In telecom boardrooms around the world, a “wired versus wireless” broadband debate is ongoing. On one side, technologists argue that it makes more sense to advance the bandwidth offered over wireless networks than it does to lay more cable and fiber to homes in the United States. On the other, traditionalists argue for the stability and reliability of a wired connection. Both sides have valid points, but what does the future hold? Will wireless Internet eventually overtake more traditional wired services?
Proponents of wireless Internet point to developing countries across Africa and Southeast Asia where, believe it or not, wireless broadband technologies exceed most what can be found in Europe and North America. Without an established wired infrastructure already in place, telecom companies in developing nations have been free to invest in wireless Internet access rather than laying cable. As a result of this emphasis on wireless access, it’s likely you’ll find a better wireless data transfer rate in Jakarta, Indonesia, than you will in Kansas, USA.
Wireless broadband fans point to the success of wireless Internet in developing markets, as well as the ever-cheapening cost of wireless devices, as proof that the United States should move along the same path.
Proponents of wired Internet have a host of reasons to continue with the status quo, including:
- The limited number of frequencies available in the radio spectrum for use by broadband providers, which could represent a total cap on capacity
- The greater risk of interference during data transfer that is part and parcel of the wireless Internet experience
- Gaps in coverage that, despite years of investment and testing, still plague wireless networks
Wired Internet proponents also question the upper limits of wireless technology. Currently, fiber optic systems are the most robust and the fastest data networks on the planet, and wireless networks in the USA and most of Europe have yet to catch up to their speed or their reliability…and some question if there will ever be a wireless data transfer system that can match a fiber optic cable.
When you consider the benefits of wired access, it makes sense that “developed” nations like the USA continue to depend on traditional connections. Yet some cynics argue that large traditional telecom providers in North America and Europe are only against investing in wireless Internet because of the huge investments they’ve already made traditional networks. While this argument may have merit, it’s hard to prove that traditional telecoms are “holding back” wireless technology when it’s demonstrably inferior (at least at the current moment).
In the end, it would seem that in North America, at least – with its vast expanses of difficult-to-cover territory, and its well-establish traditional wired infrastructure – wireless and wired broadband services will continue to co-exist for many, many years. What’s more, major advances in wireless Internet technology will need to take place before wireless Internet can replace the speed and reliability of a wired connection.
In other words, wired Internet access is here to stay.
Author Jason Lancaster works with InternetServiceProviders.org, a website that helps consumers find cable Internet access in Florida and across the United States.