August 30, 2021 by Joanie Twersky

Fiber or Wireless Broadband: What’s Best for Your Rural Community?


When researching broadband solutions for your rural community, there’s a lot to consider. You have to document the need for broadband in your municipality, find and apply for funding, strive for consensus in your community, select business and technology partners, and more. That’s all before you build a network and launch a service!  

The last thing you want to do is get five or 10 years down the road and find that the solution you worked so hard to implement is already insufficient and outdated. We want to help you plan for a broadband network that can last for decades because it’s built to be future proof. Here's what you need to know.

Understanding Broadband Technologies

If your community is getting a new broadband network, you’re most likely deciding between fiber, wireless, or a mix of the two. However, it’s still helpful to have a basic understanding of other technologies that have been (and sometimes still are) used to deliver internet connectivity.

First, there’s Hybrid-Fiber Coax, also called HFC, COAX, or cable. This technology initially delivered cable TV to residents, so some cable providers have leveraged that existing infrastructure to provide internet services. Due to limits in what this technology can achieve as bandwidth and data demands go up, providers don’t typically consider it an option when building a new network.

Similarly, DSL is another technology that was once considered useful but is no longer selected for new broadband projects. DSL fails to deliver speeds that meet the CRTC’s minimum speed requirements objective of 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload. It simply wasn’t designed to deliver high-speed internet, and you would most likely be denied federal funding if you applied with plans to use it.

Because COAX and DSL are simply not used in new municipal networks, your rural community will be choosing between fixed wireless and fiber technologies.

Comparing Fixed Wireless to Fiber Broadband for Rural Communities

Many rural service providers are quick to jump to fixed wireless technology because it’s easy to set up and requires lower upfront capital expense for initial deployment. This makes it a useful stopgap solution for connecting unserved communities but, in areas where fiber deployments are viable, it’s not necessarily an ideal long-term solution.

Fixed wireless can deliver high-speed connectivity under ideal conditions, but poor weather, line-of-sight obstructions, and other interference can severely impede a wireless internet signal. With so much of life moving online, rural Canadians need reliable internet all day, every day—not just when conditions are ideal.

This is why, whenever possible, communities are choosing fiber technology to build their networks. In use since the 1970s and widely deployed by service providers globally, fiber is simply the all-around best available broadband technology. It can deliver high-speed internet, even over long distances, and is reliable and predictive in all conditions. Fiber also comes with the lowest cost per bit, per kilometer, making it a strong choice from a business case perspective as well.

Plus, service providers can easily lay more fiber strands than needed during construction to make later expansion extremely easy and inexpensive. As technology demands continue to increase over time, only fiber supplies a scalable, future-proof solution.

While some point to fiber technology’s high costs as a drawback, this technology can actually save communities or service providers money over time. While the upfront costs are higher, a completed fiber network offers unmatched capacity compared to wireless and enables symmetrical service. Fiber also requires far fewer operational expenses (like truck rolls and plant maintenance) than wireless technology. 

Nevertheless, fiber to the home (FTTH) isn’t always feasible, particularly in drastically remote or rural locales. In these cases, many professionals will recommend a fiber network as your backbone with the option to use fixed wireless technology to access more remote customers. This can be described as a “fiber where you can, wireless where you must” approach and is a popular solution for rural connectivity. 

As you’re planning your network, consultants can help you design a specific solution for your community that accounts for the geographical opportunities and challenges in your service area. This customized approach is key to achieving cost-effective connectivity.

Why Fiber Is a Long-Term Investment

As you compare fiber and fixed wireless technologies for your community, think beyond upfront costs. You want this network to last your municipality for decades, so keep a long-term lens as you conduct your cost-benefit analysis.

Fixed wireless technologies that are cheaper to deploy on the front-end can ultimately cost a community more in long-term operational expenses. Plus, technologies that can barely provide the currently mandated speeds of 50/10 Mbps will soon be outdated. 

The latest research shows that these speeds are insufficient for modern internet usage. If your technology can’t meet future demands of 4k streaming, 5G technologies, and other developments on the horizon, you’ll be forced to build a fiber network in a few years anyway.

One more thing to keep in mind from a business-case perspective: A fiber network can stimulate economic development in your community. This can help you recoup the upfront costs and generate revenue locally. Be sure to explore those possibilities when deciding if, when, and how to use fiber in your network.

To better understand the business case for your various choices, book your free Broadband Consult with Calix today. You can also download our free guide, “The Five Broadband Partners Your Municipality Needs (And How To Find Them).”