‘Fixed wireless’ technology first made an appearance back in the 70s, and since then it’s been quietly coming ahead in leaps and bounds as other – often more contentious – technologies have hogged the limelight.
But of course, the concept can sound confusing at first glance. How can you have both?
Well, when you think about it, all ‘wireless’ communications (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, satellite) will at some stage connect with fixed infrastructure somewhere. For instance, around 98 per cent of all international Internet traffic travels along deep-sea telecommunications cables.
How does fixed wireless work?
Fixed wireless networks transmit data over radio waves via small antennas acting as connectors, typically placed on the roofs of buildings in metropolitan areas.
In the past, fixed wireless networks have required large antennas to deliver slow and sub-par performance. In contrast, today the technology has advanced range and performance by several orders of magnitude.
Antennas have reduced in size from 1-2 metres to today’s average of around 30cm. This pivotal achievement means that gaining the necessary approvals and physically installing antennas is much more straight-forward today than it used to be.
What is fixed wireless capable of?
For the past several years fixed wireless has used so-called mmWave (millimetre wave) technology, now supporting speeds in the realm of 20 gbit/sec. That’s 20-times faster than the 100mbit/sec some people are able to achieve over 4G today.
Millimeter wave sits between microwave and infrared waves, which is the band of spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz. This spectrum can be used for high-speed wireless communications as seen with the latest 802.11ad Wi-Fi standard (operating at 60 GHz).
But what’s really interesting, and something many people don’t know is that mmWave is precisely the same technology underpinning 5G.
A lot has been said lately about the potential for 5G mobile services to provide enterprise-grade network connectivity and eventually remove the need for physical lines and cables. Yet as we all know, the rollout has been slow and fraught with challenges. Even Apple’s latest iPhone isn’t 5G capable, with the company yet to announce when it will start supporting the technology.
And fixed wireless has been using the all-important capabilities of mmWave for several years.
Doesn’t actual fibre infrastructure perform better?
In a word, no.
Fixed wireless is actually much faster than physical fibre. For instance, fixed wireless transmits data at almost the speed of light (99%), while fibre clocks at about 30 per cent - less - than the speed of light. And fixed wireless networks can be deployed quickly and relatively cheaply; certainly compared with having to dig up the earth and roads like a certain national network currently courting controversy across the country.
What about radiation?
Over the past decade or more, concerns have been raised about the risk of humans being exposed to high levels of radiation through extensive use of mobile phones. The presence of mobile phone towers has also fuelled anxieties in communities.
While long-term data isn’t of course available at this early stage of mobile adoption, it’s something that people should be remain vigilant about.
With fixed wireless, however, the levels of radiation emitted are surprisingly low, producing a fraction of those which have been recorded with mobile phones and towers.
Fixed wireless emits what’s known as ‘non-ionising’ radiation, as opposed to the ‘ionising’ kind associated with x-rays. This level of radiation isn’t powerful enough to impact human cells, although it can heat them, for instance, if you were to stand within inches of an antenna for an extended period of time.