Internet access terminology can be very confusing, especially if youíre trying to choose a new ISP. Each technology has its differences and some may be better at certain tasks than others, consequently it is important for consumers to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each prior to choosing a provider. This page seeks to explain the methods using simple language and is best used in conjunction with our 'Jargon Buster
Wireless ISPís (WISP) use specific frequencies of the radio spectrum to transmit their signals through the air and in a similar way to how mobile phone networks operate, doing away with wires. Most wireless ISPs only offer very limited coverage in specific/niche areas (e.g. rural villages), although their price and performance tends to be good.
WISPís typically come in two different forms, a ĎFixed
í wide-area network or 'Hotspot
'. Fixed networks are stationary and designed to deliver internet access over wide areas, while Hotspots are cheaper localised methods of Internet access that have been designed to cover smaller areas, such as train stations or restaurants.
Presently there are two primary technology types, Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11
) and WiMAX (IEEE 802.16
). Both can be used for the same purpose, although Wi-Fi is a far more domestic technology, often used in home networks and Hotspots. Meanwhile WiMax has been specifically designed for wider area high-speed networking and can even extend to Mobile Broadband operators (802.16e - see the related section linked above).
Common Wireless Standards (Speed in Megabits per second):
* Wi-Fi 802.11a (2Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz or 5GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11b (11Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11g (54Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11n (100Mbps to 600Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz or 5GHz
* WiMAX 802.16d (144Mbps to 1Gbps) - Frequency: 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz, 2.6GHz (UK) or 3.5GHz
The latest hardware can push speeds at up to and over 100Mbps, although wireless performance reduces over distance and as it passes through solid structures (walls etc.). Few consumers ever recieve the top speed of any given wireless technology, sometimes even when they're standing right next to the source.
- Highly flexible coverage.
- Good speeds, technology dependent (fast with WiMAX or 802.11n).
- Reasonably good latency.
Related ISPreview Sections:
- Fixed wireless ISPs are somewhat niche.
- Security issues with old encryption methods (WEP).
- Wireless ISPs rarely offer many extra services (webspace etc.).
- Non standard pricing (some ISPs are cheap, others overpriced).