Fixed Wireless Access Becomes a Key Strategy for Operators in 2022

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2Q 2022 | IN-6522

Major Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are picking up Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as part of their business strategy as 5G adoption increases. The deployments of mmWave and remote work environment introduced since the COVID-19 pandemic further fosters an environment conducive for FWA. FWA promises many new opportunities, including the ability to provide lower cost broadband to underserved regions, compete against traditional wired broadband solutions, and also to drive new 5G-related use cases including video/TV streaming and IoT use cases.

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5G Drives Uptick in Adoption of FWA in North America

NEWS


Verizon recently announced the availability of Cradlepoint’s W1850 Series 5G Wideband Adapter for deployment on Verizon’s mmWave and C-Band network in March this year. This follows after an early January announcement of Cradlepoint having deployed a cumulative total of a million routers on Verizon’s network. In similar news, T-Mobile has engaged two Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), Ultra Mobile and Earthlink, to provide Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services utilizing T-Mobile’s unused mobile network capacity. Some of these developments are early indicators of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) making a big push towards FWA as a core part of their 5G strategy as 5G adoption increases.

Covid-19 and mmWave Further Drive the FWA Narrative

IMPACT


FWA is not a new concept and has been commercially deployed over the past few decades, however, the limitations of previous cellular generation technologies in providing performance connections due to lower bandwidth and latency capabilities have limited its use cases. The introduction of LTE and more advanced categories of LTE which bolster higher speeds and bandwidths over the past decade have boosted FWA adoption. This has made FWA a viable business model to provide internet access to underserved regions that may see high costs of connecting cables, either due to geographical challenges or sparse populations. Over the years, ABI Research has seen CAT 6 and CAT 12 FWA products become the mass market opportunity, primarily due to the balance between its affordability with decreasing average selling prices and performance offered to support certain use cases.

However, with 5G, FWA can potentially become a direct competitor to fixed broadband, with theoretical speeds of up to 1Gbps, according to a trial conducted by TIM, Ericsson, and Qualcomm on mmWave frequencies in late 2021. The “fiber-like” speeds promised by 5G makes FWA a viable business model which can provide low-cost and easy deployments of broadband services to fixed locations in rural or sparse areas. Furthermore, the changing dynamics of work brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted work to become more remote, thus increasing the need for quicker installations of broadband to locations that do not have existing fiber connections.

Understanding the FWA Use Cases and Opportunities

RECOMMENDATIONS


Before diving into the FWA opportunity, MNOs must understand that there are differences in the global FWA markets based on region and existing 5G rollout plans. Currently, North American, European, and Japanese markets are some of the first movers in the mmWave category, signaling readiness of the market in terms of network 5G coverage, investments, and technological capabilities to deliver 5G FWA solutions to their customers. It is also prudent to note that as such, these markets would typically consume more costly equipment in deploying their FWA Customer Premise Equipment (CPE), due to the higher demand in technical specifications including support for more frequency bands, New Radio Carrier Aggregation (NRCA) support, and up to four Component Carrier support for carrier aggregation.

While FWA has traditionally been driven by the lack of broadband fiber connections, Japan is a FWA market opportunity although the nation has high broadband fiber connections. Newer entrants such as Softbank and Rakuten are utilizing FWA as a competitive product against fiber connections, which is owned by their competitors such as NTT Docomo. As 5G adoption increases, expect to see FWA become less of an alternative solution to provide connectivity in underserved areas and more of a competitive product for fixed wired access. However, MNOs will need to be careful in ensuring that they do not cannibalize their existing fixed wired access solution sales with FWA offerings. As such, MNOs will also need to understand some of the key unique use cases that FWA can enable.

Some of these new business use cases include 5G FWA for video services and FWA services for IoT applications. 5G FWA for video services provides an opportunity for a lower cost delivery of video services compared to utilizing fiber broadband, as that business model is experiencing a year on year decrease in additional subscribers. For MNOs that are increasing their 5G network capacity, FWA for video streaming provides an opportunity to maximize usage of their spectrum and network capacity to meet the demand of an average internet household, which is estimated to consume 500 GB of data monthly. For IoT use cases, 5G FWA can enable connections of high-density devices like remote sensors over a wide area, such as water pumps in a large factor, smart port sensors, vending machines, and more through 5G’s Massive Machine-Type Communication (MMTC) capabilities. Furthermore, 5G FWA can be deployed for mobile or remote solutions, including in-train connectivity, broadband connection for ambulance and police vehicles, and 5G access for off grid power solutions, oil rigs, etc., to enable advanced industry 4.0 capabilities utilizing MMTC, Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Connections (URLLC), and Enhanced Mobile Broadband (EMBB).

 

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