Comparison of Leased Lines and Fixed Wireless Connections
Could a wireless internet connection, installed rapidly, be a better option than a fibre leased line? It's a nice idea in theory. Unfortunately, in practice, it's seldom practical. To explain why this is, let's look at the major differences between leased lines and fixed wireless broadband connections.
Leased Line vs Fixed Wireless Broadband e.g. Wimax
Geographic Availability of Top Speeds
Fixed wireless broadband generally requires a line of sight from the ISP's antenna to your location. This results in fixed wireless broadband being available to only a small minority of UK premises. Leased lines, in contrast, are generally available to order for almost all premises. This created a catch-22 for wireless broadband. It's not been commercially feasible to roll-out nationwide due to poor coverage potential. In urban areas, there were attempts to get around this with 3D mapping of the built environment to allow coverage to be guessed to within about 90% accuracy prior to a physical survey.
Speed of Installation
Leased lines take around 30-65+ working days to install. Fixed wireless links if they are available can take a far shorter amount of time from hours to circa 3 weeks, provided there are no line-of-sight problems and the landlord doesn't object to the installation of an external antenna or microwave dish.
It's hard to generalise, as most fixed wireless broadband providers are hyper-local, e.g. serving small rural areas, rather than the UK as a whole. As a general rule, in rural locations, fixed wireless broadband tends to be offered in areas where BT has left residents with dire broadband speeds for years and some local geek has taken it upon themselves to fix the problem themselves. So, pricing isn't cheap, but BT wasn't going to offer a better alternative for years to come. In December 2019, Boris Johnson won a general election on a number of promises - including to spend £5 billion on connectivity to level up the country, including in rural areas, with an aim to deliver gigabit-capable broadband to all locations by 2025. This subsidy will improve fixed-line connectivity while making fixed wireless broadband less commercially viable.
Fixed wireless microwave links can deliver speeds of 10Gbps over short distances where there's a clear line of sight. Leased lines typically deliver fixed speeds of up to 10Gbps too. However, many wireless broadband services offer lower speeds to help keep costs down for residential customers, and because their tiny networks are set up as a high-capacity fibre leased line to a mast, which then shares out access to that leasedline wirelessly.
Again, the speeds available via fixed wireless microwave links can differ a lot depending on which provider is available in your area and their commercial model. There's no reason the upload speed couldn't be 10Gbps for fixed wireless microwave links if there's a direct line of sight and the ISP's mast is only a short distance away. However, as fixed wireless services tend to be set up for consumers (whose traffic is mainly downstream) for commercial reasons, packages tend to offer faster download speeds than upload speeds, much like standard fixed-line broadband. Leased lines offer symmetrical connection speeds.
Leased lines are uncontended. Certain fixed wireless links may also be uncontended, others may be contended, particuarly if they cater to residential consumers and SMEs.
The target market for fibre leased-lines are businesses that require more than standard broadband at their office. The target market for fixed wireless broadband is made up largely of residential consumers sick of waiting for BT to invest in fibre in their area. Some niche providers also offer Microwave links to link nearby offices that can (from the roof, with binoculars) see each other.
Leased lines tend to be reliable in all weathers. Fixed wireless links tend to be adversely impacted by water getting in the way, e.g. by heavy rain, sleet, snow etc.
Excess Construction Charges
If you're in a non-urban area where Wimax is available, there's a good chance that's because you're somewhere where fixed-line broadband connections aren't that great, because your area is of below-average density, with homes and telephone exchanges further apart than would usually be the case in the rest of the UK. This means if you install a leased line there's a greater than usual chance that you may need to pay 'excess construction charges' if you order a leased line and the survey finds that your location is unusually difficult to connect.
Leased lines will usually come with 24/7 customer support. Fixed wireless broadband connections tend to be provided by smaller providers who generally can't afford to offer that breadth of temporal coverage.