Cell Tower

What is Fixed Wireless Access? A Technical Viewpoint

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is a connectivity solution that uses radio frequencies instead of cables to provide stable and reliable broadband internet access.

FWA is a popular solution for both businesses and homes, as it is able to support demanding use cases like internet of things (IoT) devices without having to set up costly permanent infrastructure such as fiber optical cabling.

According to a State of Broadband report from the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, “Network performance keeps improving, making FWA increasingly competitive and good enough for various use cases, including extensive video streaming.”

The Technical Details of Fixed Wireless Access

At its core, a FWA includes a base station, such as a cell tower or transmitter, as well as any number of subscriber units that are analogous to the modems found in a cabled setup. Users then connect their devices to those subscriber units to access the internet.

There are two main varieties of cellular FWA: 5G and 4G LTE. While 5G offers higher bandwidth and lower latency, it’s still not as widespread as 4G LTE service. 5G FWA is most commonly found in densely populated urban centers, though, as carriers continue to expand their 5G networks, we expect 5G FWA to become more common. For now, 4G LTE FWA is still a great option for many users.

All the major cellular carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all offer FWA services, and it’s not necessary to be an existing mobile device customer to start using their networks for FWA. Some smaller carriers also provide FWA internet.

Currently, there are two main options when it comes to FWA radio spectrum choices. Sub-6 GHz is a lower-frequency spectrum that is less susceptible to interference caused by obstructions between the base station and the subscriber, but, since there’s not as much contiguous spectrum available, data rates are lower.

On the other hand, mmWave uses higher frequencies that enable gigabit data rates, but they can have problems when it comes to vegetation, buildings, and other objects creating interference.

Both options provide speeds that range from 30 to 300 Mbps. In the future, we expect speeds to get closer to 1 Gbps. This is especially true for 5G mmWave technology.

The Benefits and Limitations of Fixed Wireless Access

It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of FWA when deciding whether it’s the right solution for your business or home.

There are a few main benefits of FWA. First off, this technology can provide internet access to rural areas and other “digital deserts” that have little to no access to high-speed internet connectivity. The infrastructure cost of FWA is significantly lower than cabled broadband in sparsely populated areas, making FWA ideal for expanding access in rural areas and bridging the digital divide.

FWA is also easy to install, both from a time and cost perspective. Instead of having to take the time to dig trenches and lay cables, organizations can stand up a FWA network with much less time and effort. This flexibility makes FWA a great choice for temporary operations that need day 1 connectivity, such as field hospitals after a disaster or for special events in remote locations.

Businesses can install a FWA connection and have an operational network from the day they open their doors, all without having to wait for the lengthy process of wired internet installation to complete. Once the wired connection is complete, the organization can then convert its FWA primary network into a cellular secondary network for redundant or backup connectivity.

Lastly, FWA provides a high quality internet connection, especially compared to satellite internet. This connectivity solution offers lower latency, high speeds, and data caps that range from 100GB to no cap at all.

Just like any other technology, FWA also has some limitations. One of the main drawbacks is that it does have a limited range. Since the subscriber units need to be able to communicate with the base station, there are areas that are too far away. This is especially a problem for 5G FWA, as 5G base stations have a shorter range than 4G LTE.

Simply put, if an area doesn’t have cellular coverage, then FWA isn’t a good option.

The other disadvantage of FWA is that it can be susceptible to disruption. Inclement weather events such as storms or heavy fog can block the signal, as can stationary objects like trees, buildings, hills, and mountains. At least when it comes to 5G mmWave technology, walls, buildings, and other objects between the receiver and the wireless base station can reduce the connection quality.

Although this is less of a problem for FWA than for satellite internet, it’s certainly a bigger concern than it is for a cabled connectivity solution. That said, low and mid-band FWA are less susceptible to line of sight interference than higher frequency bands, and this concern will further diminish as more towers are installed in heavily populated areas.

Finally, we can’t forget to mention the price. On average, fixed wireless access is more expensive than other broadband options. That said, FWA is becoming cheaper and cheaper every day. The current 5G transformation also means that FWA will only become more competitive with wired networks.


Fixed wireless access isn’t the right option for every use case, but it can be the perfect choice for home or business users that need reliable, high-speed internet on a temporary basis or in an area that is difficult, impractical, or impossible to service with traditional cabled broadband.

That’s why Datablaze specializes in helping our partners find the right mix of solutions for their unique circumstances. Whether you’re deploying a fleet of IoT devices in remote locations or just looking for a backup network, get in touch with us today to learn more.

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