Originally the word "broadband" had a technical meaning, but became a marketing term for any kind of relatively high-speed computer network or Internet access technology. According to the 802.16-2004 standard, broadband means "having instantaneous bandwidths greater than 1 MHz and supporting data rates greater than about 1.5 Mbit/s." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently re-defined the definition to mean download speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbit/s.
Wireless networks can feature data rates roughly equivalent to some wired networks, such as that of asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) or a cable modem. Wireless networks can also be symmetrical, meaning the same rate in both directions (downstream and upstream), which is most commonly associated with fixed wireless networks. A fixed wireless network link is a stationary terrestrial wireless connection, which can support higher data rates for the same power as mobile or satellite systems.
Few wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) provide download speeds of over 100 Mbit/s; most broadband wireless access (BWA) services are estimated to have a range of 50 km (31 mi) from a tower. Technologies used include LMDS and MMDS, as well as heavy use of the ISM bands and one particular access technology was standardized by IEEE 802.16, with products known as WiMAX.
WiMAX is highly popular in Europe but has not met full acceptance in the United States because cost of deployment does not meet return on investment figures. In 2005 the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report and Order that revised the FCC’s rules to open the 3650 MHz band for terrestrial wireless broadband operations.
On November 14, 2007 the Commission released Public Notice DA 07-4605 in which the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced the start date for licensing and registration process for the 3650–3700 MHz band. In 2010 the FCC adopted the TV White Space Rules (TVWS) and allowed some of the better no line of sight frequency (700 MHz) into the FCC Part-15 Rules. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, a national association of WISPs, petitioned the FCC and won.
Initially, WISPs were only found in rural areas not covered by cable or DSL. These early WISPs would employ a high-capacity T-carrier, such as a T1 or DS3 connection, and then broadcast the signal from a high elevation, such as at the top of a water tower. To receive this type of Internet connection, consumers mount a small dish to the roof of their home or office and point it to the transmitter. Line of sight is usually necessary for WISPs operating in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands with 900 MHz offering better NLOS (non-line-of-sight) performance.