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Wireless internet is one of the quietest developments in the broadband world, yet millions of people depend on it every day. So, what is wireless internet and how does it work?
Let’s explore this relatively-unknown technology and how it helps people.
How Does Wireless Internet Work?
You may be confused about why we called “wireless internet” a relatively-unknown technology. After all, we use Wi-Fi, 4G, and satellite internet every day. Surely it can’t be that unknown?
While the above technologies can be called “wireless internet,” we’re covering a specific kind of internet in this article. In fact, it’s the technology used when fiber-optic, 4G, and satellite internet are unfeasible. It’s the last resort for rural communities who need the internet to keep up with the modern world.
These rural areas have internet “beamed” to them by towers. A router sends and receives signals to a dedicated wireless internet tower. These towers are managed by Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), and they’re set up strategically to cover rural areas as best as possible.
If you’ve ever used a portable mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, you’ll already know how a wireless connection works. A router receives Wi-Fi signals from devices and beams the data onward to a mobile network. Wireless internet works similarly, except it uses the towers instead of 4G.
Now we know what wireless internet is, let’s explore how a wireless connection works and how it’s provided.
How Wireless Broadband Works
Usually, you’ll find wireless internet where other means are impossible. There is no cable internet, and the mobile internet is either non-existent or very slow.
When a company decides to wire up a community to wireless internet, it sets up towers in elevated areas around the town. These will transmit and receive data from the customers and businesses that use it.
Then, the tower has to be hooked up to the internet. If the town isn’t too rural, it may be possible to wire up the tower to a fiber-optic cable. This would be a lot cheaper and more convenient than wiring up the entire town.
Alternatively, if the tower can’t be wired up, it can transmit its data to another tower nearby. These towers can then continuously pass along the internet signals until it reaches the WISP.
Customers then have equipment set up on their homes to send and receive internet signals. Sometimes, they can achieve this using a long-range router. If the tower is too far away, they can mount a receiver to the outside of their house. This receiver isn’t unlike the television dishes you see on houses.
This kind of internet connection is known as “fixed wireless internet” because it’s transmitting data from two fixed locations. Houses and office buildings aren’t moving anywhere, so the internet antenna mounted on them are set in place.
This internet connection is also referred to as “radio frequency internet” or just “RF internet,” as it depends on radio waves to send and receive signals.
What Is a WISP?
We briefly touched upon WISPs earlier, but what are they exactly? WISPs are typically owned by smaller businesses that want to supply internet to a region. They usually fill the gaps that the larger enterprises deem too unprofitable to explore.
Because WISPs are typically set up to fit a local demand, the staff is made up of locals. They don’t have the equipment and technology available to larger broadband companies, but their local roots allow them to serve their customers better individually.
How Many People Use WISPs?
Of course, the majority of people use wired internet connections; that’s the kind we all know and love. However, WISPs still have a place in a world where an internet connection is becoming a need instead of a luxury.
Preseem reported that 4 million US citizens subscribe to WISPs—that’s around 1% of the total US population. They also said that this number might double by 2021. While these figures aren’t prominent in comparison to the US population, WISPs still provide internet to 4 million people who have otherwise have nothing.
How Fast Is a Wireless Internet Connection?
WISPs aren’t as fast as a wired-up fiber optic connection, but they’re not painfully slow either. Test Internet Speed claims that WISP-based connections can go between 1-15Mbps. In comparison, the fastest average 4G speed is in Singapore at 44.31Mbps, according to OpenSignal. For a rural setting, 1-15Mbps isn’t too bad!
What Are the Advantages of Wireless Internet?
Wireless internet connections can hook up entire towns without needing to lay much wire. At most, the WISP only needs to get a cable to the tower broadcasting to the town. From there, the tower can cast and receive signals from the houses and businesses with wireless internet receivers.
Also, wireless internet data plans tend to be more generous than traditional fiber-optic. Customers get more data for less, potentially due to the grassroots nature of WISPs and how competition can spring up overnight. This means there is no single monopoly which can set strict data caps and high prices with little repercussion.
Mobile phone plans can also be generous with their offerings. If you’re always maxing out your phone data, be sure to check out the cheapest phone plans with unlimited everything.
What Are the Disadvantages of Wireless Internet?
The main flaw with using WISP is that the tower needs direct line-of-sight to the receiver. If anything gets between the two, it can degrade the signal and make the internet slower. As such, it’s not great for densely-populated areas.
Also, wireless broadband is affected by rain. This means that in soggier climates, there may be a lot of slowdown during downpours.
Getting the Most Out of Wireless Internet
While wireless internet goes unused by a large percentage of the world’s population, millions do depend on it for their sole source of internet. Now you know how wireless internet works and how rural areas can get online through them.
If you have a speedy mobile connection but you’re too rural for fiber-optic connections, why not learn how to get Wi-Fi without an ISP?