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What is fixed wireless access (FWA) technology?

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Fixed wireless access, or FWA, is a type of 5G or 4G LTE wireless technology that enables fixed broadband access using radio frequencies instead of cables. FWA can be used to connect homes and businesses to the internet.

FWA technology is constantly evolving and expanding around the country; it may be a viable option for even the most demanding internet usage. Below, you can find out how FWA works, how it’s different from wired broadband, as well as its upsides and downsides.

How does FWA technology work?

Fixed wireless access, or FWA, is a type of technology that uses radio waves to send high-speed signals that offer data transfer to and from consumer devices.

FWA systems typically consist of a base station connected to a fixed network and a number of subscriber units spread out over a wide area. The base station then uses radio waves to communicate with the subscriber units, making it possible for consumers to connect to the fixed network and access high-speed data services. These transmitters are strategically attached to stationary structures such as poles, buildings or towers.

How does fixed wireless access differ from wired broadband?

Fixed wireless access, which can support 5G technology, is the next generation of wireless connectivity, offering the potential for ultra-high speeds, low latency and massive capacity. In theory, this could allow users to enjoy speeds comparable to a wired broadband connection. FWA differs from wired broadband in one major way.

Wired, fixed-line broadband works through fiber-optic cables, telephone lines (DSL), coaxial cables (cable modem), or powerlines (BPL);  no matter which form of broadband you’re working with, it requires transmission of data through cables. In the case of DSL, for instance, you attach your modem to the phone line in your wall and receive packets of internet data through copper wires. The speed of your DSL connection will depend on how close the phone company’s nearest facility is, as well as the integrity of their phone lines.

With fiber-optic internet, your internet service provider runs the cable all the way to your house, or to a location nearby, in which case you tap in via phone line running to a switching box (or “cabinet”). With FWA, your device is receiving a radio signal from the internet provider’s transmission tower. This doesn’t require any cables or wires to go to your home.

FWA may be able to bring high-speed internet to areas where cables cannot reach, which is why it’s likely to play a role in the future of wireless internet connectivity, especially in digital deserts.

What is a digital desert?

A digital desert is an area where there is little or no access to high-speed internet. This can be due to several factors, such as:

  • A lack of infrastructure, such as cables or fiber-optic lines.
  • The prohibitive cost of bringing infrastructure to these areas.
  • The difficulty of connecting remote or hard-to-reach locations.

Digital deserts often limit residents from taking advantage of the many benefits that come with having a high-speed internet connection, such as:

  • Access to online education and job resources.
  • The ability to telecommute or work from home.
  • Improved access to healthcare and other services.

FWA technology has the potential to address these issues.

How can fixed wireless access combat digital deserts?

There are various ways in which FWA can combat digital deserts, such as:

  • By potentially providing high-speed internet to areas that currently lack wired infrastructure. With FWA, cell towers and base stations provide the necessary infrastructure, but you may need to install an antenna on your home to receive the signal.
  • By being more affordable than fiber optic for people in rural areas where the cost of running fiber is high at the outset. However, as noted by BroadbandCommunities Magazine, fiber optic becomes less expensive the more houses in an area subscribe to it, while the inverse may be true for FWA.
  • By offering low-latency internet to rural subscribers via multiple-input, multiple-out (MIMO) antenna technology, which allows a targeted signal to the consumer’s receiver.

FWA offers an opportunity to provide high-speed internet to areas traditionally underserved by broadband technology.

Benefits and limitations of fixed wireless access

There are several benefits and limitations to fixed wireless access, which include:


  • Bridging the digital gap in underserved areas. In a time when the internet is becoming increasingly essential, FWA offers a way to bring high-speed connectivity to those who need it most.
  • Can provide high-speed internet to areas without infrastructure. FWA does not require a physical wired connection outside the home, making it an option for those who reside in areas with mobile coverage.
  • Flexible installation. Unlike other technologies, FWA can be installed quickly and easily without needing trenches or other disruptive construction. For example, the first 5G customer in Houston and in the nation simply had a small, pillow-shaped antenna installed on their home, from which a wire runs down to their router. The antenna itself receives a wireless signal from one of Verizon’s many fixed wireless nodes located on power and light poles in Houston.


  • Transmission distance is limited. Because FWA connections rely on line of sight, they are limited to areas close to the cellular tower.
  • Environmental factors can impact performance. Some FWA connections may be impacted by things like trees, buildings, and path loss, which depends on the terrain.
  • Relatively new technology that is continually evolving. As with any new technology, some kinks still need to be worked out, such as occasional outages, dropped connections, and so on.

Despite these limitations, the State of Broadband: People-Centred Approaches for Universal Broadband Sept 2021 (“State of Broadband Report 2021”) from the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development notes, “Network performance keeps improving, making FWA increasingly competitive and good enough for various use cases, including extensive video streaming.” The report also notes that network costs keep dropping, “making it affordable to households for services such as TV/video streaming.”1

According to the State of Broadband Report 2021, fixed wired internet infrastructure (for example, DSL and cable) experienced a great deal of network strain due to the pandemic. This has encouraged some network providers to expand infrastructure. The International Telecommunication Union, which helped put together the report, points out that FWA doesn’t work in competition with pre-existing technologies such as wired broadband, mobile wireless and satellite — rather, it complements them.

Accordingly, look for FWA to become a powerful addition to the expansion of internet infrastructure in the future.

1. ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, "The State of Broadband 2021: People-Centred Approaches for Universal Broadband", International Telecommunication Union and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (September 2021)