The Difference Between Licensed and Unlicensed Spectrum for Fixed Wireless

Posted by Sam Mountstephens on Mar 29, 2018 10:03:00 AM

Fixed wireless internet is a method of high-speed connectivity that relies on microwave communication between an internet service provider’s (ISP) transmitter radio and a receiver dish located on the customer’s rooftop. The connection operates within the radio spectrum which is defined by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as ‘the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.’

Within the radio spectrum there are several radio frequency bands. Some bands, known as unlicensed links or unlicensed spectrum, are unrestricted and available for any and all wireless communications providers to use. Alternatively, licensed links are allocated selectively and require FCC approval before providers are able to utilize the capacity.

Unlicensed Fixed Wireless Links

The term “unlicensed” is slightly misleading. It’s not as sinister as it sounds. Instead, it simply means that the spectrum is free to obtain.

Although there are clear instructions for use, ISPs do not need a permit to operate within these radio frequency bands. Typically, unlicensed links are the avenue of choice for both ISPs and customers. They are quick to set up, easy to maintain and cost-effective.

Unlicensed links can still offer 99.999% reliability. Fixed wireless providers can setup their network correctly to ensure this.However, if multiple providers operate on the same frequency in the same area, unlicensed links can be susceptible to interference. To avoid this situation, the majority of carriers initiate two tactics:

  • The first is to operate short-distance connections between their own transmitter radio and the customer’s receiver radio. By minimizing the distance between the two locations, the provider reduces the chance of crossing paths with another provider operating on the same frequency band.
  • Secondly, with each new connection request, network engineers employ spectrum analysis to determine a suitable radio frequency. This allows carriers to ensure that customers benefit from an uninterrupted fixed wireless connection.

Licensed Fixed Wireless Links

Licensed links function within bands of the radio frequency spectrum that have been designated by the FCC. To own and operate a licensed system, an ISP must apply for a license from the FCC. The process to complete an application and obtain approval can take up to 45 days. Upon receipt of the permit, ISPs are authorized to use part of the band over an assigned geographic area.

There are several benefits of licensed point to point-to-point microwave radios. High bandwidth links of over 30 miles can be achieved. In addition, the connection will be free of interference at 99.999% predictable reliability. However, customers seeking to power a fixed wireless connection with the purchase of a licensed link can expect to pay considerably more than those who choose an unlicensed link.

The primary issue with licensed spectrum is cost. The upfront cost of a license will be passed on to the customer, while a high bandwidth, long-distance connection will result in a substantial monthly bill.

Does My Business Need a Licensed or Unlicensed Fixed Wireless Link?

In the majority of cases, an unlicensed link will suffice. Unlicensed spectrum possesses all of the same capabilities and guarantees of licensed spectrum but at a fraction of the price.

Despite this, some circumstances can require a licensed link. Customers may need to protect protect against areas of frequency congestion or guarantee a clear connection to sites located a considerable distance from the ISPs transmitter radio.

Regardless of whether your business requires a licensed or unlicensed connection, fixed wireless internet represents an excellent dedicated internet access option.

To learn more about how licensed or unlicensed fixed wireless can benefit your business, please contact us today at 404-303-9900 or


Topics: Fixed Wireless, unlicensed spectrum, licensed spectrum