What is fixed wireless internet?

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Fixed wireless internet is a type of internet service that uses broadcast towers to transmit and receive internet signals in the form of radio waves. A small dish or antenna receives the signals and sends them to a modem, which converts them into the internet service you use to browse the web, send emails and stream TV.

Similar to satellite internet, fixed wireless broadband eliminates the need for a phone or cable line for service, making it a popular choice for residents of rural areas. Fixed wireless towers can only send signals to roughly a 10-mile radius however, meaning fixed wireless is available to fewer areas than satellite internet. 

Where is fixed wireless available?

According to the FCC, fixed wireless internet service is available to about 46% of the U.S. population, with 29% having access to broadband speeds (up to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload or higher). Main service areas for fixed wireless internet providers include rural regions in the Northeast, Midwest and western U.S., but some providers, such as Starry, may provide fixed wireless service exclusively in major metropolitan areas.

Fixed wireless internet providers

Depending on your address, there may be availability of one or more of the fixed wireless providers listed above near you. There are dozens of other fixed wireless internet providers serving residents all over the U.S., but most are small regional providers that serve less than 1% of the population. 

Your home needs to be close to a fixed wireless tower, ideally within 10 miles or less. For this reason, some addresses may not be eligible for fixed wireless internet service, even if there is a provider in their ZIP code.

For the most part, fixed wireless providers operate in rural areas since cable and fiber providers are already established in most cities. Plus, tall buildings and densely populated areas can obstruct fixed wireless signals.

Starry $30/mo. service brings affordable fixed wireless to select cities

Some providers, such as Starry Internet, offer fixed wireless service in major cities including Boston, Denver and Los Angeles. Currently, Starry is offering internet with speeds up to 200 Mbps starting at price-for-life guaranteed $30/mo. in select areas.

In larger cities, fixed wireless providers often run service to an entire building, such as an apartment complex, rather than to individual homes. Consequently, service may not be available at your address, even if there is a fixed wireless provider in your area that serves local buildings.

Fixed wireless provider service areas

  • AT&T – Available in California, Florida, Texas and 19 more states
  • Etheric Networks – Available in California
  • GHz Wireless – Available in Texas
  • King Street Wireless – Available in California, Illinois, Indiana and 21 more states
  • Rise Broadband – Available in California, Colorado, Idaho and 16 more states
  • Starry Internet – Available in Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.
  • Verizon LTE – Available in California, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Texas

What is fixed wireless internet good for?

Fixed wireless is a good solution for home internet service, but it may not be perfect for everybody. Compare the pros and cons of fixed wireless service to see if it is right for you. 

Fixed wireless internet pros

  • Availability in rural areas Fixed wireless requires no direct lines to your home, so it is often available in areas where cable, DSL and fiber are not.

  • Online gaming is possible – The short distance between fixed wireless towers and receivers reduces the latency that makes online gaming impossible with satellite.

  • Secure connection – Security has been dramatically improved over time to address encryption, data privacy and authentication.

Fixed wireless internet pros

  • Equipment and line of sight – Similar to satellite internet, fixed wireless internet requires installing a small dish, which needs a direct line of sight to a fixed wireless tower to receive service.

  • Service and equipment cost – Monthly and initial startup costs for fixed wireless internet may be higher than other internet types.

  • Data limits – We mentioned high data caps as a benefit because a good amount helps. We’d much rather browse with no limits, especially with multiple users and devices in a household.

  • Weather disruptions – Rain, snow, fog and other instances of inclement weather can disrupt your connection.

Fixed wireless vs. satellite internet: which is better?

Fixed wireless internet can offer faster speeds and lower latency, but satellite internet has far better availability. Here’s how fixed wireless and satellite internet compare.

Similarities between fixed wireless and satellite internet

Satellite internet has a clear advantage in availability, but fixed wireless – depending on the providers available in your area – may come with slightly lower prices and faster speeds. Neither, however, can compare to the pricing and speed options of most cable, fiber or even DSL providers.

Fixed wireless plans also typically come with higher data allowances and significantly lower latency than satellite internet. And since fixed wireless is much more localized, it is less susceptible to bad weather in surrounding areas.

Expansion of fixed wireless internet

Fixed wireless internet is already available to nearly half the U.S. population, but many providers hope to continue expanding their networks to bring the service to more areas.

AT&T’s fixed wireless availability covers parts of 19 states and the company sought to “make internet access available in over 1.1 million locations by the end of 2020.”

Verizon’s fixed wireless internet — LTE Internet (installed) — is already available in most locations where Verizon 4G LTE service is offered. Additionally, Verizon recently completed fixed wireless expansions to parts of Savannah, GA, Springfield, MO and the Tri Cities, TN area.   As Verizon rolls out their 5G network, new fixed wireless plans with faster speeds may become available in select areas.

With eyes on competitors like Spectrum and Xfinity, both AT&T and Verizon plan to make fixed wireless access a top priority for small businesses

Fixed wireless expansion into metropolitan areas

Major cities, such as Boston, Denver, Los Angeles and New York, that typically do not have access to fixed wireless service are starting to see options come available thanks to providers such as Starry. These fixed wireless networks often provide internet to entire buildings and may not be available for individual homes.

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Lisa Iscrupe

Written by:

Lisa Iscrupe

Writer, Broadband & Data Content

Lisa uses years of experience in sales and customer service for internet-TV providers to inform her writing on broadband. Her work has been referenced by CNN and other national sources. In Lisa’s Words: Ever… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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