Compared to more established wired services like DSL and cable Internet, wireless technology brings added convenience and mobility to computer networks. The below sections describe each popular type of wireless Internet service available.
Satellite InternetIntroduced in the mid 1990s, satellite became the first mainstream consumer wireless Internet service. Satellite access initially worked only in one direction, for downloading information. Subscribers needed to install a standard dialup modem and use a telephone line in conjunction with the satellite to make a functional system. Newer forms of satellite service remove this limitation and support full two-way connectivity.
Compared to other forms of wireless Internet service, satellite enjoys the advantage of availability. Requiring only a small dish antenna, satellite modem and subscription plan, satellite works in almost all rural areas not serviced by other technologies.
However, satellite also offers relatively low performing wireless Internet. Satellite suffers from high latency (delay) connections due to the long distance signals must travel between Earth and the orbiting stations. Satellite also supports relatively modest amounts of network bandwidth.
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Public Wi-Fi NetworksSome municipalities have built their public wireless Internet service using Wi-Fi technology. These so-called mesh networks join numerous wireless access points together to span larger urban areas. Individual Wi-Fi hotspots also provide public wireless Internet service in select locations.
Wi-Fi is a low-cost option relative to other forms of wireless Internet service. Equipment is inexpensive (many newer computers have the needed hardware built in), and Wi-Fi hotspots remains free in some locales. Availability can be a problem, however. You won't find public Wi-Fi access in most suburban and rural areas.
Note that so-called Super Wi-Fi is a different form of wireless than Wi-Fi itself. More properly known as white spaces technology, Super Wi-Fi runs over a different part of the wireless spectrum and utilizes different radios than Wi-Fi. For a few reasons, white spaces technology has not yet been widely adopted and may never become a popular form of wireless.
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Fixed Wireless BroadbandNot to be confused with either satellite Internet or Wi-Fi hotspots, fixed wireless is a type of broadband that utilizes mounted antennas pointed at radio transmission towers.
Mobile BroadbandCell phones have existed for decades, but only recently have cellular networks evolved to become a mainstream form of wireless Internet service. With an installed cellular network adapter, or by tethering a cell phone to a laptop computer, Internet connectivity can be maintained in any area with cell tower coverage.
Older cellular communication protocols allowed for only very low speed networking. Newer 3G cell technologies like EV-DO and UMTS promise to deliver network speeds closer to those of DSL and other wired networks.
Many cellular providers sell Internet subscription plans separate from their voice network contracts. Generally speaking, mobile broadband service will not function without having an Internet data subscription in place from some provider.
WiMax is a relatively new form of wireless Internet. It utilizes base stations similar to cellular networks, but WiMax is designed specifically to provide data access and services rather than voice phone communications. When it becomes more mature and widely deployed, WiMax promises to offer full roaming capability and much higher performance networking than satellite at a lower cost.
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