Benton Institute for Broadband & Society have published a report on Fixed Wireless Technologies and Their Suitability for Broadband Delivery. The full report is detailed and will be a great asset to folks in the policy and planning trenches making decisions about what to choose where and when. For the rest of us, there are helpful charts that give us a understandable look at key characteristics (such as cost)…
And the executive summary also helps put things into perspective for folks who need to understand it but not deploy it…
Fixed-wireless technologies will continue to improve but will not match the performance of fiber-optic networks—primarily because the existing and potential bandwidth of fiber is thousands of times higher than wireless. Also, fixed-wireless networks have inherent capacity limitations that sharply limit the number of users on a network using a given amount of spectrum.
Fixed-wireless network coverage is adversely affected by line-of-sight obstructions (including buildings and seasonal foliage) and weather. While a fiber network can physically connect every household in a service area (and deliver predictable performance), it is significantly more complex for a fixed-wireless network to deliver a line of sight to every household in a service area.
Scalability is a critical challenge to fixed-wireless deployments, both technically and financially. A given amount of wireless spectrum is capable of supporting a given amount of network capacity. If the number of network users increases or users need more bandwidth, the network operator must increase the spectrum (which is both scarce and extremely expensive—and may not be possible), upgrade the technology, or add antennas. It is challenging to design a fixed wireless network that will provide sufficient, robust upstream and downstream capacity and reach all the addresses in unserved areas.
The fastest fixed-wireless technologies (such as those that use millimeter-wave spectrum) are effective in delivering short-range service to closely grouped households in urban and suburban settings. These technologies are largely unsuitable for serving rural communities because of the typical geographic dispersion of addresses and the lack of mounting structures (such as towers or building rooftops).
Fiber is sustainable, scalable, and renewable. It offers greater capacity, predictable performance, lower maintenance costs, and a longer technological lifetime than fixed-wireless technologies. Fiber service is not degraded by line-of-sight issues and is not affected by the capacity issues that constrain fixed wireless networks.
Instead of saying fiber is better, it would be better to say that all technologies need to be used – data centers, fiber (yes), and wireless connections to the device (no one drags a cord around). It’s past time to stop the either-or and say “all of the above – all tools in the toolbox”. Fiber is excellent for volume transport. It just isn’t the end-all, be-all of internet service delivery and shouldn’t be the only technology funded.
Unfortunately the report being referenced is by a pro-fiber group (CTC), and the assumptions used in the chart have a pro-fiber bias. No one should take it at face value.
When you say “wireless connection to the device” are you talking about Wifi, cell or fixed wireless?
There will always be a place for wireless – as you point out for the mobility – but for middle mile, especially in more remote areas, it seems like there are some distinct advantages for fiber.