‘Wireless fiber’ could give us gigabit Internet speeds with no cables at all

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So, you're on the hunt for a new home-Internet provider. The one you like seems to offer fast, reliable service, but its footprint ends just short of where you happen to live — and there aren't many other options in your area. Too bad: Looks like you'll be sticking with slow speeds and lackluster customer support while your luckiest neighbors get to surf without interruption. For many Americans, this isn't hypothetical. It's reality.

Until now, there weren't many ways around this problem. But thanks to a technology some Internet service providers (ISPs) expect to roll out next year, Americans dreaming of better, faster broadband may actually be able to get it.

To understand how, let's start with key concepts about how Internet service works. Most residential broadband today runs over cables that are laid in the ground or strung on telephone poles, that then branch off and tunnel directly into your house. Laying these cables is costly, which is why many Internet providers expand slowly — or not at all, if they're worried the returns can't justify the outlays.

Cellular Internet is a little different. Cell towers are expensive, too, but they create a one-to-many connection that serves thousands of mobile devices wirelessly — rather than creating a dedicated pipe to a single, fixed destination such as a home or business. The speeds aren't quite as fast on mobile data as what you get with fixed broadband, but for basic Web browsing and video, it's good enough.

Now, imagine if you could take the convenience of cellular data and combine it with the superfast download speeds associated with fixed, wired broadband. What might that look like?

‘Wireless fiber’ could give us gigabit Internet speeds with no cables at all