Article | 04 October 2022

FWA, Satellite, and LEO - Let's Compare

Satellite

There's no question that every business requires fast, robust, and reliable internet access ­ – but, when it comes to wireless technologies, customers face a choice between fixed wireless access (FWA), traditional satellite internet, and newer low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite services.

With their own pros and cons, this new generation of wireless services offers organisations greater freedom and flexibility while delivering high speed and performance.

But, which is best? The short answer is: it depends on the specific requirements of your business (although we've got our own preference), and in this article, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of each technology to help you out.

Selecting the best wireless connectivity for your business

First things first. What are these technologies we're talking about? Here's a brief description of how they work:

Wireless Solutions

  • Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) – FWA uses the cellular network to deliver ultra-fast broadband wherever there's a connection. While the technology has been around for several years, today's LTE and 5G networks can provide very high speeds, making FWA over cellular networks a realistic alternative to wired connectivity.
  • Traditional Satellite Internet – Traditional satellite internet works by sending signals to and from a dish on the ground to a geostationary satellite orbiting ~36,000KM above the earth. Satellites can provide cable-free internet access (almost) anywhere, but high costs and technical limitations hamper them.
  • Low-earth Orbit Satellites (LEO) – LEO satellites (such as those from Elon Musk's Starlink network) aim to solve the problems of traditional satellite broadband –­ increasing internet speeds and reducing latency. These satellites are much closer to the earth (a few hundred KMs away), which means signals have a much shorter distance to travel.

Now, let's look at their pros and cons. At the end of the primer, you should have the information you need to choose what's best for your business.

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) - Advantages & Disadvantages

The FWA market is growing rapidly worldwide. During the first six months of 2022, the number of providers delivering FWA based on LTE/5G grew by over 30%.

Clearly, FWA solutions have the scale. Yet, there's more to look at:

Pros:

  • FWA networks are scalable. Strong existing LTE connections (4G) and the rapid expansion of 5G mean more and more customers (and their use cases) can benefit from wireless broadband.
  • High bandwidth connections can support multiple users and resource-intensive applications, such as streaming, real-time applications, and cloud-based software.
  • FWA, such as that delivered by Blue Wireless, leverages multiple network operators, enabling the creation of solid and secure connections wherever there is a signal. Signals also suffer from fewer interruptions than satellite sources.
  • In line with the above, FWA allows providers to offer SLAs to guarantee speeds and reliability, which is key for critical applications or user experience.
  • FWA wireless is generally cheaper than services offered by both traditional Satellite and LEO Satellite providers.
  • They can be physically deployed almost anywhere, including inside buildings (houses, shops, offices, and store-in-store scenarios), usually without needing any external segment (such as a satellite dish, which needs a view of the sky).

Cons:

  • FWA coverage depends on local operators, and some may still not be covered or receive a weak signal.
  • A poor signal may affect download speeds, affecting your ability to use specific applications. Although this can be mitigated using high-grade antennas, like those we provide with Poynting.
  • Some FWA providers will tie you into a single network, limiting your capability of switching to a better network or having a backup if it goes down.
As an agnostic LTE/5G service provider, Blue Wireless offers a minimum of two networks per-deployment across over 80 countries.

‘Traditional’ (GEO) Satellite - Advantages & Disadvantages

Commercial satellite broadband via Geostationary Satellites is an established technology and continues to grow at a CAGR of almost 10%. Typically, the technology is used by those who can't access fixed-line broadband services, such as those in rural areas, ships at sea, and even planes.

Pros

  • Satellite broadband is a proven technology which has been around for decades. Satellite providers understand the capabilities (and limitations) of the system.
  • Speed and performance can be guaranteed according to your needs. If your data usage requirements are low or you have specific requirements, it can be a suitable alternative.
  • The technology is borderless, working anywhere in the world where your dish can have an unrestricted view of the satellite, floating above the equator – always at the same place in the sky. A single provider can offer country- or even continent-wide coverage.

Cons

  • Latency is high – very high. Signals are sent approximately 36,000KM into the sky and can only go as fast as physics allows. While it's unlikely to inhibit basic online browsing, it can be frustrating for anyone who wants to use real-time applications, such as video calling, gaming, or non-optimised cloud-based services.
  • The weather, especially heavy rain, can affect satellite broadband signals, which can cause frustrating signal outages.
  • Data usage may be capped. Basic packages (with limited speeds) appear cheap, but you'll pay substantially more for faster speeds and higher download limits.
  • Installation and monthly fees are typically significantly higher than alternatives, including FWA.
  • Because you need an uninterrupted Line of Sight (LOS) to the satellite, you need to own enough roof/outdoor space to mount the antenna securely.
Satellite 2

Low-earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite – Advantages and Disadvantages

LEO Satellite is synonymous in the public imagination with Starlink, but Amazon is another business hoping to grab a slice of the low-earth orbit satellite sector with its "Project Kuiper," together with some of the less-well-known but more established players, including Inmarsat's ORCHESTRA and the standalone provider ONEWEB. While providers have demonstrated demand, significant challenges – and extraordinary costs – are still involved in creating such a network.

Here are some pros and cons of LEO satellite broadband for enterprises.

Pros:

  • LEO overcomes some (but not all) limitations of traditional satellite broadband with lower latency.
  • Customers benefit from the promise of competitive download speeds and a higher quality of service at a lower price when compared to existing traditional satellite providers.
  • If the massive investment continues, LEO satellite broadband will be available to customers worldwide through a single operator.
  • Once fully deployed LEO constellations should provide a robust and reliable network. With a large fleet of deployed satellites, any potential space-segment failure should be covered by the rest of the fleet.

Cons:

  • LEO customers will pay a high price for the equipment. While prices could drop as customer numbers increase and the technology matures, there's no guarantee this will be the case.
  • LEO satellites are also affected by poor weather conditions, which can cause frustrating signal outages.
  • Operators are still developing their networks, which means customers can experience downtime caused by incomplete satellite fleets.
  • While the service is still maturing, most available Service Level Agreements (SLAs) on upload and download speeds are "best effort", meaning you may receive lower rates than advertised.
  • LEO, like GEO satellites, requires an uninterrupted view of the sky, so you need to own some space for the antenna.
  • You're tied to a single network provider, and if they don't deliver, you'll be stuck with them until the end of your contract.
  • LEO satellites are new, with unproven commercial potential. As a result, prices could go up, and operators could leave the market if the returns aren't as expected.

How to choose the best wireless internet solution for you

Selecting the right wireless internet depends on you and your business needs. Here are some of the critical considerations:

  • Location – You'll need to ensure that your chosen provider delivers coverage to your area. Get details on upload and download speeds and the quality of the connection. If you're planning to travel, ensure you'll benefit from uninterrupted service. If you're investing in a satellite or LEO system, check for any obstructions that could affect the signal's integrity, or if you're even allowed to install the required infrastructure at the location.
  • Budget – Money matters, and with satellite services, you'll need to invest heavily in both CAPEX and OPEX. Costs can quickly add up, meaning terrestrial FWA providers are often cheaper.
  • Latency – Satellite systems can struggle with latency issues. If you're running real-time applications that demand low latency, FWA systems may be more suitable.
  • Do you need an SLA – LEO broadband is in its infancy, with satellite constellations currently incomplete. So, while operators may promise speeds, they can't guarantee them through SLAs.
At Blue Wireless, we can ensure the speed and stability of our service over mature cellular infrastructure and stand behind these networks commercially through SLAs.

Still unsure whether to choose FWA, traditional satellite broadband, or a LEO satellite solution? Reach out. It is our mission to help organisations in this wireless world, and our experts will gladly walk you through the options, discuss alternatives and identify a suitable broadband solution for you and your business.

Think outside
the box wires

Our global team of experts is looking forward to helping your enterprise gain all the benefits of LTE/5G connectivity.