Service providers worldwide are taking another look at the potential of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). With data rates promising to rival fiber, is 5G FWA the route to short-term 5G monetization and, if so, how do mobile service providers make it both attractive to users and commercially viable?
Fixed Wireless Access is growing rapidly
There’s strong and growing demand for broadband services globally, with more than 7 billion mobile broadband connections, a market that has grown 7% per year for the last five years (Ericsson 2022), and a further 1.4 billion fixed broadband connections. FWA is already offered by 535 operators in 136 countries and connections are set to triple from 100 million in 2022 to 300 million by 2028.
There are three main reasons why FWA deployments are growing, let’s explore what these are:
1. Competing with fixed broadband
For pure play mobile service providers, FWA offers the possibility of fiber-like speeds to help them compete with fixed line or multiplay competitors. Here FWA enables them to enter the household market and adds new upsell opportunities to their portfolio, such as streaming media, smart home solutions, home working packages and more.
This is where FWA’s faster deployment speed can help mobile players gain first mover advantage over fixed broadband competitors, as it is up to four times faster to deploy than fiber. But even in markets with extensive existing fixed broadband infrastructure, FWA allows mobile operators to target the installed customer bases of fixed and cable operators with cheaper offers where there is little or no existing competition.
2. Connecting the unconnected
While fiber-to-the home (FTTH) has long been considered the “gold standard” for broadband, it isn’t always possible, cost-effective or quick to connect every customer via fiber. Broadband Communities Magazine, for example, calculated that the cost of connecting rural homes via fiber is 2.5 times more than the cost of connecting them via FWA. FWA is also a substantially less risky strategy in low population density areas, because service providers are able to re-use spare capacity, monetising what would otherwise be wasted.
In fact, rather than seeing FWA and FTTH as separate and competitive, it’s better to view these technologies as complementary. This approach – known as hybrid networking – involves integrating and leveraging the advantages of each of these technologies to maximize coverage and meet customer needs. Fiber can be used to provide solid and reliable connections in urban areas, or to those with higher bandwidth demands, for example. Whereas FWA can be used to extend the network quickly and cost-effectively, or target customers that fiber can’t reach, helping to bridge the digital divide and ensure no-one is left behind.
This is exactly the approach taken by Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), whose remit is to connect all Australians to fast broadband as quickly and affordably as possible. NBN uses a hybrid, technology-agnostic approach, selecting the most appropriate technology for the household or area.
In Scandinavia where it’s common to have second homes, there’s an opportunity to also offer FWA to country houses, which are frequently in remote areas that are not possible to connect with fiber. This market can be substantial – comprising 400,000 cottages in Norway and 600,000 in Sweden, for example.
3. Replacing copper
Many countries are planning to decommission their legacy copper networks – such as Sweden, The Netherlands, Norway. Portugal, Spain and the UK – while Singapore and Jersey have already completed their decommissioning. Other service providers are choosing to replace damaged copper networks with a combination of fiber and FWA. The reasons for doing so are largely cost based.
According to Arthur D Little, for example, the cost of maintaining legacy copper networks is two to seven times higher than fiber, while energy costs are three to six times higher and network fault rates are five to 10 times higher. Added to this are hidden secondary costs, such as the cost of handling customer complaints and inquiries when things go wrong.
As with the case for infilling where fixed broadband is uneconomic, FWA has an important role to play as part of a hybrid networking strategy when copper legacy networks are replaced. In fact, DSL replacement is considered to be one of the biggest opportunities for FWA.
Data is key to successful Fixed Wireless Access deployment
Customer experience is vital to FWA success, as it’s essential that FWA delivers both a reliable and high-quality way to connect to the internet. Historically, mobile service providers often underestimated FWA data consumption and sold the service irrespective of available capacity. This meant that either service quality didn’t meet customer expectations, or additional capacity had to be added at considerable expense and without a clear business case – undermining the profitability of the service.
In our next post, we’re going to explore how accurate insight underpins both successful FWA rollout as well as the sort of experience and support customers expect.