What is wireless broadband (WiBB)?

by Zoya Cochran, Principal Content Strategist, AT&T

Wireless broadband, sometimes called “wireless broadband internet,” is a high-speed connection to the internet or a private network delivered through a cell or satellite signal. While wired broadband transmits a signal through a buried fiber optic cable, digital subscriber lines, or other wired means (wireline services), wireless broadband transmits the broadband signal in the form of cellular radio waves.

Wireless broadband’s flexibility and capabilities for growth make it an increasingly popular choice as a backup for business fiber internet services (also known as “fiber”). It’s also popular for businesses that have off-site employees who require remote connectivity. When combined with fiber, 5G, and fixed wireless internet services, the result is an expansive footprint of internet connectivity.

It can be quick to set up and offer more flexibility than wired internet access. It’s also a good option when you’re outside a fiber footprint or other internet connectivity isn’t available. These scenarios could include a pop-up retail location like a food truck or at a farmer’s market, or a special event like a trade show.

Types of wireless broadband

Wireless broadband is either fixed or mobile. You can choose one of these options or a combination of the two, depending on how and where the connecting device operates and what other connectivity options are available.

Fixed wireless broadband

Fixed wireless connections are transmitted by a service provider to a specific static location like an office building or campus. Transmitters can be mounted on almost any tall structure, including antenna towers, rooftops, light poles, silos, and water towers.

Mobile wireless broadband

Mobile wireless broadband can be deployed quickly since it only requires a small hotspot device to receive the transmission and a rate plan to subscribe to the coverage. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops are examples of mobile connections. Like fixed wireless broadband, they connect to the internet or a network through wireless cell signals transmitted from cell towers. As devices move from place to place, they connect to different transmitters along the way.

How does wireless broadband internet work?

Wireless broadband internet can be delivered using satellite or cellular transmissions. Both start with a service provider like AT&T that licenses portions of the electromagnetic spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Licensing gives service providers the right to deliver satellite and cellular transmissions—or simply “broadband”—to business and home subscribers in exchange for subscription fees.

Think of broadband as a superhighway from your devices to the internet. As noted earlier, it can be wired, as in business fiber internet, or wireless, with cellular or satellite connections. Let’s say the superhighway is a wireless cellular radio signal. This signal is delivered through 4G LTE or 5G. This can be enterprise-grade 5G for business, which can include additional product options.  In either case it’s the same principle: The service provider transmits the broadband signal from a cell tower. From there, the signal is picked up by the subscriber’s device access point.

Once the signal reaches an access point, there are a few options. For one, users can connect to wireless broadband internet through a hotspot. This is often used when the user is connecting from a mobile or remote location. When at a fixed location, the subscriber can run high-capacity Ethernet cables from the access point to various locations in the building, which can provide additional security. And a third option is for the subscriber to install routers that distribute the signal from the access point to users via Wi-Fi®, enabling users to connect using Bluetooth®.

Business subscribers pay providers for this wireless broadband internet access. Some providers require a contract. Others use a no-contract approach that gives subscribers more flexibility to adjust their plans as needed.

Is wireless broadband the same as Wi-Fi?

Wireless broadband is not the same as Wi-Fi. These are two connecting parts that enable you to access the internet. Wi-Fi is how you connect to a broadband transmission through a gateway (such as a hotspot) or router from a service provider like AT&T. The transmission can be public, which doesn't require a password, or private, which only allows for authorized applications or devices to connect to it. In summary, your hotspot device uses Wi-Fi to connect you to a wireless broadband transmission for internet connectivity. 

Limitations of wireless broadband

One of the primary uses of wireless broadband is to provide users with flexibility. Because it’s connecting through a hotspot, it might also have limitations.

  1. If you choose a rate plan that has low data limits, you may be charged for going over on your data. However, your provider likely offers multiple data plans with the flexibility to upgrade your subscription if you find you need a higher data limit.
  2. Your hotspot must still connect to a strong signal. If you’re connecting to a network that’s experiencing downtime or an outage, your connectivity through your hotspot may be impacted.
  3. Unauthorized users may try to connect to your hotspot. It’s important to have a strong password and adjust your settings to block access to your hotspot and devices.

It’s important to make sure the connection’s speed, latency, bandwidth, and reliability are a good match for the applications and processes your wireless broadband connection is supporting.

Business considerations for wireless broadband

We’ve covered that wireless broadband enables you to provide connectivity to your teams when they need remote and mobile connectivity. You’re able to provide comprehensive coverage to help them stay connected, address their work tasks, and service your customers.

Another benefit of wireless broadband is that you can use it to assign specific tasks that are normally on your wired, or “wireline,” networks that are within your fiber footprint. You’re able to alleviate some of the demand on your primary network. It also can be a companion alongside dedicated internet, which isn’t shared with other businesses. For example, if you’re in retail or food service, you can assign point-of-sale applications to wireless broadband. A healthcare facility might assign certain clinic processes to wireless broadband. This strategy can free up fiber connections for demanding, high-use applications like streaming and public Wi-Fi.

Wireless broadband can also be a backup and ensure you have continuous service in case the primary wireline connection fails.

Cost effectiveness

If your service provider offers multiple speed options, you can choose the speed and subscription level that works for you. This can be a great benefit, especially if your business experiences seasonal fluctuations in wireless broadband usage. For example, when you know you’ll have less demand on your network, you may be able to change your subscription level to a plan that has slower speeds and costs less.

Scalability and reliability

Mobile wireless broadband allows you to replicate your internet connectivity off site. Retail stores and restaurants that offer pop-up locations can find the reliable support they need for point-of-sale transactions, general operations, and other needs. It also provides connectivity for high-bandwidth applications, such as at a construction site or to support Internet of Things (IoT) devices when other connectivity isn’t available.

Security measures

Mobile wireless broadband providers secure their wireless transmissions through encryption. This is especially important when your devices and access points are away from the added security of your primary network. Work with a service provider that has deep expertise in data security to help detect and prevent threats and build a defense in depth strategy.

Is wireless broadband viable for your business?

Now that you understand how wireless broadband works and how it might benefit your business, here are a few things to consider when integrating wireless broadband into your connectivity infrastructure.

Coverage. While wireless broadband does deliver connectivity for remote work and mobile devices, there are challenges that might interfere with its connectivity. For example, it’s important to have a clear line of sight between cell towers. Buildings, specifically concrete and metal, may interfere with broadband transmissions. Other inhibitors can include microwaves, thick furniture, and band competition from nearby routers.

Capacity. You need enough bandwidth for the data that wireless broadband will carry. High-data applications mean that you need a hotspot and rate plan that offer sufficient support. Fortunately, some providers give multiple options without a contract. This gives you the ability to choose and change plans based on your expected usage.

Security. Any access point to a network can be exploited unless you have a cybersecurity plan in place to protect it. When devices are mobile, they’re more vulnerable to this risk. As with all internet connectivity, a multi-layered security strategy is the best approach. This might include single sign-on, virtual private network (VPN), or other security layers that protect your data.

Wireless broadband helps liberate your teams to service your customers off site. It can also be a viable backup for your on-site operations. You have the flexibility to choose the devices and plans that work best for you based on your location needs and data usage. Combined with fiber, 5G, and fixed wireless internet, wireless broadband plays an important role in your comprehensive connectivity plan.

Learn more about our wireless broadband solutions. To connect with an expert who knows business, contact your AT&T Business representative.

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