The most significant competitor to high-speed Internet brought to the home or business via DSL, cable or fiber with Wi-Fi connecting devices is 5G for home service, also known as fixed wireless access (FWA). FWA in conjunction with 5G is a scalable and cost-effective broadband technology, with a wireless connection providing the “last mile”. While the tower is connected to a larger network with wires and/or radio links. No wires are required to the customer premises, only a wireless receiving device. Here are five things to know about the transformative FWA market.
1. Replace, not supplement
Regulatory advocates and cable companies have argued that wireless broadband is a complement, not a substitute, for wired broadband. However, with increasing capacity and competitive prices, consumers are finding that FWA meets their broadband needs. There are already some 7 million FWA homes in the United States. For the first quarter of 2022, T-Mobile has just declared 1 million FWA customers, one year after its launch. Verizon added 194,000 net FWA subscriptions, 2.5 times the level in the fourth quarter of 2021. AT&T has half a million FWA customers. In local markets across the country, dozens of small and medium suppliers occupy the FWA space. FWA is expected to soon represent 10% of all broadband connections in the United States. In contrast, FTTH now accounts for around 20% of all connections in the United States.
FWA is compatible with any radio frequency, but deployment will depend on operators having access to existing wireless frequencies and services. The frequencies used include the 800 MHz, 1.8 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands for rural and suburban areas and 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz for urban areas. While the United States is considered a world leader in commercial spectrum management, federal spectrum use has remained largely unchanged over the past century. Although the United States has enjoyed record spectrum auctions like C-band, it lags behind in sufficient mid-band spectrum compared to other modern nations. This scarcity has made private wireless service providers efficient users of spectrum while federal users maintain increasingly obsolete technologies. Consider that due to lack of standards, 50-year-old altimeters can still be used in aircraft, but mobile base stations are kept up to date with international technical processes.
3. Services and Internet of Things (IoT)
While FWA’s current use case is home and office broadband (think streaming video entertainment, web browsing, and social media), FWA incorporates the broader 5G technical standards and capabilities by speed, security and reliability. This means FWA can power the industries of the future with seamless, secure, low-latency connectivity like advanced telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality/virtual reality, and solutions for the manufacturing and energy sectors.
New antenna technologies such as multiple input multiple output (MIMO) in cell towers can provide more capacity over a greater distance. Instead of blind signals sent in all directions, Smart Signal targets the receiver exactly where it is. As such, FWA is emerging as a solution for suburban and rural areas with speeds as high as 1 Gbps (1000 gigabits) over four miles.
5. Competition and the copper killer
The explosion of wireless technologies in the United States has led to price cuts in wired broadband. Wireline technology prices have fallen 42% over the past six years. In countries with high DSL usage like Germany and the UK, FWA is considered the “copper killer” because it is more cost effective to access high-speed wireless broadband than existing DSL networks . AT&T recently announced a halving of its copper footprint by 2025, and Verizon has already upgraded 4.5 million circuits on its network from copper. Internationally, Norway is in the process of decommissioning all DSL networks.
Advances in 5G technology have transformed the viability of wireless as a home broadband solution. FWA’s high speeds and low latency can serve as a true substitute for cable’s wired broadband connections. Lower costs and fewer last-mile constraints mean more homes and businesses will be able to connect, bringing us closer to ending the digital divide. As wireless carriers continue to innovate and deploy large blocks of spectrum, FWA will reach millions of Americans and consumers around the world.