Wireless, Not Satellite, Is the Better Solution for U.S. Rural Broadband

By Michael Blanco | January 26, 2015

| Wireless Networks, Rural Broadband |

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The past week saw two business titans, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, announce that their respective space companies were planning to deliver internet service via satellite. We applaud their vision of using satellites to bring the internet to underserved areas of the world. Satellites are an excellent choice for beaming signals to locations that have little or no infrastructure. Rural parts of the U.S., however, are better served by focusing on a simpler and more cost-effective communication technology – wireless.

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, 2015, President Obama spoke of the need to build the fastest internet networks "so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world." We believe it is wireless connectivity, not satellite, that holds the greatest potential to fulfill this need quickly, reliably and cost-efficiently.

The U.S. is already well covered by the internet backbone. Any coverage gaps that exist are in the "last mile," i.e., the connection between the internet carrier's network and the remote household, school or library. Wireless connectivity offers the best solution for closing this gap, for several reasons. 

Wireless Is Ideal for Covering Short Distances

First, the distances involved are not great. They are well within the ranges of access points and repeaters. While satellites are ideal for bridging distances of hundreds of miles between remote locations, wireless networks suffice within the United States. Internet via satellite would simply be overkill.

Wireless Signals Are Unaffected by Weather

Heavy rain or snow can disrupt satellite signals. Severe snowstorms, such as the ones in upstate New York and New England in 2014-2015, cause mounds of snow and ice to accumulate on satellite dishes and block signals. Resumption of service then depends on the snow melting or a user being able to clean the dish, the timing of which can be unpredictable. 

Further, strong winds can knock a dish out of alignment with the satellite. Realigning requires a technician visit. 

Wireless transmissions are not affected by such environmental hazards.

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Latency Not an Issue for Wireless Signals

Wireless and satellite signals both travel at the speed of light. But satellite signals must travel longer distances, from Earth to the satellite and back. Hence the time they take to reach their destination, or their latency, is much higher. A high latency makes it inconvenient to use certain real-time web applications like Skype and gaming. 

The satellites deployed by Branson's and Musk's companies will orbit at an altitude of 750 miles, far below the conventional orbital distance of 22,000 miles. Latency will therefore be much lower than usual, but still appreciable. Wireless signals must travel only a few miles, so latency is not an issue.

Wireless Is Cost-Effective

Satellite internet requires special transmitters, receivers and satellite modems. The hardware for wireless internet, on the other hand, is relatively inexpensive, available in larger quantities and easier to deploy.

The U.S. has a large installed base of wireless-ready internet hardware and systems. We have decades of experience connecting end users to the internet wirelessly. While satellite communications has its advantages, our country is better served by expanding the use of wireless networks for internet connectivity.

Learn more about our capabilities and our work creating wireless solutions by clicking below.
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