Wireless to the rescue? The pros and cons of fixed wireless

I’ve been hearing a lot about wireless lately – especially fixed wireless. It started last week with the Minnesota Broadband Task Force presentation from LTD, then a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune asking if fixed wireless might help close the connectivity gap.

Fixed wireless is part of a solution but not a rescue for all needs. As the Star Tribune article points out, the cost of fixed wireless is a big benefit…

But the best part of fixed wireless internet may be its cost. Nelson said fiber optic lines cost about $20,000 a mile to install. That’s a big expense. But instead of running fiber lines to individual houses, Woodstock Communications’ strategy is to run them to a wireless tower, and then use a radio signal to deliver the wireless internet to homes.

With that approach, Nelson said, his company can connect homes to the internet with wireless at a tenth of the cost of fiber.

Fixed wireless is certainly better than what many rural Minnesotans can access now. Here is a sampling of speeds and prices being offered now:

Woodstock lists monthly speeds and prices at the following:

  • 5 Mbps $49.95
  • 10 Mbps $69.95
  • 20 Mbps $99.99
  • 50 Mbps $129.95
    I assume these are download speeds.

LTD Wireless lists monthly speeds and prices:

  • 3 Mbps down and .5 up $35
  • 6 Mbps down and 1 up $55
  • 10 Mbps down and 2 up $75

RS Fiber monthly costs:

  • 25 Mbps down & up $39.95
  • 50 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up $52.95

MVTV Wireless costs:

  • Up to 1.5 Mbps $49.95/month
  • Up to 2.5 Mbps $59.95/month
  • Up to 5.0 Mbps $69.95/month
  • Up to 10.0 Mbps $74.95/month **available in select areas only
  • Up to 25.0 Mbps $99.95/month **available in select areas only
    I assume these are download speeds.

Each provider offers at least one service with speeds that meet the 2022 speed goals of 25/3 but not the 2026 goals of 100/20. Fixed wireless can be a good stepping stone to getting to 100/20. When a provider brings fiber to the tower, it helps expand infrastructure and builds a base of customers. It’s good for a business plan and a provider may have some customers that never need more. In a meeting in Litchfield yesterday I heard someone say – they were happy to work with fixed wireless providers to meet the needs of citizens today but they recognize that it’s not future proof. The challenge is balancing the variety of needs with cost. Something worth considering is that home-based businesses, teleworkers, online students will be bigger users – but they may also be attractive residents for a rural community. To attract and retain them you need adequate broadband.

There are some drawbacks to fixed wireless. Fixed Wireless requires line of sight. So it works well in Western Minnesota – where it’s flat and pretty treeless. ( Wind turbines may interfere at times.)  It will work less well in NW Minnesota. Fiber is faster and more reliable – so when it comes to creating a statewide plan I think we need to recognize that difference and be prudent in considering long-term equitable solutions.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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