber-based 10-gigabit symmetrical passive optical network (XGS-PON) can provide download and upload speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
READ MORE: XGS-PON – Fiber-based Technology Delivering 10 Gbps
In comparison, fixed wireless networks are capable of delivering download speeds of 1 Gbps and upload speeds of 500 Mbps.
Fiber to the home (FTTH) networks, which rely on an end-to-end fiber optic connection, produce lower latency and higher reliability than fixed wireless networks.
READ MORE: Fiber to the Home (FTTH) vs FTTP, FTTN, FTTC, and FTTB
Fixed Wireless vs Cable
Fixed wireless access (FWA) competes with the hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) broadband offerings of cable companies including Xfinity (Comcast), Spectrum (Charter), and Cox.
Cable communications utilize DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which enables broadband services with download speeds of up to 1 Gbps, but upload speeds of only 35 to 50 Mbps. As such, cable does not deliver symmetrical download and upload speeds, whereas fixed wireless networks are capable of providing symmetrical bandwidth.
READ MORE: DOCSIS 4.0 – Next-Generation Cable Networks
Fixed Wireless vs Satellite
Fixed wireless access (FWA) service competes with the satellite broadband offerings of providers including Starlink (SpaceX), Viasat, and HughesNet.
Satellite broadband is generally provided through geostationary (GEO) and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites that serve rural and remote areas of the United States. These services offer lower speeds (<25 Mbps to 100 Mbps), higher latency, and less reliability (due to line-of-sight and weather) than fixed wireless networks.
READ MORE: Rural Internet – Broadband Options and Providers
Fixed Wireless vs DSL
Fixed wireless access (FWA) service competes with the DSL offerings of telecommunications companies including AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier, and Windstream.
DSL (digital subscriber line) is a family of broadband technologies that transmit voice, video, and data traffic over an existing twisted-pair copper telephone line. Copper-based DSL technologies offer lower speeds (maximum download speeds of 100 Mbps) and similar latency to fixed wireless networks.