Article | 30 January 2023

Our Wireless World: What is Fixed Wireless Access?

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Written by
Michiel van der Maas, Global Head of Sales The Netherlands

Think of a remote mining camp; a vast agricultural venture; or an offshore wind installation far from any population centre. As much as for other businesses, for them, internet access is vital. But running subterranean wires to a mining site might be a challenge.

Truth is that even the fastest and most advanced fibre has its limitations. After all, you can’t string an Ethernet cable to an offshore rig. Or lay fibre to a distant community 300km from the highway. But you can connect them without wires, with a smart combination of router, antenna, and access plan.

And that’s what’s known as Fixed Wireless Access (FWA).

Fixed Wireless Access

FWA provides broadband internet access where wires can’t go – enabling business connectivity, software-defined networks, and secure cloud access in places too crowded, difficult, or costly to wire up.

Compared to other methods, Fixed Wireless Access is often easier to plan and faster to roll out (at Blue Wireless, we deliver it in 10 days.) And increasingly, it offers speeds competitive with wired infrastructure (read also: let's talk real speeds)

FWA is also effective in metropolitan areas, from the biggest office blocks to the busiest retail stores. Whether as primary connectivity in the remote setting, or a cost-effective failover option saving the day in the urban jungle, the business case for wireless business broadband is looking better and better.

But like any other technology, FWA has taken time to reach its current form. In this, the first of “Our Wireless World” series explaining wireless concepts in everyday language, you’ll discover how FWA is making waves – and opening up new opportunities – for our customers and businesses around the world.

Wireless business broadband: new technology for an old idea

Today, many families – particularly Millennials and younger – are ditching the wire totally, without even a landline phone at home. But that’s a recent change. For decades everyone thought a cable in the wall was the best way to connect – indeed, the only way.

But by 1984, the basics of cellular technology had been around for over a decade, with the numbers starting to add up. 1G, an analog service, got things started. By 1991, GSM cellular technology had taken wireless connectivity digital, with the first data services appearing as 2G.

But in those days, 2G’s maximum bandwidth of 40Kb/s was no match for wired dial-up at 56.6, let alone the Ethernet cables appearing in offices offering 10Mb/s and above. And the costs of wireless data were high, often charged per-kilobyte. Unless you were a special case – like Hawaii, whose island style had led to ALOHAnet packet radio in the 1970s – FWA made no sense for digital applications. Yet.

Making a case for business: increased bandwidth

The fixed wireless equation:

The equation at the heart of FWA is simple: The more it costs to wire up a site, the more attractive wireless looks. The more bandwidth wireless can offer, the more it becomes a valid option for businesses. And the more widely it’s available, the lower the barrier to adoption, resulting in more customers, more income, more investment, and – well, you get the idea.

Much of what might be called early FWA – like Inmarsat’s satellites and Iridium phones – wasn’t designed for digital; Inmarsat wasn’t even designed for fixed installations. Bandwidth was an afterthought, something for wired connections. What changed the game was terrestrial wireless networks, and the millions of mobile phone users fuelling their development.

As 1G faded, 2G’s sub-100Kb/s speeds turned to 3G’s megabit-plus and then 4G’s 100Mb/s. Bandwidth was becoming available in useful volumes across large coverage areas, with infrastructure (such as cell towers) that could handle many more simultaneous connections.

As competing providers started to offer guaranteed service levels to attract large customers, costs nosedived while quality of service rose. Businesses could finally see wireless as a valid alternative to wired – without cable sunk into the ground.

Connectivity beyond the coverage area

Of course, all these benefits were hard to access if you were outside mobile network coverage. Maybe your rural location meant an out-of-area message. Maybe there was a hill blurring the signal. Maybe, even in the busiest downtown areas, the density of buildings and crowds just meant bottlenecks and blockages for your data.

Thus arose another FWA evolution – the one fast becoming the most cashflow-positive use case of all. A solution that connected customers to existing mobile networks … from outside the usual coverage area. Thanks to two technologies: LTE/5G routers and directional antennas. (There are more, but let’s keep it simple.)

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With an antenna fixed on a distant cell tower or two, a weak or non-existent mobile signal can be amplified, making the wireless network available far from its normal coverage zone. While the router – containing SIM cards in addition to other software – makes that bandwidth available to your people, through normal wireless connections like WiFi. The result, a solid business case:

  • Costs are far lower, since you’re connecting to a public 4/5G network infrastructure that’s already in place.
  • Reliability is high, since even a small setup can “see” multiple cell towers and switch between providers for capacity, backup, and failover.
  • And deployment is far faster, with no need to dig trenches or develop new technology.

Planning on going wireless?

FWA is a large part of what we do at Blue Wireless. By all means, compare it with LEO satellites or a wired WAN – that’s the point of this series – but we think you’ll find it interesting. It doesn’t even take 5G to give you excellent bandwidth; solutions making use of 4G connections can provide a consistent and trouble-free link between your business and the world.

So when you’re ready, reach out to our experts for guidance on what Fixed Wireless Access can do for your business. Even if you’re in the urban jungle rather than the tropical one.

Talk to

Michiel van der Maas, Global Head of Sales

Hundreds of businesses are already taking advantage of Blue Wireless LTE/5G solutions. Let's explore together what wireless can do for you.

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