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Today's Wireless Renaissance is Bringing Faster, Cheaper Internet–Everywhere

If this is the first time you're seeing the term "wireless renaissance" then believe me, it won't be the last.¹ It's totally apropos for what's happening now, speaking to a whole new level of technology and customer choice. It hasn't been this exciting to be in the (fixed) wireless business since the breakup of AT&T. Technical and regulatory barriers are coming down like the Berlin Wall. What's happening?

In short, wireless has evolved to a price/performance level where it's become a viable option for high-speed internet to the home. Don't get me wrong, fiber to the door is awesome and so is a first class flight. However, if first class was the only way to fly, most of us would be grounded–and so it's been with consumers waiting for fiber to the door. Yet fiber and wireless are complementary solutions, in the same way that airports need taxis and buses. When you fly to Chicago, the plane doesn't come to your driveway, and neither does fiber need to pull up to your door.

Millions of Americans are still without high-speed internet due to the prohibitive cost of bringing it by fiber optic cable. (For instance, read about the town of Rockport, Maine, which voted against high-speed internet expansion.) Millions more are locked into a single cable TV provider, paying for triple-play services and such, when they'd rather have more bandwidth and internet TV. (For more on that, check out this piece in Wired, "Internet TV's Big Chance to Oust Cable is Almost Here.")

If you're at all skeptical because of wireless limitations, then I offer two thoughts. For one, consider that wireless (a.k.a., "radio") was the first mass broadcast medium. It beamed signals into our homes, informing and entertaining millions of listeners at once. Is it so far-fetched to think that almost 100 years after radio made it into our lives, it might be beaming internet into all our homes?

Also, I get that there are still some limitations to the technology, but players no less than Google and Facebook are figuring out how to beam internet to every square inch of the planet, and I wouldn't bet against them. And crazy things are happening with the technology that seem to defy physics. Transmitters and receivers are now able to run on the same frequencies, vendors like Siklu are hitting 5 gigabit/second throughputs in a single point-to-point radio, and Tarana Wireless seems to be able to broadcast high-speed internet with absolutely no line of sight. (Watch their YouTube video on a demo they did in Manhattan. Seriously, watch it and then you might want to check this one out, which is even crazier. For me it was like witnessing an alien landing. I'm still scratching my head.)

Meanwhile closer to earth, vendors like Mimosa Networks and Cambium Networks have innovative solutions they're bringing to homes right now, and ISPs are spinning new, empowering business models, providing affordable, high-speed access previously unheard of to communities around the Midwest and northern California. Check out this case study on California ISP, Sail Internet, and here's another case study on Triad Wireless out of Phoenix.

And now to cap it all off, just last week the FCC opened up a huge amount of spectrum in the millimeter wave bands, to propel development of 5G. "Wireless renaissance"? Yes, indeed. Stay tuned because things are only going to get more interesting!

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¹PS: The earliest reference I found to "wireless renaissance" dates to September 2012, in a presentation by Theodore "Ted" Rappaport of NYU. Ted is the world's foremost authority on millimeter wave frequencies, which are essential for 5G.

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