Announcing a new Tell us what you think and help shape the future
Federal Communications Commission Logo - Click here to go to the FCC home page

Broadband Opportunities for Rural America


Broadband Opportunities

Wireless Broadband Services

Wireless Broadband Technologies

Wireless broadband services transmit data and information at high speeds using wireless links. Such data and information can include a wide range of content and applications that are accessed over the Internet, including web sites, e-mail, instant messaging, music, games, or data stored on a corporate server. Wireless broadband Internet access services can be provided using mobile, fixed, or portable technologies. These technologies can transmit data over short, medium, or long ranges, and can use licensed spectrum and/or unlicensed devices. Some of the wireless broadband Internet access technologies in use today include CDMA 1x EV-DO (EV-DO), Wideband CDMA (WCDMA) with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), and Wi-Fi.

wireless imageMobile broadband technologies enable subscribers to access the Internet while traveling at high speeds via a mobile handset, a smartphone, or a wireless modem card connected to a laptop computer or PDA. Mobile broadband technologies used by carriers in the United States, such as EV-DO and WCDMA/HSPDA, are capable of transmitting data at speeds ranging in excess of 400 kbps.

Technologies such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) enable providers to offer wireless broadband services that are often considered "portable" in nature. Providers using licensed spectrum in the BRS/EBS and WCS spectrum currently offer services that enable their subscribers to access the Internet with portable, "plug-and-play" modem devices that attach to a desktop or laptop computer and do not require a direct line-of-sight between the transmitter and the receiver. Customers can transport these modem devices to other locations in the provider's coverage area where a network signal is available, though they may not have the ability to maintain a connection while traveling at high speeds with handoff. Most devices are currently manufactured in accordance with vendor-specific, proprietary standards; however, standardized, 802.16 WiMAX equipment is being developed. Typical downstream speeds for portable wireless broadband services range from 768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps, and networks can extend five to 30 miles.

Wireless broadband Internet access services offered over fixed networks allow consumers to access the Internet from a fixed point while stationary and often require a direct line-of-sight between the wireless transmitter and receiver. These services have been offered using both licensed spectrum and unlicensed devices. For example, thousands of small Wireless Internet Services Providers (WISPs) provide such wireless broadband at speeds of around one Mbps using unlicensed devices, often in rural areas not served by cable or wireline broadband networks. These networks typically have a reach of one to five miles, and customers must have a rooftop antenna that can establish a line-of-sight connection with the network transmitter.

Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) provide wireless broadband access over shorter distances and are often used to extend the reach of a "last-mile" wireline or fixed wireless broadband connection within a home, building, or campus environment. The range of a typical WLAN is approximately 100 to 300 feet. The most prevalent WLAN equipment is manufactured in accordance with the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, commonly known as "Wi-Fi," short for wireless fidelity. Wi-Fi networks use unlicensed devices and operate under Part 15 of the FCC's rules applicable to frequency hopping systems in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. Wi-Fi networks can transfer data at speeds of up to 11 Mbps for 802.11b and up to 54 Mbps for 802.11a and 802.11g. They can be designed for private access within a home or business, or can be used for public Internet access at "hot spots" such as restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, airports, convention centers, and city parks.

Personal area network technologies, such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Ultra-Wideband (UWB), are used to transmit data over very short distances, such as a few meters or across a room. They are often used to provide interconnectivity among mobile devices and between mobile and desktop devices, serving as a replacement for wires and cables that connect different electronic devices together. The data transfer rates range from around 300 kbps with ZigBee to 100 Mbps with UWB.

Wireless Broadband Services
There are a variety of terrestrial wireless technologies available or being developed to provide broadband services. There are a range of options for accessing spectrum for wireless and satellite broadband services, including spectrum auctions, spectrum leasing, public safety spectrum licensing, and the use Part 15 equipment in license-exempt spectrum bands.
How to Access Spectrum for Wireless Broadband Services
How to Find a Licensee in Your Area

Wireless Resources
 Diagram of Wireless Broadband Networks (pdf)
 FCC's Wireless Broadband Task Force Report
 Wireless Broadband Fact Sheet (pdf)
 FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
 FCC Office of Engineering & Technology
 Wireless Broadband Forum (2004)
 Rural Wireless ISP Showcase and Workshop (2003)
 Wireless Competition Reports
 Spectrum Auctions
 Secondary Markets
 Wireless Facilities Siting Issues

FCC Proceedings Related to Wireless Broadband
The FCC has several ongoing proceedings related to wireless broadband services, spectrum, and technology.

 FCC Proceedings Related to Wireless Broadband

Return to Top Arrow Return to Top
Last reviewed/updated on