Is Fixed Wireless Internet Reliable?

If your business is based in a rural area, there are few fast and reliable internet technologies available to you. Fixed wireless is increasingly popular in rural areas, but some say it’s reliable while others say otherwise. I decided to create this blog post to give you a definitive, unbiased answer that looks closely at each variable impacting the reliability of fixed wireless internet.

Is fixed wireless internet reliable? Fixed wireless internet can be reliable, but the reliability of this technology depends on multiple factors. A fixed wireless connection’s reliability cannot be judged by looking at the technology alone. Several variables can affect whether fixed wireless will be reliable for your business or not.

In this blog post, I’m going to explain some of the variables that impact how reliable fixed wireless is and how you can overcome them to ensure your connection is dependable.

Variables That Affect Fixed Wireless Reliability

To truly answer whether fixed wireless is reliable, we need to consider the several variables that affect the reliability of this type of broadband.

  • The distance between each part of the link
  • Congestion in your area
  • Objects interrupting the line of sight
  • Severe weather conditions

How important are these variables and how badly will they affect fixed wireless reliability?

Our video above gives you a brief look at why we need to consider each of these variables when discussing whether or not fixed wireless broadband is reliable. I’ll explain each point individually throughout this post so you know everything there is to know about the reliability of fixed wireless internet.

The Distance Between Each Part Of The Link

The lack of physical connection is one of the biggest advantages of fixed wireless broadband. However, it’s also a drawback in some respects as microwaves can only travel a limited distance and line of sight must be maintained for a reliable connection to exist. With fixed wireless broadband, the greater the distance between your property and the mast, the greater the effect on reliability.

Fixed wireless connections are established using microwave-based technology. Microwaves are used for fixed wireless because their small wavelength can be directed in narrow beams by antennas to a receiver. However, because microwaves travel by line of sight, the two antennas (the one on your property and the one on the mast) need to ‘see’ each other. Because an unobstructed line of sight is needed to transmit data between the two points, the maximum distance data can be sent is around 40 miles (64km).

Even if your property is within 40 miles of the nearest antenna, it may be impossible to establish a reliable connection. As I said above, microwaves are directed in narrow beams from one antenna to a receiver installed elsewhere. If the narrow beam is directed even slightly incorrectly, the signal won’t reach your property. For example, wind could shake the antenna slightly and mean the microwaves don’t travel to the receiver on your property correctly. Or if a tree shakes because of high winds, it might block the beam. As you can tell, it’s much harder for providers to guarantee a reliable connection if your property is a great distance from the nearest mast. On the other hand, if your property is only 5 miles from the mast, it’s much easier to direct the beams correctly and maintain a stable connection.

Congestion In Your Area

Congestion is a notable drawback of fixed wireless if you are based in a highly-populated, built-up area, therefore won’t be a problem for most people looking into fixed wireless (people based in rural and remote locations). However, if you do happen to live in a built-up area, congestion’s something to be worried about. But what is congestion and why’s it such a big issue?

Congestion with fixed wireless is similar to congestion on the roads. The more cars on the road, the more difficult it is to get to your location. With fixed wireless, the more devices using the same unlicensed frequencies in the area, the more difficult it is to establish a reliable connection. If you live in a built-up area, there’s a greater chance that there will be more technologies using the same frequencies you’re using for your point-to-point connection. This means more competition for access to the same channel spectrum and thus your broadband has an increased chance of dropping and will be slower.

Unlicensed frequencies are free for anybody to use; everyone has access to the spectrum. This means properties near you could be using technologies on the exact same channel as your fixed wireless connection, resulting in congestion and co-channel interference. Simply put, reliability cannot be guaranteed when using an unlicensed frequency.

As I said, congestion and co-channel interference might not be problems you even need to consider. However, there are ways around congestion and co-channel interference, even if you are based in a built-up area. For some commercial installations of fixed wireless, licensed frequencies are used to ensure QoL (Quality of Service). If you rent a licensed frequency, only your fixed wireless connection will be using that frequency. This can be costly but as I said, it ensures Quality of Service and ultimately means you’ll have a guaranteed reliable connection.

Objects Interrupting The Line of Sight

A fixed wireless connection relies on a point-to-point connection with uninterrupted line of sight. If anything blocks the line of sight between the two antennas, the connection will be unstable or drop altogether.

Microwaves will not diffract or go through objects, so line of sight is a necessity for reliable fixed wireless connections.

While radio waves with wavelengths of kilometres will diffract around objects, for example, trees or hills, microwave wavelengths are much smaller. Microwaves will only travel in the exact direction they are pointed. So because microwaves are used to establish fixed wireless connections, any object interrupting the line of sight will prevent the signal from reaching the antenna on your building.

Before beginning to set up a fixed wireless connection for you, all good providers will conduct a survey to ensure line of sight can be achieved. If line of sight between your property and the provider’s antenna can be achieved, a reliable fixed wireless connection will be possible. However, if an object, such as a building or a growing tree, interrupts the line of sight in the future, the reliability of your connection will immediately drop.

This isn’t something you really have to worry about once a provider has set up your connection. The antenna on your property will be set up at the highest possible point on your building; if there aren’t objects in the way when your connection is set up, it’s unlikely there ever will be!

Severe Weather Conditions

For the most part, a fixed wireless connection will remain stable and reliable through rain and storms. A fixed wireless tower will usually be well below the clouds. As a result, the line of sight shouldn’t be interrupted the vast majority of the time. However, some weather conditions, such as heavy rain and fog, can reduce the strength of the signal and slow down your broadband.

The antennas used to establish a fixed wireless connection are not very susceptible to weather interference. Antennas are designed with the outdoors in mind and will be IP rated, so your broadband should remain reliable regardless of the weather. I say should, because severe storms can result in a degradation of service. That means it’s something we have to consider because it might impact reliability.

Most fixed wireless providers I’ve spoken to sell their fixed wireless service with an advertised 99.9% uptime. This isn’t a false advertisement, so that really tells you all you need to know about how the weather can affect a fixed wireless connection. Only the most severe weather will have any impact.

Fixed Wireless Will Be Reliable In Most Cases

After assessing the variables that can impact fixed wireless reliability, it’s suffice to say that fixed wireless connections will be reliable in most cases. Providing you choose a reputable provider that uses high-quality equipment and takes the time to conduct surveys before setting up your connection, you’ll seldom have any concerns about reliability.

However, if you do have concerns about reliability, there are several ways you can make sure your connection to the internet is as robust as possible. For example, you can:

  • Install a physical backup connection (DSL might be an option in most rural and remote areas)
  • Use multiple dishes

Most of the reliability concerns discussed here will not be a problem with a reputable provider. If a good provider can’t set up a reliable fixed wireless connection for you, they’ll tell you; they won’t set up a poor connection for you that won’t meet your needs. Just remember to do your research, as not all providers are made equal!

Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell has been the Operations manager at telecoms and MSP Optionbox for more than 4 years. He has played a crucial role in the company, from marketing to helpdesk, and ensures that the IT requirements of over 300 clients are continuously met. With his innate passion for technology and troubleshooting and a particular interest in Apple products, Jack now delivers the most comprehensive tech guides to make your life easier. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

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