What is wireless broadband? A beginner’s guide to wireless internet options

In this guide

wireless transmissions/istock/chombosanWhat is wireless broadband?

Wireless broadband is a connection that doesn't use cables. This may refer to Wi-Fi networking, or the broadband service itself.

Wireless broadband can be a way to for internet service providers (ISPs) to offer coverage without installing a fixed line network. That can be useful if you live in an area without fixed line broadband, or you want internet access without a phone line.

Wi-Fi networking is essential if you want to get internet anywhere without running wiring throughout your home or drilling holes in the wall.

Is wireless broadband the same as Wi-Fi?

When we talk about wireless broadband it can mean two different things.

Wi-Fi networking
Most commonly, wireless broadband is another term for Wi-Fi networking where a Wi-Fi router is used to provide internet access and networking to nearby devices without cables. There's a good chance you already have Wi-Fi in your home, and there are thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots found in restaurants, pubs and others locations around the UK. But the broadband itself is probably not wireless and most likely supplied via an Openreach (BT) telephone line or Virgin Media network cable.

Wireless ISP
Wireless broadband may also be used to refer to wireless ISPs (WISPs) which deliver internet access with a wireless connection instead of a fixed line. In this context wireless broadband does not refer to a specific technology as WISPs can use different methods to provide their services.

Wi-Fi, FWA, mobile broadband and satellite broadband - what’s the difference?

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 the differences between them?

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)
Fixed Wireless Access ISPs use wireless transmissions to provide internet access without having to run wires. FWA is a broad term, not a specific technology; FWA ISPs may use Wi-Fi, WiMAX (a long range wireless standard) and 4G.

Mobile broadband
Mobile broadband can be used at home in place of a fixed line service. Relish is probably the best known home ISP to use mobile networks. There’s also Three HomeFi and EE 4G home broadband, among others. Any mobile broadband service can be used at home of course, though the relatively low data limits can be restrictive. If you’d like to know more read our guide to using mobile broadband at home.

Satellite broadband
Rather than relying upon ground-based transmitters, satellite broadband uses orbiting relays to provide broadband access. 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. If this is something that interests you we have a guide to satellite broadband which goes into more detail.

Should I get fixed line or wireless broadband?

Fixed line broadband using ADSL or fibre optic technology from ISPs such as BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky is 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 your fixed line broadband access is very slow or non-existent then a WISP may be the ideal solution.

There are 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 consider the cost implications as installation, setup and running costs may be higher than the price of fixed line broadband including phone line rental.

Can I still get Wi-Fi if I have wireless broadband?

Getting broadband wirelessly has no impact on using Wi-Fi for networking and sharing the connection. The WISP gives you an internet connection - how you manage that once it’s in your home or office is up to you.

But you should check with the ISP about what kind of equipment is included. Some WISPs may provide a Wi-Fi router with integrated modem, others might only supply a modem which will have to be connected to a standalone Wi-Fi router to enable wireless networking.

I just want Wi-Fi at home - do I need to buy wireless broadband?

It is not necessary to choose a wireless ISP in order to use Wi-Fi in your home for connecting computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices to the internet.

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.

Our guide to setting up Wi-Fi can help you get started. We also have a beginner’s introduction to Wi-Fi and a guide to buying your own Wi-Fi router.