- Fixed wireless and satellite internet are two options for those living in rural areas with unreliable internet connections.
- Fixed wireless uses cellular mobile data to convert into Wi-Fi for home use, while satellite internet transfers internet from satellites orbiting the Earth.
- Fixed wireless requires a nearby cell tower for coverage, while satellite internet requires a clear view of the sky.
- The choice between fixed wireless and satellite internet depends on factors such as coverage availability, environment, and performance in your area.
If you live in a rural area and your current internet connection is unreliable, fixed wireless and satellite internet are two possible options. However, there are some key points you need to know about. Continue reading to learn the differences between the two types of internet services and determine whether fixed wireless or satellite internet is best for your needs.
Fixed Wireless vs. Satellite Internet: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Features||Fixed Wireless||Satellite Internet|
|Latency||Low latency (20-30ms)||Higher latency (25-600ms)|
|Coverage||Requires a nearby cell tower||Requires a clear view of the sky|
|Price||$25-100/month||$100-300/month + equipment fees|
|Interference||Requires clear line of sight to a cell tower||Weather conditions can severely impact performance|
Fixed Wireless vs. Satellite Internet: What’s the Difference
Fixed wireless, also called fixed wireless access or fixed wireless broadband, is a service that converts cellular mobile data into Wi-Fi for home use. It’s a good option for remote locations that do not have a wired connection to the internet. Essentially, fixed wireless acts as a dedicated mobile hotspot for your home. You can expect to get 5G speeds and a relatively stable connection. However, the performance varies depending on several factors, which we will discuss later on.
Satellite internet uses a different method to deliver internet to rural areas. Instead of using cell towers, the internet is transferred from satellites orbiting the Earth. The exact distance these satellites are from the Earth varies depending on the satellite internet company. In most cases, satellite internet can be accessed from even the most remote locations, although the internet speed is often quite slow.
The main factor you need to consider is the availability of either of these services in your area. While satellite internet technically covers the entire planet, it offers limited coverage in certain areas. Fixed wireless requires a nearby cell tower, ideally within 10 miles and with a clear line of sight.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a slow internet connection. Fixed wireless and satellite internet can deliver decent download speeds, depending on the plan and your location. However, each method has a wide range of internet speeds and many factors affect it.
Since most fixed wireless providers use cellular data, the download speed will be based on the capabilities of the nearest tower. For instance, if the nearest tower broadcasts a 5G signal, then you should receive 5G speeds, which can be between 100-300Mbps. Not all cell towers support 5G and if they don’t, then you’ll get 4G speeds, which are usually between 10-25Mbps. The average fixed wireless speed is between 25-30Mbps.
Most satellite internet packages offer comparable download speeds. Currently, the best satellite internet is Starlink, which can offer download speeds of 50-500Mbps. The global average download speed for Starlink is around 100Mbps. However, in North America, the download speeds are a little slower, with an average of 30Mbps. Download speeds for most providers rarely reach more than 100Mbps. HughesNet averages about 25Mbps, while ViaSat is between 12Mbps–100Mbps. Internet speeds aren’t guaranteed and fluctuate depending on the time of day, weather conditions, and location.
Regardless of where you live, fixed wireless will always be less expensive than satellite because it requires less equipment. Verizon fixed wireless plans range from $25-$80 a month. You can expect to pay a little more for 5G speeds and higher data caps. Also, some companies like AT&T allow you to bundle your fixed wireless plan with your phone’s mobile data plan. AT&T currently offers a plan for $59.99 when bundled. However, the only equipment you will need is an antenna, a router, and a CAT 5 cable.
Satellite internet can seem cheap at first, but you have to buy the equipment separately, which increases the total price. ViaSat plans start at $49.99 per month with an equipment cost of $299. HughesNet plans start at $64.99 plus an additional $450 to purchase equipment. Starlink is one of the best satellite internet companies because it uses low-orbit satellites, which result in lower latency and higher download speeds. However, the lowest monthly plan starts at $110 per month, plus the base equipment costs around $599, depending on the add-ons you need.
Fixed wireless is widely available in rural areas. However, although 5G mobile data is very fast, it doesn’t have a large broadcast range. In other words, you need to be relatively close to a 5G-capable cell tower to receive 5G speeds. If you live in an area where you can’t even get one bar of mobile signal on your phone, chances are fixed wireless won’t be the best option. Maybe the antenna on the fixed wireless modem can pick up a faint signal from a tower, but it probably won’t be strong enough to deliver reliable internet.
Satellite internet is also widely available outside the city. Unlike fixed wireless internet, the distribution point for satellite internet is not in a stationary location, the satellite is orbiting Earth. However, that does not necessarily mean your area has coverage. To get an idea, you can look at Starlink’s coverage map to see if the service is available in your area. You can also do an address check on the HughesNet or ViaSat websites to see plans for your area.
As long as you’re near a tower and have a strong signal, fixed wireless will offer decent latency. Measuring latency is challenging because there are so many different servers to test. However, in ideal situations, fixed wireless should have a latency of between 20-30ms for nearby data centers.
Due to the distance involved, satellite internet usually has high latency. High latency makes online games unplayable. Since Starlink uses low-orbit satellites, the latency is much better than other satellite internet providers. For example, Starlink has an average latency of 25-50ms, while other satellite companies get 500ms or higher. So, that’s a factor to consider if you play online games.
Satellite internet and fixed wireless are both subject to interference. For best results, each option requires a clear view. Ideally, your fixed wireless antenna should have a clear line of sight to the nearest cell tower. your signal can also be interrupted by factors, such as trees, hills, and buildings. In many cases, if your home is in a valley, you won’t be able to get a strong signal from fixed wireless. Finally, since fixed wireless uses cell towers, during peak hours, the speed might drop because of high bandwidth.
Satellite internet is heavily influenced by the weather. Cloudy days, storms, and even wind can interfere with the signal to your receiver. It is also important to keep the dish free from obstructions, such as tree branches and snow. Having said that, if your home meets the ideal conditions for both fixed wireless and satellite internet, fixed wireless will usually be more stable than satellite internet.
Fixed Wireless vs. Satellite Internet: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Fixed wireless uses mobile data and requires a nearby cell tower, while satellite internet uses satellites orbiting Earth to transmit internet signals.
- Fixed wireless can reach download speeds of between 20-300Mbps, but download speeds with satellite rarely reach greater than 100Mbps.
- Satellite internet is known for issues with high latency, which causes lag.
- Satellite internet is generally more expensive due to the required equipment.
- Both fixed internet and satellite internet are subject to signal interference.
Fixed Wireless vs. Satellite Internet: Which One is Better? Which One Should You Use?
When it comes to fixed wireless vs. satellite internet, it’s not easy to say which option is better because a wide range of factors can affect the performance of either option. In ideal conditions, fixed wireless is the more stable option because the signal doesn’t have to travel as far as satellite internet. However, in some regions, a satellite internet service such as Starlink, will perform better than fixed wireless. Ultimately, it depends on your environment and which service has the best coverage in your area.
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