Wireless Broadband?

Category: Wireless

Very simply, wireless broadband is high-speed Internet access delivered without wires. It can refer to a wifi connection in your home, or to the type of wireless connections made by smartphones and other mobile devices. But what exactly is broadband and what delivers it, if not wires? Here's the scoop...

Wireless Broadband

What is Wireless Broadband?

Broadband is a rather nebulous term. And wireless broadband has several common applications as well. So let's start with a definition of broadband... Some people will tell you anything that's NOT a dialup connection (about 5Kbps) is a high-speed broadband connection. The European Organization for Economic Development considers anything faster than 256 Kbps to be broadband. And even though that's about 50 times faster than dialup, the U. S. Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as 4 Mbps or faster.

You may, indeed, be connected to a wireless router (Access Point) at 54 Mbps, or a "wireless N" router with an even faster rating. You can check that by clicking on the network icon in the Windows system tray; right-clicking on the name of the wireless network to which you are connected; and then clicking on "Status". You'll see the speed at which you are connected to the Access Point. That is the maximum speed at which you can download things from the Internet. But it's not the download speed you will get, necessarily.

The connection between the Access Point and the Internet is a critical factor. The owner of the Access Point may be paying for a slow 256 Kbps DSL connection or a blazing fast 100 Mbps fiber optic connection. In the DSL case, the fastest you will download is 256 Kbps even if your connection to the Access Point is 54 Mbps. The slowest link determines your maximum speed.

The "wireless" component of wireless broadband consists of radio signals, in common usage. The range of WiFi signals varies from a few dozen yards to up to 1.5 miles, depending on conditions such as buildings and trees that may partially block radio signal, atmospheric conditions, and how much radio interference is in the area. The range is also limited by law to prevent the unregulated WiFi signals from interfering with other radio traffic over a wide area.

Google the phrase "directional WiFi antenna" or "boost your WiFi" to find many products that claim to improve reception of weak WiFi signals. A high-gain antenna can improve reception, even pulling in signals that are otherwise out of your range, but you still won't get a connection that's faster than the Access Point. Again, it's the weakest link that determines your maximum connection speed.

Other Forms of Wireless Broadband

If you're connecting to a wireless network in a home or business setting, or in public "hotspots" found in cafes, airports, hotels, or bookstores, you're using the ubiquitous form of WiFi described above. But WiFi is not the only wireless form of broadband. Microwaves, infrared, and even visible light can carry Internet data without wires, too. Satellites in geo-stationary orbit receive microwaved Internet data from one point on Earth and broadcast it back to be picked up by dish receivers on the planet.

For those with mobile devices such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, wireless broadband can be delivered over the cellular phone network. Smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android-based phones can access the Internet over a 3G cellular connection. Tablets and ebook readers such as the iPad, Kindle and Nook can do the same, if they have the 3G feature. Laptops typically don't have the ability to connect to the cellular network, but you can buy a "wireless broadband modem" that plugs into a laptop or netbook to provide a high-speed Internet connection anywhere you can get a good cell signal. A strong 3G signal will allow you to connect at about 2Mbps, but 4G technology is just starting to roll out, promising speeds ten times faster than 3G networks.

Do you have something to say about wireless broadband? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Wireless Broadband?"

Posted by:

04 Oct 2010

I'm using Wildblue Satellite service and I can't seem to find anything available with enough bandwidth without resorting to dial-up. It is complicated by the fact that I use Ubuntu Linux 99.9% of the time, live in the middle of freaking nowhere, and have nothing to do all day except for watch tv, listen to music, and use the computer which I usually do while listening to or watching those. I have to limit my connection speed in Ubuntu Linux by using the wondershaper bandwidth shaper to keep from using up my bandwidth too fast. I also use noscript in firefox to reduce the amount of scripts I download. Does anyone know anything that would be better than wildblue in the middle of nowhere?

Posted by:

05 Oct 2010

The main problem you're dealing with (besides Wildblue's horrible caps) is latency. I was saddled with HughesNet for about 3 years. HughesNet is better, but only marginally.
I don't know about Wildblue, but HughesNet offers tiered services. IOW, pay a little more for a little more bandwidth. Bottom line: Sat data sucks. Sorry, just no other way to say it.
If you have any cell phone coverage, survey it and see if it is a better option. In my experience, 2G cell phone data is better than satellite data.

Posted by:

06 Oct 2010

What do you mean by tiered services? Wildblue has a few different amounts you can pay for different amounts of bandwidth per 30 days. Do you mean that with Hughesnet you can pay for more bandwidth when you run out of it? I already pay about 70 dollars per month I think for service with Wildblue. I don't blame you for saying Sat sucks. I agree. I've heard of 3G and 4G is 2G similar to that? How do I survey the coverage for cellphone coverage and do they make wireless signal extender if I can get cell phone data outside but not inside I might need one. Also can you use a wireless router with cell phone data service? We have about 4 computers and my mom needs to be able to use the service while I do. Would I need at least two modems so that we could? Sorry about having to ask a million questions. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by:

Stanley Fukai
08 Oct 2010

Good Morning Mr. Bob Rankin. Many years ago I used to have dial-up but I learned of the broad-band and now have the contraption called modem from AT&T and am using it now which is fine - and it works exactly as you defined it. Thank you for the explanation. In this day and age however, we still do not have a dish or antennae to bring in cable or satellite TV of any sorts and always view news and other programs as available on the regular TV broadcasts.

Perhaps I should call AT&T to inquire, but do you know whether I can subscribe to cable services via phone wires into my living room TV, be it analog or digital? (we have just converted to digital and now have the adapter). My objection has been the many lines of dangling wires to my housing unit - I am particularly interested in watching the sports tournaments overseas - such as Sumo in Japan. Being long-retired, I am of course interested in the costs. But, first things first. Can you give me an idea please on the possibilities or cable-tv via phone-wires. I will get in touch with AT % T or others after your advice or information. In the last century we used to pay about 5 to 10 dollars a month for telephone service - but now its up to 75 dollars and more. I do appreciate4 your many programs - thank you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Stanley, in some areas, AT&T, Verizon and possibly other phone companies offer fiber optic phone/tv/internet services that comes in on a single line.

Posted by:

09 Oct 2010


I will take issue with you on DSL. Here in the St. Louis area we can get DSL with up to 6 Mbps with copper lines and with fiber optic up to 10 Mbps. This is using Century Link's system, formerly Century Tel. Loved your article though and anxious to try Sprint's 4G (headquartered in Kansas City), which is supposedly in the St. Louis area now.

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