Every year, federal and state lawmakers approve funding for building broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Spending has ramped up since the COVID pandemic. But is building broadband infrastructure the wisest course of action? Is it better for U.S. telecoms and their government partners to focus on fixed wireless instead?
Fixed wireless internet wasn’t a viable option a decade ago. But now, thanks to more advanced wireless technologies and better equipment, wireless internet is gaining ground. Even now, companies purposely pitch 5G wireless as a drop-in replacement for standard wired broadband.
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New Infrastructure Is Expensive
Building out infrastructure in rural areas is possible. There aren’t a whole lot of technical limitations. So what’s the problem? Cost. Wired broadband infrastructure is expensive. Building it out to rural areas is cost-prohibitive if there are not enough customers to foot the bill.
That’s why government funding has been so generous in recent years. To make voters happy, state and federal agencies are willing to pump tens of millions into sinking poles and running fiber-optic and coaxial cables to underserved areas. But there always needs to be more money to reach enough people to make it all worthwhile.
Fixed Wireless Is a Cheaper Solution
Fixed wireless represents a possible solution to the rural internet problem. How does it work? You have two options: 4G and 5G networks. Satellite internet doesn’t qualify because satellites aren’t fixed.
4G wireless internet already enjoys decent penetration throughout the United States. Blazing Hog, a company that offers fixed wireless internet to rural America, says that current 4G networks are more than capable of handling residential internet service.
5G is the new kid on the block. The next generation of wireless technologies focuses on reducing latency and increasing speed. 5G outperforms 4G, but it has its weaknesses. It is still relatively new, though. Over time, it will mature the same way 4G did.
A Replacement for Wired Broadband
The most important thing to understand here is that fixed wireless internet could be a replacement for wired broadband. It is considerably cheaper to deploy because you’re not burying poles and running cables. You are also installing less physical equipment. That means fewer maintenance costs in the long haul.
For 4G rural internet, you take advantage of existing cell towers. Where you need to install a new cell tower, you still get more bang for your buck than running wired broadband infrastructure. As a result, you can cover more ground at a lower cost.
As for the 5G Internet, you can install cell towers without installing cell towers. Virtually any structure will suffice an existing utility pole, a building, or a tree. With 5G, you eliminate the need to build any new infrastructure to reach rural areas.
They’re Doing It in South Africa
Abandoning wired broadband in favor of fixed wireless isn’t just a fanciful proposal built on hopes and dreams. It’s being done in South Africa. There about 90% of internet users are limited to data-capped mobile internet. Wired broadband is available in the cities.
However, South African internet providers are expanding outside the cities with fixed wireless. They are not even bothering to build wired infrastructure. Instead, they hope to eventually offer fixed wireless internet without data caps to anyone who wants it.
We should follow their example here in the U.S. We spent hundreds of millions building wired broadband infrastructure and still have very little to show. Fixed wireless is a better way to go.
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