What is fixed wireless internet?
Fixed wireless internet is an internet connection type that uses radio waves instead of underground cables to connect your home to the internet. It’s great for remote households that need reasonably priced broadband speeds but don’t have access to wired connections like fiber and cable. Find out if it’s right for you.
- No need for wired infrastructure
- Available to some rural areas
- Performance beats satellite internet
- Performance can be affected by weather
- Speeds don't reach fiber levels
- Fewer provider choices than wired connections
How fixed wireless internet works
Fixed wireless internet works differently than wired connections like DSL, cable, or fiber. With fixed wireless, your home isn’t connected to the internet via cables in the ground. Instead, your home gets access to the internet through radio waves. A wireless internet connection is established between the service provider’s transmitter and an antenna mounted at your location.
Fixed wireless internet works similarly to a mobile data plan and often uses the same networks. Unlike a mobile wireless connection though, the antenna is stationary, so you can't take your home internet with you on the road (usually). This is usually because the provider needs to ensure they have enough bandwidth to meet the increased needs of home internet users.
To access the internet with a fixed wireless connection, the main equipment you need is an antenna. It will usually be mounted on the outside of your home by the provider and connected to a router inside your home with a cable. Providers like T-Mobile simply have a 5G gateway device that you can plug in and start using. As fixed wireless technology continues to develop, we won't be surprised to see more providers offer this easy setup option.
The antenna or device that receives the signal must have a direct line of sight to the provider’s transmitter, which will likely be attached to a tower located nearby, similar to a cell tower. Hills, trees, and other obstructions that block the signal can make it difficult or impossible to get a connection. Weather can also affect connection quality.
Fixed wireless internet usually offers a better internet experience than satellite, which has similar requirements and limitations. Satellite internet has high latency because of the vast distance to the satellite above, so you’ll have a lot of lag regardless of the download speed of your connection. The equipment also tends to be larger, and the connection is less reliable than fixed wireless.
Fixed wireless doesn’t require a wired connection
Fixed wireless internet is widely available across the US. According to the FCC, 66% of the US population has access to at least one fixed wireless provider. (1) You don’t need access to a cable or phone line to get service. Fixed wireless requires only an antenna and an unobstructed line of sight to get a connection.
Fixed wireless is an especially attractive option for those living in remote areas where fewer connection types and providers are available. Around 62% of people in rural areas have access to broadband speeds with fixed wireless. (1) That’s two times more than DSL and about the same as cable, but far less than satellite (which covers almost 100% of people). (2,3,4) You can also get fixed wireless in urban areas. For example, Starry Internet is a fixed wireless provider that specializes in providing service in densely populated cities.
Performance beats satellite and sometimes competes with cable
As with any internet connection type, speeds vary based on your provider and location. Some fixed wireless plans range from 25-50 Mbps, while others can reach impressive download speeds up to 1 Gbps. Upload speeds typically range from around 5 Mbps to 50 Mbps but can reach up to 500 Mbps. You’re likely to find fixed wireless plans that allow a household of multiple people to do basic web browsing, streaming, and gaming without any problems. See if fixed wireless offers enough speed for your family.
Compared to wired connection types, fixed wireless can usually outperform DSL and can compete with the speed of some cable plans, but fiber always offers superior performance. Fixed wireless may be less reliable than a wired connection since the signal can be affected by weather or antenna obstructions like trees. If a wired connection isn’t available, fixed wireless is usually a better choice than satellite internet due to its lower latency and higher data caps (if there are any).
Good value—if you can get the right plan
Fixed wireless plans with at least broadband speeds typically cost between $30 per month and $80 per month. Whether fixed wireless is a good value for you depends on what providers and plans are available at your location. For example, $50 can get you 200 Mbps download speeds with Starry Internet, but $59 gets you just 25 Mbps with AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet. If you have a qualifying T-Mobile phone plan, you can get their 5G home internet for only $25 per month.
Unfortunately for Starry customers, the company has recently had mass layoffs and plans to pull out of the COlombus, Ohio, market in March of 2023. We don't know what this might mean for the future of fixed wireless from bigger providers, but it makes Starry hard to recommend if you have any other option. (5)
Fixed wireless plans often have no contracts and low monthly equipment fees ($10–$15/month, if any). Some plans have no data caps. But when there are data caps, they’re usually high enough for most people not to worry much about (over 300 GB), which isn’t usually the case with satellite internet.
If you’re far from a city and your only alternative is satellite internet, fixed wireless will give you a better experience and more speed for your money. Plus, you’ll have lower latency and much lower equipment costs. Wherever you live, you’ll want to look closely at any available wired connection providers, as DSL and cable may be similarly priced or cheaper and offer better, more reliable performance than fixed wireless. Some fixed wireless providers offer speeds up to 1 Gbps. But for those with a need for speed, fiber connections are still superior despite often having steeper prices.
Is fixed wireless internet right for you?
Fixed wireless is ideal for people living in remote areas without access to a wired connection like DSL, cable, or fiber. Those in this situation may also be considering satellite internet, but it usually costs more for the same speeds and a much less pleasant experience. If you can get DSL or cable at your address, you may find comparable speeds and pricing with a fixed wireless provider. A wired connection is still preferable if reliability is a major concern for you.
Once you find out which providers are available at your address, our guides to the best fixed wireless providers and best internet providers can help you decide which to choose.
Frequently asked questions
Is fixed wireless better than satellite internet?
Yes, fixed wireless is better than satellite internet in terms of performance and overall experience. With fixed wireless, you can usually get more download speed for your dollar, and latency is much lower since you’re not connecting to faraway satellites.
How does fixed wireless compare to wired connections?
Fixed wireless download speeds usually match those of DSL and cable connections, but they can’t compete with fiber’s extremely high download and upload speeds and low latency. Fixed wireless is less reliable than wired connections in general since trees and weather can affect the signal.
Is fixed wireless internet fast?
Yes, fixed wireless can be fast. Typical plan speeds range from 25 Mbps to 1 Gbps.
Brittany is a Contributing Writer for Switchful with over five years of experience writing about technology in the US and Europe. Her primary focus is on mobile and internet topics. She is passionate about helping people choose the right tech for their needs at the right price.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.
Endnotes and sources
1. “FCC Broadband Map (Fixed Wireless),” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 15 July 2022.
2.“FCC Broadband Map (DSL),” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 15 July 2022.
3. “FCC Broadband Map (Cable),” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 20 July 2022.
4. “FCC Broadband Map (Satellite),” Federal Communications Commission. Accessed 20 July 2022.
5. (3) "Starry internet shutting down Columbus operations," The Columbus Dispatch. Accessed 9 February 2023.