Ericsson’s Mobility Report forecasts FWA (fixed wireless access) connections will “show strong growth of 17% annually through 2027.” That compares to anticipated wireline broadband growth over the same period of only 4%. The Ericsson report states that 57 network operators have deployed FWA commercial networks. Finnish telco DNA says FWA is its most popular broadband offering.
Ericsson says Latin America and North America are markets where FWA will play a role in closing the digital divide. Africa may also be promising because of its large rural population and the limited alternatives.
GSMA Intelligence is also enthusiastic about FWA. In a recent blog post it described FWA “as one of the most promising 5G use cases,” providing “an incremental opportunity to maximize the value of existing network assets.”
So is Dell’Oro Group’s Jeff Heynen. He wrote in an IEEE Techblog post, “We estimate that the total number of 5G FWA devices shipping to operators this year will easily exceed 3 million units and could push 4 million units. The vast majority of these units will be to support sub-6Ghz service offerings, though we also expect to see millimeter wave units, as some operators use a combination of those technologies to provide both extensive coverage and fiber-like speeds in areas where the competition from fixed broadband providers is more intense. Overall, however, we expect volumes first from sub-6GHz units this year and into next year, followed by increasing volumes of millimeter wave units beginning in the latter part of 2022 and into 2023.”
Not to be outdone, an Accenture analysis commissioned by the CTIA argues that 5G FWA can serve as many as 43% of rural households.
Currently fixed wireless, using either 4G or some other technology, accounts for fewer than 100 million worldwide subscribers.
The challenge for 5G, as for earlier generations, is that wireless doesn’t always deliver the best performance or the strongest business case.
But two years is a long time, especially when that period includes COVID-19, and we now find that Globe has shifted away from FWA to actual fiber.
Globe’s total fixed wireless subs fell 17% sequentially in Q3 while FTTH subs grew 35%, the company said in a filing. Total home broadband revenues grew 39% thanks to “the accelerated digital habits of the Filipinos brought about by the pandemic.”
China, the global 5G champion with 450 million users, is also indifferent to the possibilities of fixed wireless. You would think this nation with a rural population of some 530 million and vast sparsely settled regions would be a prime market for FWA, but its home broadband priority is gigabit fiber.
Geography is likely the main reason for limited 5G FWA take-up worldwide. 5G is strong in countries already well-served by fiber. Those markets where operators are likely to grow FWA are still in their early stages.
We believe that 5G FWA has great potential. That is because no standard 5G core network is required and there is no roaming between carriers. As such, non standard/operator specific private 5G SA core networks can be deployed that can deliver a range of 5G core enabled services, e.g. network slicing, automation, security, MEC, enhanced network management.
However, URLLC in the RAN and in the core network must be standardized, performance tested, and implemented in trials. Then deployed in production networks before the various 5G FWA industrial use cases can be effectively deployed.