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Broadband ISP Technology

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Broadband is a general term for any telecoms technology that can carry a lot of data, using a wide range (band) of frequencies, over fixed telephone lines or wireless communication methods. In the UK broadband is most typically used to describe high-speed Internet access (see below).
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 Broadband Fixed Wireless Access
Small Fixed Wireless Broadband Mast from lncomms.co.uk
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) providers (Wireless ISPs - WISPs) use specific frequencies of the radio spectrum to transmit their signals through the air (radio waves) 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.

WISP’s typically come in two different forms, a ‘Fixed’ 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 three primary consumer technology types: Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11), WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) and a Fixed Wireless 4G variant. All can be used for the same purpose, although Wi-Fi is a far more domestic technology and can often be found in home networks, indoor business environments and Hotspots. Meanwhile WiMax and 4G have been specifically designed for wider area high-speed networking and a different variant is used by Mobile Network Operators (Mobile Broadband).

Common Wireless Standards (Speed in Megabits):
* Wi-Fi 802.11a (up to 2Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz or 5GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11b (up to 11Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11g (up to 54Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11n (up to 600Mbps) - Frequency: 2.4GHz or 5GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11ac (up to 1700Mbps) - Frequency: 5GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11ac-2013 (up to 7000Mbps) - Frequency: 5GHz
* Wi-Fi 802.11ad (up to 7000Mbps) - Frequency: 60GHz (short range)
* WiMAX 802.16/d (up to 1Gbps+) - Frequency: 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz, 2.6GHz, 3.5GHz
* 4G TD LTE (up to 1000Mbps+) - Frequency: 3.5GHz, 3.6GHz

The latest hardware can push speeds up into Gigabit territory (1000Mbps+), although wireless performance reduces over distance and as it passes through solid structures (walls etc.). Sadly most consumers never receive the top speed of any given wireless technology, sometimes even when they're standing right next to the source.

It should be noted that some FWA ISPs, especially those in remote areas, also use point-to-point Microwave (radio) wireless technology to deliver their capacity. On top of that a larger number of FWA providers have their own specialised form of wireless connectivity that is similar to wifi but may have been specially adapted to suit a particular environment (e.g. rural areas).

As a basic rule, lower frequency wireless spectrum bands (e.g. 2.4GHz) can reach further with their signals and penetrate better through walls than higher ones (e.g. 28GHz). On the flip side a lower frequency service cannot carry as much data as the higher frequency and the latter requires more infrastructure (e.g. more masts) in order to cover the same area (expensive).

However it’s important to reflect that most FWA networks will attempt to avoid the walls of your property by installing an external antenna, which can usually be reached with relatively little obstruction. Some networks are also specially designed to limit interference from natural obstructions, such as trees and other buildings (i.e. Non-Line of Sight technology).

Non-Line of Sight technologies are used to spread the service over a wider frequency band or through the use of more masts and or different power levels, which can help to overcome external obstructions like trees, buildings and sometimes even hills. But experiences do vary and how good or bad a FWA setup is depends very much upon the environment where it's deployed, your distance from the transmitter (transceiver) mast and technology choice.

Wireless Advantages
- Good but not amazing speeds (technology and environment dependent).
- Highly flexible coverage.
- Good latency.
- Affordable.
Wireless Disadvantages
- FWA ISPs are usually niche with limited coverage.
- Security issues with old encryption (WEP).
- Variable performance.
- Big difference in prices between ISPs.
Related ISPreview.co.uk Content:
* Wireless Internet News
* Broadband Wireless ISP Listings
* Broadband Wireless Reader ISP Reviews
* Broadband Wireless ISP Discussion Forum
* Broadband Wireless Coverage Checker (Only works for a few ISPs)

* GUIDE: 8 Top Tips for Keeping Your Wireless Broadband ISP Router / Modem Cool
* GUIDE: The Best Home Alternatives to WiFi Wireless Networks
* GUIDE: Top 10 Wireless (Wi-Fi) Security Tips
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