What's wireless broadband?

ByKim Staples
Mast with signal

Lots of us may be switching to superfast fibre optic internet, but some people are choosing another high-tech option to get online: wireless broadband.

While most broadband is delivered through copper or fibre optic cables, wireless is a different thing entirely. It reaches your home via radio waves, just like 4G or mobile phone signal - or a very, very big Wi-Fi hotspot. When you take out a wireless broadband package, you'll get sent a router that picks up on the signal from the provider's masts, and in turn connects your devices to the internet.

It's a great alternative in areas where standard cabled broadband isn't quite good enough, or in a busy household where you just want to plug in and get online straight away.

What's a WISP?

It's one letter away from a delicious chocolate bar, but it's also a wireless internet service provider.

They're the companies that own and maintain the wireless networks, and they're who you go to when you want to subscribe to a package. Most tend to be local, or in specific locations - Relish can only be found in central London, for instance. Plenty have been set up by rural communities too, often in more remote areas where phone lines and cables struggle to reach or where fibre optic cables haven't been laid yet.

What's good about wireless broadband?

  • It's useful for areas where line-based broadband speeds are poor, particularly in rural areas that cables struggle to reach.
  • You can set it up as soon as you get your router - there's no need for an engineer to visit.
  • You don't need line rental if you don't want it.
  • Pricing is generally affordable.
  • If you move house within the same area, you can usually just take your router with you and set it up again - without having to worry about complex home moves.

What's bad about wireless broadband?

  • Wireless broadband isn't as reliable, and speeds aren't as consistent, as ADSL or fibre connections.
  • Download speeds aren't that fast, and there's little hope of getting fibre-level speeds. Some wireless providers, in fact, have maximum speeds of a measly 1Mb.
  • Most wireless networks only cover a limited local area.
  • Wireless connections aren't as secure as wired ones - by not having a physical connection, they're more open to hackers.
  • A lot of factors can still stop you from getting good wireless signal. Things like thick walls, tall buildings, living in a valley, and even bad weather can all affect your broadband.

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