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Broadband doctor: The difference between mobile, wireless and satellite broadband

Broadband doctor Andrew Ferguson elaborates on the difference between mobile, wireless and satellite broadband – and why the latter isn't often used.
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Question: I’m not sure this is the right place to ask my question given that this is for troubleshooting problems, but I’m a bit unsure of the difference between mobile, wireless and satellite broadband. 

Answer: These are all technologies that arrive to you through the air, so can all be considered wireless broadband, but there is a difference between mobile, wireless and satellite broadband.

Mobile broadband generally refers to broadband using 3G or 4G technology, most commonly experienced via our mobile phones or Mi-Fi dongles. The mobile aspect means you are not tied to any one location and is available anywhere you can get a signal.

Some services are starting to combine 4G with routers that you can plug in at the office, so not really mobile but as they use the same 4G signals it is still referred to as mobile broadband.

Wireless is best referred to as fixed wireless and usually means you have a small external antenna on a property that has line of sight or only lightly obstructed to the main mast. The small antenna will plug into a router supplied with the service that will generally offer both Wi-Fi and Ethernet access.

Satellite broadband currently uses geo-stationary satellites located at 35,000 km (22,000 miles) from the earth and you need a satellite dish pointed at the satellite. The dishes are smaller than the ones used a decade ago but the long distance the data travels in for the two-way communication means the time between requesting some data and it starting to arrive is slower than other broadband technologies.

Coverage is very good though as long as you aren’t situated next to an airport (restrictions exist to stop interference with flight operations) and have sight of the southern sky you should be able to get the service installed. Capacity can be limited since launching more satellites is expensive, so satellite broadband is generally only used when other options are not available.

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes – and feel to ask us your broadband queries. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.

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About Author

Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson is the editor of thinkbroadband.com, having joined the thinkbroadband.com team after its launch in April 2000. His main responsibilities include development of the speed test service, tracking progress of broadband projects across the UK, writing regular commentary on its developments and news about specific ISPs. Andrew also works with contacts to resolve problems visitors experience with their connections. The ultimate goal is to ensure all visitors get access to the correct information along with trusted help and advice.

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