Wireless broadband is an internet connection that doesn't use cables.
Sounds simple enough, but to confuse matters, the term can be used to refer to home Wi-Fi networks or the broadband service itself.
If you’re not clear on the difference or are thinking about getting wireless broadband but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, then all will be explained in this guide to wireless broadband.
Wireless broadband: the key points
Is wireless broadband the same as Wi-Fi?
Wireless broadband and Wi-Fi are both forms of wireless technology that were designed to make connecting to the internet easier. Neither require wires and allow you to connect to the internet. This can include the routers and modems you use to connect to the Wi-Fi or a wireless internet service that your modem connects to.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the same thing.
Wi-Fi networking is the technology that lets us get internet access or share files without running cables around our homes.
Wireless broadband can be a way for internet service providers or ISPs to deliver internet access without having a line connected to your home. That can be useful if you live in an area without fixed-line broadband, or you want internet without a phone line.
When we use the term wireless broadband, we’re often referring to Wi-Fi networks, where a Wi-Fi router is used to provide internet and local network access to nearby devices without the use of wires.
Almost all broadband deals include a free Wi-Fi router, so you probably already have Wi-Fi in your home. And there are also thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots found in restaurants, pubs, and other locations around the UK that you can often use for free internet access.
But the broadband connection itself probably isn’t wireless and it’s most likely supplied via a telephone line, fibre optic cable, or Virgin Media network cable.
To learn more about Wi-Fi and how to use it, we have a comprehensive guide to Wi-Fi which goes into a lot more detail.
To use Wi-Fi at home, you will need a Wi-Fi router. This not only acts as a gateway to the internet but also hosts a local network and broadcasts a wireless network signal that any compatible, and authorised, device can use to access the broadband or share data over the network.
Wi-Fi is enormously helpful as it’s so easy to set up and use, and means we can get internet without having cables running everywhere. But there are some downsides too.
Internet and network - what’s the difference?
In the context of home broadband, a network is the Local Area Network in your home. You’ll also see it referred to as a LAN. It’s what we use to share devices, files, and internet access. When you connect to Wi-Fi at home you’re connected to your home network. Using the network hosted by your Wi-Fi router you can do things like access a printer from another room, swap files between computers, stream music and videos, or play games over the network.
The internet is a network of networks, which provides access to a vast number of devices and resources around the world. In general, your home network and the wider internet are kept separate from each other for security reasons. You don’t want just anyone from the wider internet getting in, after all. But your tech will make an exception when a specific device or service needs to go into or out of your home network.
Wireless broadband and wireless ISPs
Wireless broadband may also be used to refer to wireless ISPs aka WISPs. These deliver internet access with a wireless connection instead of a using a fixed-line.
The name wireless broadband doesn’t refer to a specific technology as WISPs can use different methods to provide their services.
If you’re interested in getting internet from a WISP, you might encounter terms like FWA, mobile broadband or satellite broadband. But what do these mean in the context of home broadband, and what are their differences?
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)
Fixed Wireless Access providers use wireless transmissions to provide internet access without having to install cabling to each home. FWA is a broad term, not a specific technology. So FWA ISPs can use a variety of methods, including Wi-Fi, 4G or 5G, to deliver the connection.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots
A public Wi-Fi hotspot is a Wi-Fi router offering internet access to anyone in the vicinity. Often these are free services operated by businesses and public organisations for the benefit of customers, though there are also Wi-Fi hotspots that require payment to access.
Unlike FWA, a public hotspot isn’t set up to deliver internet access over a wide area. It often uses the same kind of hardware as a regular home Wi-Fi router and is only meant to communicate over short distances.
Mobile broadband and 5G
Mobile broadband can be used at home in place of a fixed-line service. If you live somewhere that a fixed-line service isn’t available, this can be a great option.
Any mobile broadband service would work so long as you have a strong signal. But with many of the packages having strict data limits, mobile broadband can be restrictive. If you plan to switch to mobile broadband, make sure you choose a package that’s been specifically designed for home use. You can visit our guide to using mobile broadband at home if you'd like to know more.
While the use of mobile broadband at home isn’t very common right now, we may see this become far more popular in the near future. 5G mobile internet can be faster than many home broadband services, so it might one day be the best option.
Rather than relying upon transmitters on the ground, satellite broadband uses orbiting relays to provide broadband access via dishes on people’s homes
Satellite broadband’s greatest strength is its ability to work anywhere within the very large coverage footprint, so even the most remote homes can get reasonably fast internet. But the distance between the dishes and the satellites also means that latency can be a problem.
If this is something that interests you, we have a guide to satellite broadband that goes into more detail.
Should I get fixed-line or wireless broadband?
We recommend that most customers choose a fixed-line broadband package if one is available. ADSL or fibre broadband from ISPs such as BT, TalkTalk, Virgin, and Sky are the best option for most people. These are reliable, affordable, and often unlimited services that almost everyone can get.
Wireless broadband ISPs tend to fill a niche, covering gaps in the fixed-line networks. If you find that normal broadband access is very slow or non-existent, then a WISP may be the ideal solution.
There are a few reasons to choose wireless over fixed-line if both are available. A WISP does have the advantage of not needing a telephone line or cable, so may be preferable if you can’t get or don’t want a phone line. But installation, setup, and running costs may be higher than the price of fixed-line broadband, even including phone line rental.
Frequently Asked Questions about wireless broadband
I just want Wi-Fi at home. Do I need to buy wireless broadband?
It’s not necessary to choose a wireless ISP in order to use Wi-Fi in your home.
To get Wi-Fi at home, you only need a Wi-Fi router, which is almost always included with a broadband deal at no extra cost.
Who offers wireless broadband?
There aren’t as many wireless providers compared to the vast choice of fixed-line home broadband providers, but you should still be able to find something to fit your needs.
Wireless ISPs will usually be found serving a small area, often focusing on rural communities, but there are WISPs offering national coverage too.
Some WISPS include Quickline who use a mix of fibre lines and 5G tech to provide some wireless broadband up in the North of England and Scotland as well some of Wales. There’s also WiSpire in Norfolk that uses church spires and existing masts to connect people in rural locations to the internet.
If mobile broadband is something you’re interested in, then look into mobile and broadband providers such as Vodafone, EE, and Three.
Can I use Wi-Fi hotspots for wireless broadband?
It might be tempting to use a public hotspot instead of paying for home broadband. But if a hotspot is a free public service offered by a pub, café, restaurant or library, it’s intended for use by customers and visitors. So you shouldn’t use it as your personal broadband service.
You should also remember that there are also security issues with public Wi-Fi that could put you at risk from hackers.
If you want to use a public hotspot, there are paid public hotspot networks you can use in place of a regular broadband connection. They can be reasonably good value and offer lots of flexibility. But remember that you’re only getting a wireless internet connection with no control over the router, no option for a faster and more stable wired network connection, and no guarantee of speed.
Is Wi-Fi secure?
There are issues you need to be aware of when using Wi-Fi, though it’s fairly easy to configure a router with a basic level of security, which is all a typical home user should need.
Your home Wi-Fi network should always be password-protected, and you should set a unique password for the admin account which controls access to the router’s settings.
Read our guide to securing Wi-Fi for more help.
Is wireless broadband secure?
In general, wireless broadband is no more secure or insecure than any other type of internet connection.
The threats you face will most likely be the same ones facing any other internet user, so you should take the usual precautions. You should use strong passwords and never send or store sensitive data with sites and services that aren’t encrypted.
While getting your broadband service from a wireless transmission does theoretically open up the possibility that the signal could be intercepted, the reality is that this isn’t something a regular user should ever have to worry about. If you’re at risk of being deliberately targeted by hackers or government agencies capable of pulling off such an attack, then you need to seek the advice of professional security specialists.
How fast is Wi-Fi?
The speed of a Wi-Fi connection depends primarily on the Wi-Fi standard supported by both the router and the connected device. Though you need to remember that broadband speeds are also impacted by factors such as signal strength and how many other devices are using the network.
There’s a standard referred to as Wi-Fi 6 that theoretically has a transmission speed of up to 10Gbps. But in practice, you’ll find it’s much slower than that.
If you have any reasonably modern Wi-Fi router supporting Wi-Fi 5, then your Wi-Fi connection can probably send data at a higher speed than your broadband service.
For more information about Wi-Fi speeds and standards, read our beginner’s guide to Wi-Fi.
How fast is wireless broadband?
The speed of wireless broadband varies wildly depending on the technology.
Many wireless broadband providers advertise a download speed of around 30Mb though some can offer up to 100Mb, or even faster. Satellite broadband usually offers between 30-50Mb, with some offering 100Mb+. And the latest 5G mobile broadband connections can deliver more than 500Mb, though they typically average around 100-150Mb.
Wireless broadband is something that can mean very different things depending on the context. Most often, when we’re talking wireless broadband it’s referencing home Wi-Fi. If you’re just interested in Wi-Fi for all your devices, then a fixed-line broadband deal with a free Wi-Fi router is what you need. We suggest you go with a fibre broadband package for the best speeds. Use our postcode checker to see what’s available in your area.
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However, wireless broadband can also refer to broadband where the internet connection itself doesn’t use wires. The most common of these will be mobile or Wi-Fi internet, though there are also satellite broadband packages. Wireless internet can offer decent speeds, and you can get them even in areas that you can’t get fixed-line broadband. So if you live somewhere rural where a fixed-line isn’t possible, these are great options.
If you need more guidance on wireless broadband, then you can contact us for further help.
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