What Is The Difference Between Fixed Wireless And Mobile Broadband?


For businesses based in areas where physical superfast connections are unavailable, there’s not a lot of choices when it comes to internet service. Alongside DSL, there are two more popular options: mobile broadband and fixed wireless. The two technologies differ greatly, but many businesses don’t have the information they need to decide between the two. In fact, some presume mobile broadband is just a synonym of fixed wireless.

There are in fact several differences between fixed wireless and mobile broadband. In this blog post, I’ll explain what both technologies are and how they differ.

What Is Mobile Broadband?

Mobile broadband is internet access delivered through cellular towers to computers, smartphones and other internet-enabled devices using portable modems. In some cases, a wireless modem can be built into the device. However, wireless modems can be external. For example, a USB wireless modem (which is often referred to as a wireless dongle). You can also get cellular routers that contain modems or allow modems to be put into them.

A USB dongle. You slide a SIM card into this device, which acts as a modem. Plug this into any device you want to use the internet on. See here on Amazon.

One big advantage of mobile broadband is the mobility it enables. If you have a USB wireless mobile or a device with a modem built in to it, you can access the internet anywhere that you have a 3G or 4G connection. 5G began deploying worldwide in 2019 and is the planned successor to 4G. 5G networks will have greater bandwidth, meaning significantly better speeds for wireless internet access users in areas where a 5G network exists.

What Is Fixed Wireless?

Fixed wireless is a connection between two fixed locations using radio or an alternate wireless link. In the context of this blog post, this point-to-point link would be used to provide broadband services. A fixed wireless data link is also a cost-effective way of sharing a connection with another building, instead of installing cables between the two properties.

Fixed wireless connections can be set up anywhere. However, one of the big advantages of fixed wireless is the ability to offer superfast broadband to users in remote areas without the need for extensive cable installation. A fixed wireless connection can offer data transfer rates comparable to a superfast fibre connection without the need for a physical connection of any kind. The transmissions occur through the air instead, over a terrestrial microwave platform.

Mobile Broadband Versus Fixed Wireless: How Do They Compare?

We’ve had a look at what mobile broadband and fixed wireless are, as well as how they differ, but how do they compare? Before we compare fixed wireless and mobile broadband in more depth, I’ll start off by saying that fixed wireless internet access is far superior to mobile broadband if you’re wanting a broadband connection for your property. I’ll explain why that’s the case throughout this comparison and emphasise points that particularly highlight why this is the case.

I’ll compare mobile broadband and fixed wireless on the following:

  • Reliability
  • Speeds
  • Price
  • Setup Time

By comparing the two on these points, we’ll get a clear picture of why fixed wireless is so much better for a user needing broadband for their home or business.

Reliability

If you’re choosing an internet connection for your business, one of the most important things to consider is the reliability of the broadband. You need a connection that you can rely on and that promises consistently good speeds. So how reliable are fixed wireless and mobile broadband?

Generally, it is believed that fixed wireless is more reliable than mobile broadband. In a fixed wireless deployment, each customer has a high-gain antenna fitted to the highest point on their building. The signal is focused towards the base station, which means the connection is less likely to suffer from interference from other sources. Fixed wireless maintains a high SNR; A high SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) means fast upload speeds and lower latency.

Of course, the reliability of fixed wireless does depend on several important factors. First and foremost, the distance between your property and the base location will impact how reliable your connection is. Secondly, any objects interrupting the line of sight can impact how fast and reliable your connection is. In the ideal setup, however, fixed wireless will be much more reliable than mobile broadband.

Mobile broadband is highly unlikely to be as reliable as fixed wireless because of the trade-offs needed to ensure the flexibility of this type of connection. With mobile broadband, your signal strength can vary significantly depending on the number of people also using mobile broadband as well as your location. A cellular base station’s capacity could be divided between thousands of users, whereas a fixed wireless base station’s capacity is likely to be shared between 100 at most. With some much competition for bandwidth with mobile broadband, reliability cannot be assured.

Speeds

If you’re going to be downloading and uploading regularly, a fast connection is crucial. Let’s take a look at the speeds available with fixed wireless and mobile broadband connections.

With fixed wireless broadband, you can expect speeds of at least 40Mbps. A contended fixed wireless connection will offer speeds similar to those you’d get with fibre to the cabinet. There are providers offering speeds of up 1,000Mbps, an uncontended leased line-like solution offering guaranteed speeds. If superfast speeds are a must, an uncontended fixed wireless connection is perhaps the best option for businesses in rural areas.

The key fact to take away from this is you get what you pay for with fixed wireless. The same cannot be said for mobile broadband, where you’ll pay for high ‘up to’ speeds that you’ll seldom actually enjoy.

According to an Ofcom report, the average mobile broadband download speed on 4G was 15.1Mbps. However, the speeds available to you will differ based on the operator you choose, your location, and the number of other people in the area using mobile broadband at the same time. These speeds simply aren’t enough for a business. They might be enough for a small household with light internet usage, but they certainly won’t suffice for a business reliant on its broadband. Mobile broadband might suffice for visiting websites like Twitter or checking your emails, but it won’t be good enough if you are streaming or using VoIP.

Price

You need to make sure you can afford the broadband you choose, so price is an important consideration when comparing fixed wireless and mobile broadband.

Fixed wireless will usually start at around £65 per month. For £65 per month, your connection will be contended but you can expect speeds similar to those you would get with FTTC. Of course, the price of fixed wireless will differ based on factors such as the bandwidth you need and whether or not you need guaranteed speeds.

Mobile broadband is usually much cheaper than fixed wireless. At the time of writing, most unlimited data-only SIMs (some bundled with routers) fell into the £15 – £40 price bracket. The price of mobile broadband will also differ based on numerous factors. For example, the length of contract you choose and whether or not you want to pay for the router as part of your contract.

While mobile broadband is much cheaper than fixed wireless, it’s important to remember how much more reliable fixed wireless is likely to be. While a mobile broadband provider might sell good speeds, that doesn’t mean those speeds will actually be available to you. Particularly in rural and remote areas that won’t be as well-served as big towns and cities.

Setup Time

Some types of broadband have really long lead times, so you could be waiting months for your connection to be installed and active. So how long does it take to set up a fixed wireless connection when compared with mobile broadband?

In theory, a fixed wireless connection can be set up in as little as a week. This is much faster than most types of broadband, but this is primarily because fixed wireless is completely wireless and therefore no lines need to be installed. While an antenna must be installed at a customer’s property, this can be done within a couple of hours. The time to set up a connection will differ from provider to provider, however, as surveys and configuration will be required to ensure your connection is reliable.

With mobile broadband, setup is immediate. As soon as your SIM card and router are with you from the provider, you’re ready to go. Once you put your SIM card into the router, your connection is live and you can begin connecting your devices and configuring your network. For the most part, this will mean that mobile broadband can be set up quicker than a fixed wireless connection.

So, Which Is Best?

In my opinion, fixed wireless is much better than mobile broadband. The difference in reliability alone is enough to convince me that fixed wireless is the much better connection for households and businesses in rural and remote areas.

While mobile broadband tends to be cheaper, you pay for what you get when it comes to broadband. Mobile broadband will frequently drop out and you never know what speeds you’ll get on any given day. If you need a connection that you can really rely on, fixed wireless always comes out on top here.

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