In South Africa’s wide open and expansive geography, the majority of people live in cities. But elsewhere access to services such as Internet can be problematic. Fixed wireless internet helps small towns, farmers, communities and rural residents get stable, fast internet.
How does fixed wireless deliver broadband?
Fibre is too expensive to install in remote areas. So, our members use fibre to link a high tower to the Internet. They then beam a high-speed wireless Internet signal to customers. They can send the signal in any direction and receive from anywhere, even many kilometres away. Although the signal can be sent and received in any direction, each signal is sent directly to a specific customer’s premises – like water travelling along a pipe rather than spraying in all directions from a sprinkler.
All the towers are connected by fibre or, where the towers are also remotely located, they are linked by even higher speed wireless. That lets the service providers cover the biggest distances. It’s a lot quicker and much more cost-effective for the service providers to set this up compared with fibre.
How does fixed wireless work?
Customers get a small dish-like antenna installed at their premises on the outside of the building. It plugs into your normal household or business premises power. Most fixed wireless service providers, called WISPS, install solar or backup power supplies at their towers. That way, if you have a battery backup system (not a UPS but a proper inverter-based backup system) then it means you can continue to get internet even when the main power supply is down.
Why would I use satellite?
Satellite Internet is complementary technology. Satellites orbit the Earth at different altitudes. The higher they are the longer it takes to send and receive a signal from them, which can affect some applications like gaming. The new satellite constellations, like ones from companies such as Elon Musks’s Starlink, will orbit close to Earth so we can expect their signals to travel faster. Newer satellites also tend to offer better Internet speeds because they have the latest technologies.
However, regardless of which type is used, satellite is seen as very reliable. It is also available anywhere on Earth that can see the sky. For some people it’s their only way to connect.
It sees a lot of use in South Africa for business that needs a reliable connection, such as ATMs. A lot of businesses also use it as a backup service, so if their main Internet link goes down, they automatically switch to satellite, usually only paying for the service when they actually use it. Satellite is also used for GPS tracking, which is now common on late-model smartphones and even smartwatches. Satellite also provides connectivity for cruise ships. It’s an old and proven technology, having been around since the first satellite, Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957.
Given the current costs, satellite would not normally be your first choice for Internet connectivity. But where there is no other connectivity, or where connectivity is unstable because of cell tower battery theft and you need a reliable alternative, current satellite options are great. We can expect that to improve as the new low Earth orbit satellite constellations such as Starlink, OneWeb and others come online in the next couple of years or so. But even Elon Musk has commented that satellite is intended for low to medium population density areas and will not overtake other technologies in dense urban areas.
Fixed wireless Internet offers great broadband connectivity for a lot of people who don’t live in large cities. You can do e-mail, Internet, streaming and more on fixed wireless, including have a telephone on the same connection. And you can keep your existing number.
WAPA’s WISP members are bound by our code of conduct. It gives you peace of mind that they provide a quality service and that you have some recourse.