5G FWA Has Been Launched Worldwide, but Can It Maintain Steady Growth in the Long Term?

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By Fei Liu | 3Q 2022 | IN-6628

Over 80 network operators have launched 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services.5G FWA, in the short term, can progress without facing capacity constraints, but steady long-term growth relies on network resource optimization, spectrum, and network densification. Due to early and wide access to Millimeter Wave (mmWave) and aggressive C-band deployments, the number of global 5G FWA connections will be driven by the United States in the near term.

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The Number of Service Providers Offering 5G FWA Has Increased by 30+% in 6 Months

NEWS


According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), more than 500 Long Term Evolution (LTE)/5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services across 170+ countries have been launched as of May 2022. LTE FWA service is mature with 430+ Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) having already launched this service. 5G FWA is deployed on a smaller scale, but the number of service providers offering 5G FWA has gone up by more than 30% in the past 6 months, pushing the total 5G FWA service to 80+. There are now 120 5G FWA Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) solutions commercially available.

5G allows operators to provide Quality of Service (QoS) offerings (i.e., higher speed and unlimited data). 4G FWA from Verizon was launched at US$40 a month for existing customers (US$60 for new customers) with download speeds of 25 Megabits per Second (Mbps). For 5G FWA, Verizon offers at a price of US$25 (or US$35) a month with autopay, and mobile plans and download speeds can be 300 Mbps (or up to 1 Gigabits per Second (Gbps)).

5G FWA Helps Operators Expand Revenue in Consumer and Enterprise Markets

IMPACT


FWA allows network operators to reuse their existing mobile infrastructure to provide faster and more affordable Internet services. In the consumer market, 5G FWA has been deployed worldwide, and the United States is driving the number of 5G FWA connections. U.S. operators see FWA as a huge opportunity; for example, two-thirds of T-Mobile’s customers live in urban and suburban areas, and many are not satisfied with cable, while one-third live in rural areas with little or no option for home broadband. T-Mobile currently serves 1 million consumers and plans to serve 7 million to 8 million by 2025 with denser macrocell infrastructure and more deployments of sub-6 Gigahertz (GHz) spectrum. Verizon plans to gain 4 million to 5 million subscribers over the same period, mainly using the C-band. The European market offers a good opportunity for 5G FWA and nearly 40 operators have already launched 5G FWA. In countries like Japan where fiber penetration is high, operators use 5G FWA to target young people who are highly mobile and newly built buildings due to the complicated process of deploying fiber. With 5G networks continuing to expand, more operators are expected to launch 5G FWA services.

5G FWA also opens up opportunities in the enterprise segment. Business venues are generally located in central areas where there is reliable fixed broadband connectivity; however, 5G FWA can be helpful for temporary use cases, outdoor events, and construction sites when fixed network infrastructure is limited or not readily accessible. Moreover, businesses located in rural areas may not have good-quality fixed broadband service. Several operators have already launched 5G FWA for business. 5G FWA from T-Mobile US is available to both residential and business consumers. Verizon’s 5G business Internet solution currently serves 2 million business in 900 cities, with plans to extend that to 14 million businesses by the end of 2025. European operators EE, Vodafone, and many more also offer 5G FWA services for businesses.

Steady 5G FWA Growth in the Long Term Depends on Optimization of Network Resources and Sufficient Network Capacity and Spectrum

RECOMMENDATIONS


The 5G FWA market is expected to experience growth across all regions with ongoing 5G network expansions, and worldwide 5G FWA is expected to reach 58 million subscriptions in 2026. The United States will be a major player in driving the number of global 5G FWA connections and will become the only region to achieve wide 5G FWA adoption in the near term, due to early and wide access to Millimeter Wave (mmWave) and aggressive C-band deployments. For 5G FWA to be successful, service providers should pay attention to the following areas:

  • Optimal Network Resource Allocation: Based on statistics from T-Mobile and Ericsson, an FWA subscriber consumes an average of 400 Gigabytes (GB) of data (some consume much more, up to 1 Terabytes (TB) or more) and a mobile user consumes an average of 10 GB to 12 GB of data per month, meaning network resources consumed by an FWA subscriber are 40X that or more. With a moderate annual growth of 30% on both, the majority of the traffic would be FWA, which will affect the Quality of Service (QoS) for mobile users, as they share the same network capacity. Profits generated by the two services are similar. Service providers need to perform detailed planning for FWA to ensure a successful business case and intelligent tools, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), could be adopted to achieve network resource optimization.
  • Sufficient Network Capacity: According to an analysis performed by Huawei, 60 Megahertz (MHz) to 100 MHz is required to deliver broadband service of 50 Megabits per Second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps for a site to cover 600 households, representing one-third of the spectrum for an operator (e.g., Verizon) that holds a total of 300 MHz C-band spectrum. Many operators may have deployed much more spectrum to deliver a better and more widely available broadband service. 5G deployments are in the early years, so there is relatively high spectrum availability and FWA can be regarded as the first successful use case. This allows operators to add FWA consumers freely. Also, the use of Massive Multiple Input, Multiple Output (mMIMO) generates excess capacity in wireless networks, creating a good opportunity for FWA. 5G FWA in the next 2 to 3 years may be able to progress without facing any capacity challenges, but there may be long-term limitations. Service providers need to carry out a proper market assessment to have a clear understanding of the capacity required for 5G FWA subscribers in the targeted markets. Those planning long-term 5G FWA expansions may need to use higher orders of mMIMO and densify their networks using small cells or cell splitting.
  • Additional Spectrum: Today, most operators are relying on mid-band spectrum to expand their coverage. To allow steady long-term 5G FWA growth and a QoS guarantee, operators will eventually need to deploy more mid-band spectrum or even deploy mmWave in some areas. Those options mean further investment costs, so a sufficient number of customers will be required to warrant the investment. Some argue that 6 GHz is an economical way to meet demands, but 6 GHz devices and infrastructure may not be available at scale until after 2025.

In the short term, 5G FWA offers a convenient way for service providers to make additional revenue by making use of their excess network capacity. But service providers need to be careful about how many FWA subscribers they can support, and what type of service they are offering (best-effort or QoS). In the long term, it may not make sense from a business perspective to take on a large number of FWA consumers (the average revenue per user is low) and acquire lots of additional spectrum to support this.

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