Ericsson new Mobility Report [1.] states that mobile network data traffic grew 10% between the 4th quarter of 2021 and the 1st quarter of 2022. For the year-over-year comparison, growth reached 40%. “In absolute numbers, this means that it has doubled in just two years (since Q1 2020),” the company wrote in its Mobility Report, released June 20th. “Over the long term, traffic growth is driven by both the rising number of smartphone subscriptions and an increasing average data volume per subscription, fueled primarily by increased viewing of video content,” the company added.
The figures are important considering that mobile network operators are rushing to add new spectrum to their networks while upgrading their networks to support 5G, especially 5G SA Core Network. Purchasing both spectrum and 5G equipment is expensive. In the US, for example, mobile network operators are collectively spending an estimated $275 billion to improve their networks with more spectrum, cell sites and 5G.
Note 1. The Ericsson Mobility Report started in 2011, when Ericsson decided to share data and insights openly to all those interested in understanding our industry’s development. Since then, the report and featured articles have seen a continuous evolution and an expanding scope.
Speaking during a webinar to discuss the report’s findings, Richard Möller, senior market analyst at Ericsson, noted that the number of 5G subscribers worldwide had been expected to reach 660 million by the end of 2021. It now seems that the figure was less than forecast: Ericsson is now saying that 5G subscriptions increased by 70 million in Q1 2022 to reach 620 million. The 40 million shortfall is due to changes in how China’s mobile operators are reporting their 5G subscriber figures. Indeed, it has become noticeable over the past year that the Chinese operators are starting to split out “5G package customers” from actual 5G network customers.
“Now we have official numbers and we’ve adjusted our estimates accordingly,” Möller said. “China is early and so large that it affects the global number.” He noted that this adjustment does not “materially affect” the five-year growth forecast. Ericsson is therefore sticking to its estimate of 4.4 billion 5G subscribers by the end of 2027, meaning that 5G will account for almost half of all mobile subscriptions by that point. 5G subscriber growth is expected to accelerate in 2022, reaching around one billion subscribers by the end of the year. The report noted that North America and North East Asia currently have the highest 5G subscription penetration, followed by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Western Europe. In 2027, it is projected that North America will have the highest 5G penetration at 90%. In India, where 5G deployments have yet to begin, 5G is expected to account for nearly 40% of all subscriptions by 2027.
At the same time, Möller warned that the war in Ukraine, supply chain constraints and rising inflation will affect future growth. “That’s made us take 100 million subscriptions off the current forecast. However, history has shown that mobile telephony is one of the things that people hang on to … even if the economic world turns negative,” he said.
The report’s executive editor Peter Jonsson said the current uncertainties mean that Ericsson has to be especially careful with its forecasts. However, he reiterated the point that global 5G uptake “is about two years ahead of 4G” on a comparative basis. In addition, 5G rollout “reached 25% of the world’s population about 18 months faster than 4G.”
Global mobile network data traffic and year-over-year growth:
According to Ericsson, mobile subscribers are making use of the additional network capacity and faster speeds provided by those investments. The company said that, globally, the average smartphone user is expected to consume 15GB per month in 2022. Indeed, the 5G share of mobile data traffic is growing, but not as fast as FWA (3G/4G/5G). Continued strong smartphone adoption and video consumption are driving up mobile data traffic, with 5G accounting for around 10 percent of the total in 2021.
In North America, the company estimated that average monthly mobile data usage per smartphone could reach as high as 52GB in 2027. “The data traffic generated per minute of use will increase significantly in line with the expected uptake of new XR and video-based apps,” the company wrote. “This is due to higher video resolutions, increased uplink traffic, and more data from devices off-loaded to cloud compute resources.”
Also, Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) in on the rise as per this graphic:
Over 100 million FWA connections in 2022:
More than 75 percent of service providers surveyed in over 100 countries are offering fixed wireless access (FWA) services. Around 20 percent of these service providers apply differential pricing with speed-based tariff plans.
OpenVault, another vendor that tracks data traffic on wired networks in North America, recently reported similar findings. According to OpenVault, the average wired Internet customer consumed a total of 536.3GB in the fourth quarter of 2021, an increase of 165% over the firm’s findings from the fourth quarter of 2017, when consumption was 202.6GB.
Taken together, the companies’ findings paint a picture of a dramatic expansion in data demand on wired and wireless networks in North America and globally. Indeed, such increases have already sparked unprecedented demand in vendors’ networking equipment to keep pace with demands. Further, such demand has already withstood several price increases among many leading vendors.
The situation reflects the importance of telecom networks globally following a pandemic that pushed many to work and school remotely from home. And in response to the situation, governments globally have begun pushing network operators to construct networks in underserved areas, and to Internet users themselves who may struggle to afford such connections.
Two of the three biggest U.S. telecom network providers, T-Mobile US and Verizon Communications, contend that selling 5G FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) broadband services to homes will prove to be a good business. However, AT&T has no plans to make a big push into that space. We wrote about this topic earlier this year, but it remains a conundrum as debate continues.
Whether these 5G FWA services will heat up broadband competition with cable TV companies — who dominate in high-speed internet services — is a controversial issue for telecom stocks. The fixed 5G wireless services also may compete with local phone companies in areas still served by copper line-based “DSL” services.
“Verizon and T-Mobile think the service can be a growth driver and will have attractive economics,” UBS analyst John Hodulik told Investor’s Business Daily (IBD). “FWA (fixed wireless access) is likely to do better where there are limited options for broadband and among subscribers used to lower speeds, so that means legacy DSL subscribers and slower speed cable. The big question is whether FWA has staying power over the next 5 to 10 years given necessary speed increases.”
AT&T has downplayed the potential of fixed 5G wireless. AT&T contends that as data usage surges over time, FWA will become increasingly uneconomic vs. fiber-optic landline alternatives.
“I think it stems from a genuinely different view of the engineering and capacity constraints,” MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett told IBD. “The divergence in views about fixed wireless access between AT&T and Verizon or T-Mobile speaks to a genuine controversy in the telecom industry.” Craig added that telecom companies are scrambling to make money from huge investments in 5G radio spectrum.
Moffett said: “The renewed appetite for FWA may be a sign of a dawning realization that the gee-whizzy use cases of 5G may never materialize. That could be forcing operators to revisit every possible source of incremental revenue in a bid to earn at least some return on their huge investments in 5G spectrum.”
U.S. fixed wireless access (FWA market) captured ~ 38% share of broadband industry net adds in the fourth quarter of 2021. Approximately half of Verizon’s FWA customers are coming from commercial accounts, T-Mobile has indicated that about half its FWA customers are coming from former cable Internet subscribers. FWA’s strong Q4 showing left cable’s flow share at just 66%, about the same as cable’s share of installed US broadband households. “In other words, Cable likely neither gained nor lost share during the quarter, and instead merely treaded water,” Moffett noted. FWA “has gone from low-level background noise to suddenly a major force, with Verizon and T-Mobile alone capturing more than 300K FWA subscribers in the fourth quarter,” Craig noted. However, he isn’t sure that wireless network operators will allocate enough total bandwidth capacity for FWA to fully scale.
In a government auction that ended in early 2021, Verizon spent $45.45 billion on 5G “C-band” airwaves while T-Mobile invested $9.3 billion. AT&T spent $23.4 billion on the auction but it’s putting its 5G investments in areas other than FWA, like industrial 5G applications.
Meanwhile, there are cable TV firms looming with high-speed, coaxial cable. Comcast says it’s not worried about broadband competition from fixed 5G wireless services to homes.
“Time will tell, but it’s an inferior product,” Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said at a recent Morgan Stanley conference. “And today, we can say we don’t feel much impact from (it). It’s lower speeds. And in the long run, I don’t know how viable the technology holds up.”
Cable companies offer hard landlines while 5G wireless services provide high-speed internet to homes mainly via indoor antennae that consumers self-install.
Eighty-seven percent of U.S. households subscribe to an internet service at home, compared with 83% in 2016, according to Leichtman Research Group. Also, cable TV firms comprise 70% of the broadband market, LRG said.
Verizon ended 2021 with 223,000 fixed wireless broadband customers, but most connected via 4G wireless networks. Meanwhile, T-Mobile had 646,000 fixed 5G broadband subscribers.
T-Mobile has told Wall Street analysts it expects to serve in a range of 7 million to 8 million fixed 5G wireless subscribers by 2025. Verizon has projected 3 million to 4 million subscribers over the same period.
T-Mobile charges $50 monthly for its home internet service. Verizon’s pricing starts at $50 or $70 monthly, depending on the data speeds provided. Verizon mobile phone customers with unlimited data plans get a discount.
T-Mobile’s 5G internet to home services provides data speeds up to 115 megabits per second, or Mbps. Verizon plans to provide speeds up to 300 Mbps.
T-Mobile uses mid-band radio spectrum to deliver fixed 5G broadband to homes. Verizon uses a mix of mid-band and high-band radio spectrum. In urban areas, Verizon may be able to deliver higher internet speeds with high-band spectrum, analysts say.
One area of debate remains whether fixed 5G broadband finds more success in suburban/urban markets or in rural areas.
“FWA is definitely a threat to cable companies,” Peter Rysavy, head of Rysavy Research, said in an email. “Particularly with (high frequency) mmWave, 5G can compete directly with cable. Mid-band spectrum is also effective but is best suited for lower density population areas. In these deployments, even T-Mobile limits the number of fixed wireless subscribers it can support in any geographical area.”
At UBS, Hodulik says that even if positioned as a low-end service, fixed 5G broadband still has a potential market of 20 million to 30 million homes.
AT&T, whose forerunner was regional Bell SBC Communications, has a sizable wireline local service area in 22 states. So it will face competition from fixed 5G broadband, just like cable TV firms. Verizon is based mainly in the northeast. T-Mobile doesn’t sell local phone services.
“AT&T has a huge wireline asset base that is only 25% upgraded to fiber,” Oppenheimer analyst Tim Horan told IBD. “So they are very exposed to competition from fixed wireless.”
At an analyst day on March 11, AT&T said it plans to upgrade 50% of its local markets, about 30 million customer locations, to high-speed fiber-optic broadband service by year-end 2025.
Meanwhile, AT&T CEO John Stankey commented on the controversy over FWA. AT&T sees FWA as playing a limited role for mobile small business and enterprise applications as well as in rural areas.
“We’re not opposed to fixed wireless, and I’m sure there’s going to be segments of the market where it’s going to be acceptable and folks are going to find it to be adequate right now,” Stankey said.
Fixed 5G broadband services to homes isn’t the only potential moneymaker for telecom network providers. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile aim to upgrade mobile phone users to unlimited data plans. They also plan to sell “private 5G” connections to businesses, Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G connections to industrial devices.
According to a new comprehensive, market research report from MoffettNathanson (written by our colleague Craig Moffett), Q4 2021 broadband growth, at +3.3%, “remains relatively robust,” and above pre-pandemic levels of about +2.8%.
Meanwhile, the U.S. fixed wireless access (FWA market) captured ~ 38% share of broadband industry net adds in the fourth quarter of 2021. Approximately half of Verizon’s FWA customers are coming from commercial accounts, T-Mobile has indicated that about half its FWA customers are coming from former cable Internet subscribers. FWA’s strong Q4 showing left cable’s flow share at just 66%, about the same as cable’s share of installed US broadband households. “In other words, Cable likely neither gained nor lost share during the quarter, and instead merely treaded water,” Moffett noted. FWA “has gone from low-level background noise to suddenly a major force, with Verizon and T-Mobile alone capturing more than 300K FWA subscribers in the fourth quarter,” Craig noted. However, he isn’t sure that wireless network operators will allocate enough total bandwidth capacity for FWA to fully scale.
In 2020, a year that witnessed a surge in broadband subs as millions worked and schooled from home, the growth rate spiked to 5%. Here’s a snapshot of the broadband subscriber metrics per sector for Q4 2021:
|Sector||Q4 2021 Gain/Loss||Q4 2020 Gain/Loss||Year-on-Year Growth %||Total|
|Total Wireline||+437,000||+920,000||+2.8%||112.95 million|
|Total Broadband||+704,000||+966,000||+3.3%||115.48 million|
|* Verizon and T-Mobile only
U.S. broadband ended 2021 with a penetration of 84% among all occupied households. According to US Census Bureau data, new household formation, a vital growth driver for broadband, added just 104,000 to the occupied housing stock in Q4 2021, versus +427,000 in the year-ago period. Moffett said the “inescapable conclusion” is that growth rates will continue to slow, and that over time virtually all growth will have to stem from new household formation.
Factoring in competition and other elements impacting the broadband market, MoffettNathanson also adjusted its subscriber forecasts for several cable operators and telcos out to 2026. Here’s how those adjustments, which do not include any potential incremental growth from participation in government subsidy programs, look like for 2022:
- Comcast: Adding 948,000 subs, versus prior forecast of +1.25 million
- Charter: Adding 958,000 subs, versus prior forecast of +1.22 million
- Cable One: Adding 39,000, versus prior forecast of +48,000
- Verizon: Adding 241,000, versus prior forecast of +302,000
- AT&T: Adding 136,000, versus prior forecast of +60,000
Are we witnessing a fiber bubble?
“The market’s embrace of long-dated fiber projects rests on four critical assumptions. First, that the cost-per-home to deploy fiber will remain low. Second, that fiber’s eventual penetration rates will be high. Third, that these penetration gains can be achieved even at relatively high ARPUs. And fourth, that the capital to fund these projects remains cheap and plentiful.
None of these assumptions are clear cut. For example, there is an obvious risk that all the jostling for fiber deployment labor and equipment will push labor and construction costs higher. More pointedly, we think there is a sorely underappreciated risk that the pool of attractive deployment geographies – sufficiently dense communities, preferably with aerial infrastructure – will be exhausted long before promised buildouts have been completed.
Revenue assumptions, too, demand scrutiny. Cable operators are increasingly relying on bundled discounts of broadband-plus-wireless to protect their market share. What if the strategy works, even a little bit? And curiously, the market’s infatuation with fiber overbuilds comes at a time when cable investors are growing increasingly cautious about the impact of fixed wireless. Won’t fixed wireless dent the prospects of new overbuilds just as much (or more) as those of the incumbents.”
Moffet estimates that about 30% of the U.S. population has been overbuilt by fiber over the past 20 years, and that the number is poised to rise as high as 60% over the next five years. But the big question is whether there’s enough labor and equipment to support this magnitude of expansion. “Our skepticism about the prospects for all of the fiber plans currently on the drawing board is not born of doubt that there is enough labor to build it all so much as it is that the cost of building will be driven higher by excess demand,” Moffett explained. “There are already widespread reports of labor shortages and attendant higher labor costs,” he added.
“The outlook for broadband growth for all the companies in our coverage, particularly the cable operators, is more uncertain than at any time in memory. IMarket share trends are also more uncertain that they have been in the past. Cable continues to take share from the telcos, but fixed wireless, as a new entrant, is now taking share from all players. Share shifts between the TelCos and cable operators are suppressed by low move rates, likely due in part to supply chain disruptions in the housing market. This is likely dampening cable growth rates. In at least some markets, returns will likely be well below the cost of capital,” Moffett forecasts.
U.S. Broadband: Are We Witnessing a Fiber Bubble? MoffetNathanson research note (clients and accredited journalists)
Nokia completed the first of a two-phase deployment of 4G fixed-wireless access (FWA) network with partner AggreGateway, to provide broadband internet connectivity to underserved students in the Dos Palos Oro Lomo (DPOL) school district of California.
The district comprises five campuses and serves a population of 5,000 residents. The Nokia platform will provide internet access to the homes of 2,400 students using Nokia Private 4.9G/LTE Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) operating in the CBRS/On-Go GAA spectrum, and customer premises equipment including Nokia FastMile 4G Gateways and WiFi Beacons.
The DPOL technology team will operate its new LTE network through the centrally secure Nokia DAC Cloud monitoring application. DPOL will also provision LTE / Wi-Fi hotspots to students to be used with any standard laptop or tablet to access broadband internet.
The project’s first phase was completed in November 2021. Nokia and AggreGateway will complete the second phase in 2022.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reported nearly 17 million school children in the USA lack internet access at home, creating a nationwide ‘homework gap’ (Federal Communications Commission). This became even more pronounced during the pandemic as schools closed and distance learning became the new normal.
Image Credit: Nokia
Paoze Lee, Technology Systems Director of the Dos Palos-Oro Loma school district, said: “As we put a plan in place for distance learning during the pandemic we found we could only provide coverage for approximately 50% of DPOL students via commercial wireless network providers. Working with Nokia and AggreGateway, we are taking the next steps to level the field and ensure every student has the same access to our learning facilities.”
Octavio Navarro, President of AggreGateway, said: “Growing up in a rural small town like Dos Palos-Oro Loma, I experienced the digital divide firsthand. Being able to implement a Nokia private wireless solution for the students has been beyond rewarding. The IT staff from DPOL, AggreGateway, and Nokia worked seamlessly together to achieve this goal. We are excited, proud, and look forward to the continued success.”
Matt Young, Head of Enterprise for North America at Nokia, said: “We are pleased to help close the digital divide in the Dos Palos-Oro Loma school district. For many rural areas of the US it’s not commercially viable to build out networks, and often families on the lowest income suffer. Leveraging our DAC and FastMile FWA technologies we can enable the delivery of much needed internet connectivity to students in the area.”
The project’s first phase was completed in November 2021. Nokia and AggreGateway will complete the second phase in 2022.
As a trusted partner for critical networks, we are committed to innovation and technology leadership across mobile, fixed and cloud networks. We create value with intellectual property and long-term research, led by the award-winning Nokia Bell Labs.
Adhering to the highest standards of integrity and security, we help build the capabilities needed for a more productive, sustainable and inclusive world.
Based in San Diego, California, AggreGateway is a unique group of network and wireless engineers that are experienced in designing networks within the private, public safety, transportation, utilities, government, and educational verticals. AggreGateway provides network consulting services, wireless solutions, LAN/WAN design and implementation, network security, systems integration, and managed services. Our goal is to provide a range of robust and flexible network solutions that are customized to each individual network.
Lightshed Partners says absolutely! “This is the year for 5G Wireless Home Broadband,” as it emerges as a viable competitor to cable based Internet access.
The market research firm believes that the recent deployment of large blocks of spectrum by wireless operators will enable them to offer viable home broadband service to a notable segment of the market.
T-Mobile is already adding more than 200k home broadband subs per quarter, and Verizon is about to unleash rate plans that drop as low as $25/month. Verizon is also layering additional commission opportunities for their sales group. The vast majority of cell phone upgrades in the U.S. are still done in a cellular operator’s store. That provides wireless network operators with a familiar opportunity to sell home broadband and they are incenting their salesforce to do so.
Fixed wireless access (FWA) services into homes and offices, have approximately 7 million users around the U.S. The new efforts by Verizon and T-Mobile appear poised to push the technology into the cable industry’s core domain.
“We forecast that Verizon and T-Mobile will add 1.8 million wireless home broadband customers in 2022, more than doubling the 750,000 added in 2021,” the LightShed analysts forecast. “To put that growth in context, Comcast, Charter and Altice combined added 2.4 million broadband subscribers in 2021 and 2.7 million in 2019. Investors expect these three cable companies to add more than 2 million broadband subs in 2022, but even that reduced level of growth from recent years may prove to be too aggressive.”
5G fixed wireless access (FWA) services could serve 8.4 million rural households—nearly half the rural homes in the U.S.—with a “future-proof”, rapidly deployable, and cost-effective high-speed broadband option, according to a new Accenture study commissioned by CTIA, the wireless industry association.
Other analysts agree. “Fixed wireless probably cost Comcast and Charter, in aggregate, about 180,000 subscribers in the second half of 2021,” wrote the financial analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in a recent note to investors.
“The great risk seems to lie in late 2022 and 2023. As Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T deploy initial and subsequent blocks of C-band spectrum and as T-Mobile expands its 2.5GHz coverage to the last 1/3rd of US households, the availability of fixed wireless should expand,” Bernstein analysts wrote.
The financial analysts at Evercore predict that FWA services will gain a growing share of U.S. broadband new subscribe additions. Light Reading’s Mike Dano wrote the reasons are as follows:
- Verizon and T-Mobile are in the midst of deploying significant amounts of new spectrum into their networks. The addition of C-band spectrum (for Verizon) and 2.5GHz spectrum (for T-Mobile) will give them far more network capacity. And that’s important considering the average Internet household chews through almost 500 GB per month, according to OpenVault. The average smartphone user, meanwhile, consumes just 12 GB per month, according to Ericsson.
- Verizon and T-Mobile have finally shifted their FWA offerings from the test phase into the deployment phase. Although Verizon has been discussing FWA services for years, it finally started reporting actual customer numbers late last year (it ended the third quarter of 2021 with a total of 150,000 customers). Similarly, T-Mobile first outlined its FWA strategy in 2018, but officially launched its 5G FWA service in April – the company ended 2021 with 646,000 in-home Internet customers, well above its goal of 500,000. And both companies have recently cut FWA prices.
- The cable industry appears to be in the early stages of what MoffettNathanson analyst firm described as the “great deceleration.” According to the principal analyst Craig Moffett, this cable industry slowdown stems from such factors as a decrease in the rate of new household formation, increased competition from fiber providers – and FWA. He described the situation as a “concerning issue for cable investors, particularly if it appears that this is just a taste of what lies ahead.”
However, Craig is not convinced that FWA from telcos will mount a serious threat to cablecos Internet, partly because of capacity challenges operators will face as they bring subscribers onto the platform. They also wonder if it makes sense for mobile operators to get too aggressive with FWA, considering the much higher value on a per-gigabit basis they get from their respective mobile bases.
MoffettNathanson does acknowledge that both Verizon and T-Mobile have ramped up their focus on FWA even as AT&T takes a more cautious, targeted approach. Last week at an investor conference, AT&T CEO John Stankey said:
I believe that having some fixed high bandwidth infrastructure is going to be essential to being an effective networking company moving forward… Is fixed wireless going to be the best way to get a lot of bandwidth out to less densely populated rural areas? Yes, it probably will be. So is there a segment of the market where fixed wireless will apply and be effective? Sure, it will, and we’ll be in a position to have the right product to address those places.
But I don’t want to just simply say, well, that is the single solution that’s going to deal with what I would call the 70% of the business community, the 70% of the consumer population that are going to be pretty intensive users in some location, indeed, to have fixed infrastructure to support that over the long haul, given all the innovation that’s going to come……I see an opportunity for us to be very targeted and very disciplined around what we do (in FWA) and what used to be I hate using the term but traditional out of region markets, where good fiber deployment that supplements the strength of our wireless network.
Moffett wrote in a note to clients today:
There’s been a sea change in the rhetoric about fixed wireless broadband. We’re admittedly still struggling to understand it.
Until recently, Verizon and T-Mobile had, by turns, swung between aggressiveness and reticence. Investors will recall that in 2018, Verizon made bold claims about millimeter wave-based FWA. T-Mobile was rather skeptical at the time, not just about mmWave but even about FWA-over-mid-band. By 2019, Verizon had pulled in their horns, just as T-Mobile was first committing to bring FWA to rural Americans in a bid to sell their Sprint merger to regulators. At the start of last year, when all three of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile held analyst days, T-Mobile upped the ante, forecasting 7-8M FWA customers by 2025. But Verizon was by then more cautious, committing only to a paltry $1B in revenue by 2024 (equating to perhaps 1.7M customers) and warning that their participation would be back end loaded. And AT&T was more cautious still, arguing that the capacity utilization implications made FWA unattractive.
Now, for the first time, Verizon and T-Mobile are pounding the table at the same time. What has changed? And what does it mean for the many plans for fiber overbuilds?
First, it’s important to consider the network capacity implications of fixed wireless. Most investors understand that the burden of serving homes with a wired broadband replacement is far greater than that of serving individual phones for mobility. But investors will also understand that network utilization isn’t uniform across all cell sites; there are cell sites with more excess capacity and there are cell sites with less.
The challenge for operators is to ensure that their FWA subscriptions fit as neatly as possible into the cell sites, or sectors of cell sites, with the most available capacity (a cell site will typically be divided into three sectors, each covering a 120 degree arc).
No operator wants to risk their high-value mobile service experience for the benefit of a few incremental low-value fixed subscriptions (as we’ll see shortly, the revenue per bit from a mobile customer is 30 to 50x higher than that for fixed).
Still, both T-Mobile and Verizon see FWA as promising. T-Mobile expects to have between 7 million to 8 million FWA subs by 2025, and views an addressable market of about 30 million homes that are suitable from a signal quality and capacity standpoint. T-Mobile has already noted that their 664K FWA customers include a mix of customers from relatively rural areas with limited or no wired broadband availability and those from suburbia who were previously cable subscribers.
Verizon, meanwhile, is committing to about $1 billion in FWA revenues by 2024, which MoffettNathanson equates to roughly 1.7 million customers (Verizon ended Q3 2021 with about 150,000 FWA subscribers).
Craig questions whether there’s enough bandwidth to go around to fulfill subscriber targets, and if getting aggressive with FWA makes business sense. He indicates that 5G telcos are getting desperate to find revenues after spending billions of dollars for licensed spectrum and 5G RAN buildouts.
With tens of billions of dollars of investment in spectrum already sunk, and with tens of billions more to come for network densification, one might imagine that carriers are desperate to find a more tangible revenue opportunity than one that depends on beating Amazon AWS at what is essentially just a next iteration of cloud services.
And when all is said and done, Craig is as puzzled as this author:
As we said at the outset… we’re struggling to understand. We’re struggling to understand why Verizon and T-Mobile suddenly see this (FWA) relatively low value use of network resources as attractive. We’re struggling to understand how, after an initial burst of growth, they will sustain that growth as sectors “fill up.” We’re struggling to understand why they have set such ambitious targets so publicly. And we’re struggling to understand why cable investors have come to expect that deployments of FWA and fiber should be treated as independent, or additive, risks. It doesn’t seem, to us, that it all adds up.
Opinion: We think an undisclosed reason for telco interest in FWA is that 5G mobile offers few, if any advantages over 4G and there is no roaming. Therefore, the 5G enhanced mobile broadband use case will continue to fail to gain market traction. 5G FWA can work well with a proprietary telco/cloud native 5G SA core network which could be shared by both 5G mobile and FWA subscribers (perhaps using the over hyped “network slicing”). So even though FWA was NOT an ITU IMT 2020 use case, it still has a lot of room to grow into a revenue generating service for wireless telcos.
MoffettNathanson research note (only available to the firm’s clients)
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.
In its new Mobility Report, Ericsson has updated its forecast for 5G subscribers at the end of 2021, to a total of close to 660 million. The increase is due to stronger-than-expected demand in China and North America (?), driven in part by falling prices for 5G devices. Ericsson forecasts 5G to become the dominant mobile technology by 2027.
Opinion: For that to happen, this author believes many of the unfinished parts of 5G must be completely standardized and proven in the field. That list includes: URLLC in the RAN, URLLC in the core network, 5G SA core network, 5G security, reduction of very high 5G power consumption, deployment of hundreds of thousands of small cells, frequency arrangements for terrestrial (ITU-R M.1036 revision), industrial and consumer use cases, fiber optics and LEO satellite backhaul, etc.
In Q3 2021, nearly twice as many 5G subscriptions were added around the world as new 4G connections, at respectively 98 million and 48 million. Ericsson expects that 5G networks will cover more than 2 billion people by the end of this year.
Ericsson’s latest forecasts put 5G on track to become the dominant mobile access technology by 2027. 5G is expected to account for around 50 percent of all mobile subscriptions worldwide in 2027, covering 75 percent of the world’s population and carrying 62 percent of the global smartphone traffic by the same date.
Not to be forgotten, Ericsson says fixed wireless access (FWA) will provide broadband access for 800 million people by 2027.
Ericsson’s latest report also looks back on the past ten years of mobile networks. According to the research, around 5.5 billion smartphone users have joined the market in the past ten years, and mobile data traffic has increased almost 300-fold in the same period.
In Q3 2021 alone, there was more mobile data traffic than the entire period up until the end of 2016.
Note that Ericsson has tended to over-estimate total mobile subscriptions but under-estimate the uptake of newer technologies, especially in their early stages. This is shown in the table below:
Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson, wrote:
“Mobile communication has had an incredible impact on society and business over the last ten years. When we look ahead to 2027, mobile networks will be more integral than ever to how we interact, live and work. Our latest Ericsson Mobility Report shows that the pace of change is accelerating, with technology playing a crucial role.”
According to a new report titled Fiber to the Home: Navigating the Road to Gigabit America, a multi-sector by Cowen analysts, forecasts that telco fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) lines will pass 82 million American households by 2027, nearly double the 44 million households passed today. The four biggest U.S. wireline telcos (AT&T, Verizon, Frontier and Lumen) will account for the lion’s share of those deployments, together passing more than 71 million homes with fiber.
The Cowen report also projects that cable operators (cablecos or MSOs) will pass another 5 million homes with fiber lines over the next six years, largely because of Altice USA’s current big push in the New York metro area to match Verizon’s Fios rollout. Cable operators already pass about 5 million homes with fiber.
Overall, Cowen estimates that the US now has 50 million homes passed by fiber lines, with the telcos accounting for most of them. Here are a few other highlights from the report:
- Cowen expects state/federal funding of $130B for various broadband initiatives.
- That will close the digital divide and expand the addressable market for broadband access.
- FTTH will gain market share (compared to other fixed broadband access) to take ~70% of the net positive broadband subscriber adds by 2027.
- As a result, 35M FTTH subscribers (26% market share) are expected by 2027; up from 16M (14%) today.
- FTTH subs take speeds that are 54% faster than non-FTTH broadband subs.
- The increase in FTTH subs will lead to exciting next-gen home applications (not specified) and ARPU growth.
- FTTH subs have 13% higher ARPU compared to non-FTTH subs.
Large, midsized and small telcos will all participate in this massive fiber deployment, using FTTH to reverse nearly two decades of broadband market share losses to the cable industry, the Cowen analysts say. For instance, they project the nation’s biggest telcos will add a combined 7.7 million fiber subs over the next five years.
“The next few years will be historic in terms of telco FTTH upgrades, providing consumers speeds of 1 Gbit/s, closing the digital divide, expanding the total addressable market and achieving a ‘Gigabit America’,” the analysts wrote. “After years of hemorrhaging subscribers, we expect Big Telco to stem the tide of losses to Cable…”
However, the report does not say that telcos will be gaining broadband customers from cable operators. Instead, telcos will achieve broadband subscriber gains mainly by upgrading their own remaining 15 million DSL subs to FTTH.
“The cable decade of dominance of DSL-share stealing is over,” the analysts wrote, forecasting that the telcos will overtake the cable companies in broadband sub net gains by 2024. “Cable’s days of stealing DSL subs are over, though only losing modest share (DSL taking the brunt), as the focus will be on defense.”
The Cowen analysts expect cable’s broadband market share to drop very slightly from 61% today to 58% in 2027 while the telcos’ market share creeps up from 25% now to 27% in 2027.
“It’s far from doom-and-gloom for cable operators,” the analysts note. “With cable’s effective marketing plan and speed upgrades, the vast majority of subscriber losses will be from the 15 million DSL subscribers, not cable.”
The analysts expect fixed wireless access (FWA) to play a notable tole in the US broadband market by the middle of the decade, accounting for a small but increasing fraction of high-speed data customers throughout the 2020s. “FWA will establish a solid but niche foothold,” they wrote.
Cowen now expects U.S. service providers to add a collective 17 million broadband subs by 2027, enough to reach 97% penetration of occupied homes and 90% penetration of overall homes, up from 90% and 82% today. The analysts believe that broadband could achieve utility-like penetration levels of 98% or more, like wired phone service did at its peak last century.
All this fiber optic spending will be a boon for optical network equipment vendors. Specifically, the Cowen analysts single out Calix, Adtran, Ciena, Cisco, MasTec, Nokia and Juniper as likely beneficiaries.
The analysts also see potential for further market consolidation. Some scenarios they envision are Charter buying the Suddenlink portion of Altice USA’s footprint and Charter or Altice USA merging with T-Mobile to form a third converged player in the national market.
Verizon today announced its earnings for the third quarter of 2021, with the company posting net income of $6.6 billion, operating revenue of $32.9 billion, and $1.55 in earnings per share. Verizon now expects total wireless service revenue growth of around 4%, an increase to prior guidance of 3.5% to 4%. It’s earnings guidance was also revised upwards. Verizon adjusted earnings per share of $5.35 to $5.40 is now forecast for the current quarter – an increase from its prior guidance of $5.25 to $5.35.
“We had a strong third quarter, delivering on our strategy and growing in multiple areas,” Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg said in the earnings release. “Our disciplined strategy execution demonstrated growth in 5G adoption, broadband subscribers and business applications. We are increasing our 2021 guidance, and we continue to expand our 4G LTE and 5G network leadership. We fully expect to have a strong finish to the year as we accelerate deployment of 5G to our customers across the country,” he added.
“Verizon reported another quarter of strong financial and operating performance,” Verizon Chief Financial Officer Matt Ellis said in the press release. “We are seeing strong demand for connectivity across our Consumer and Business segments as our Mix and Match and Business Unlimited value propositions, network quality and unique partnerships are resonating with both new and existing customers. We grew revenue in the quarter, achieved solid cash flow, completed the sale of Verizon Media and increased the dividend for a 15th consecutive year.”
The #1 wireless telco in the U.S. lost 68,000 net video subscribers from its Fios (FTTH/FTTP) service in the third quarter. “The telecom giant has been shifting its video focus away from Fios TV to partnerships with third-party streaming services as it positions itself as a key distribution platform for them. For example, Verizon has a deal with The Walt Disney Co. for the Disney bundle, which gives customers with select Verizon wireless unlimited plans access to Disney streaming services Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+,” said the Hollywood Reporter.
During the quarter, Verizon sold off its Verizon Media unit, which consisted of formerly dominant tech brands like AOL and Yahoo. The unit was acquired by Apollo Global Management, although Verizon continues to hold a 10 percent stake.
Verizon reported 129,000 broadband net additions in the third quarter, comprised of Fios, DSL and FWA subscribers, during the quarter. Of those, there were 55,000 Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) subscriber adds , which was about 42% of the 129,000 total broadband net adds generated in the quarter. Verizon FWA has a total of ~150,000 subscribers.
Source: Verizon Infographic from 3Q 2021 Earnings Report
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said during the earnings call, “We’re on track to meet our fixed wireless access household coverage targets with an expected 15 million homes passed by the end of the year between 4G and 5G. To date, 5G Home is in 57 markets and 4G LTE Home is in over 200 markets across all 50 states.”
Verizon first began offering 4G LTE Home in July 2020 and has really accelerated its rollout. The company has also rolled out 5G Home. Verizon executives on today’s earnings call noted that the FWA subscriber base is a mix of customers getting service from its 4G/LTE network and via Verizon’s 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) network. The company’s FWA base currently is a mix of residential and business customers, but did not break out that ratio. But they did note that there’s about a rough 50/50 split between FWA customers that are coming from Verizon’s existing base and from other service providers. CFO Matt Ellis said Verizon’s FWA customers aren’t solely focused on rural areas, as Verizon is also seeing “good traction” with the product in urban and suburban areas.
Verizon now seems to favor FWA over Fios, probably because of significantly lower installation costs for the former. Yet the company is not giving up on Fios. “In addition to fixed wireless access, we’re pleased with the great performance of Fios and continue to grow the open-for-sale volumes within our footprint.”
Indeed, Fios Internet net adds were 104,000 in the quarter. The telco is increasing its Fios footprint, adding over 400,000 open-for-sale locations this year. One analyst noted that Verizon hasn’t talked about increasing its Fios brand within its ILEC for quite some time.
Chief Financial Officer Matt Ellis said, “On the Fios expansion, we see great opportunity. We have been investing in that for a number of years; maybe haven’t spoken about it quite as much. But it continues to be a very good growth driver for the business.”
The company reported that Fios revenue of $3.2 billion in the quarter was up 4.7% year over year, driven by continued growth in customers as well as Verizon’s effort to increase the value of each customer by encouraging them to step up in speed tiers.
“We remain focused on bringing in high-quality net adds,” said Elllis. “The mix and match pricing structure for both wireless and Fios provides opportunity to migrate customers to higher value tiers and bring in customers on higher value plans. Our strategy is focused on increasing the value we receive from every connection.”
Vestberg said, “Our strategy is becoming a national broadband provider with the best access to the tech for our customers, including Fios, fixed wireless access on 5G, on 4G, mmWave and C-band.”
In a research note to clients, analyst Craig Moffett discussed Verizon’s broadband business:
Verizon’s FiOS service continues to show strength, a product of both more aggressive pricing and a lessening drag from video as the video base shrinks. Notably, Verizon is also beginning to see some contribution from fixed wireless access.
- FiOS internet subscriber gains of 104K were almost spot on with consensus. DSL losses
remained relatively steady (-30K) despite the fact that the base of legacy DSL has been
gradually depleted. Overall broadband net additions came in at 129K, which includes
55K fixed wireless connections. The company reported that it had 150K fixed wireless
broadband customers at the end of Q3. Wireline broadband net additions were strong,
at 74K, but were still weaker than expected. Notably, the company has guided to an
addition of 400K FiOS homes open for sale, the first meaningful expansion of homes
available for sale in some time (note that “open for sale” does not necessarily equate to
new build – particularly in New York, there has long been a large gap between homes
already passed and homes open for sale – but it is likely that there is at least some new
- Like peers, Verizon is losing video subscribers (down 68K, a little worse than the 54K
loss we had expected, and worse than the 62K loss a year ago despite a smaller
denominator). Their decline rate of 7.2% is broadly in line with the rate of decline for the
With respect to Verizon’s 5G strategy and competition (e.g. T-Mobile), Craig wrote:
As we creep up to the 5G epoch, we’re on the brink of a very different industry. Despite a relatively healthy third quarter report – albeit against relatively easy year ago comps – there are reasons for disquiet. A post-COVID service revenue growth recovery has already begun to slow, and incremental revenue streams from 5G are still uncertain. Industry structure, which once appeared to be getting better – we went from four to three with the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile – is now arguably getting worse, as we now arguably go from three to five with the emergence of hybrid MVNO/MNO networks from Cable and Dish. Verizon is on the brink of a very different competitive position.
T-Mobile’s 5G network is increasingly viewed as better than Verizon’s for coverage, speed, and reliability. Verizon’s one-time bid for sustained superiority – millimeter wave “ultra-wideband” service – currently accounts for just one half of one percent of the time 5G users are connected.
Craig notes that Verizon’s initial gambit to retain network superiority in 5G was built on millimeter wave spectrum. The very limited propagation of millimeter wave spectrum, however, demands an incredibly dense wired backhaul network, at enormous cost, lest customers are simply out of range much of the time. Verizon is, anecdotally at least, well ahead of peers in network densification. Still, recent data (once again, from OpenSignal) suggests that, while 5G customers of Verizon’s 5G service are connected to mmWave spectrum much more often than are 5G customers of AT&T or T-Mobile, that is still too trivial a percentage of the time (one half of one percent). That’s hardly the basis of an advantaged network.
T-Mobile has an advantage in both spectrum propagation (coverage) and spectrum depth (speed). And Verizon still charges a premium. Retention and growth will be harder in a world where their network superiority has been ceded to a lower priced service.
In conclusion, Craig states that Verizon enjoyed years as the best network, but it will be harder to maintain that claim in the 5G era, where T-Mobile has a coverage and spectrum depth (speed) advantage. And where TMobile and the company’s Cable MVNO partners charge meaningfully lower prices than Verizon does for the same or better service.
Verizon’s Year End 2021 Priorities:
• Expand 5G leadership (?) and drive adoption; mmWave deployment and C-Band launch
• Customer differentiation and scaling premium experiences
• Transform the business; Tracfone acquisition and Verizon Media Group sale
• Accelerate and amplify 5 vectors of growth; Network-as-a-Service strategy
Cambium Networks, a global provider of wireless networking solutions, today announced that Pentanet is building neXus, a multi-gigabit fixed wireless network across the metro area in Perth, Australia, to provide internet access for business and residential subscribers. The exceptional speeds will be achieved by extending their existing infrastructure consisting of 300 km of “dark” fiber with Cambium Networks’ 60 GHz cnWave fixed wireless platform, using Terragraph, a mesh technology developed by Facebook Connectivity. The result will be network performance that even the most demanding video gamers will appreciate.
60 GHz cnWave V5000 V5000 is featured with two sectors covering up to 280 degrees with beamforming. A single V5000 can connect up to 30 devices, which includes up to four distribution nodes. V5000 can be used for PTP, PMP and mesh configurations.
Supports 57 to 66 GHz:
• Dual-sector with 280º coverage
• Up to 7.2 Gbps (1.8 Gbps DL and 1.8 Gbps UL per sector). Channel bonding typically doubles capacity
• TDMA/TDD channel access and Network Synchronization
• 802.11ay technology with Facebook Terragraph certification
“In 2019, Perth Australia was reported as having the second slowest internet speeds of all Australian capital cities, but we know that needs to change – and fast,” said Stephen Cornish, CEO of Pentanet. “Bandwidth-heavy and latency sensitive applications like cloud-gaming are already transforming connectivity demands, and reliable gigabit speeds are the future for Perth. With Cambium Networks’ 60 GHz cnWave technology, Pentanet’s neXus is driving a leap in internet connectivity throughout the city to gigabit speeds. Using our existing fixed wireless network infrastructure, Pentanet can rapidly deploy the next-generation of wireless technology to create the neXus.”
“Our development and support teams are collaborating closely with the Pentanet team to ensure our solution can scale rapidly to be able to provide connectivity across Perth,” said Atul Bhatnagar, president and CEO of Cambium Networks. “They are pioneering a new age of communications with their business model and network architecture. We are pleased to recognize Pentanet’s disruptive leadership in the industry with our Wireless Connectivity Hero award.”
Cambium Networks’ multi-gigabit fixed wireless broadband technology and centralized management are well suited for urban applications. The solution provides multi-gigabit wireless broadband performance and reliability at a fraction of the cost of fiber. With 60 GHz cnWave, Pentanet can rapidly deploy hybrid networks to extend the fiber plant to customer premises, accelerating time to revenue at lower operating and capital costs. This video details the value that Pentanet delivers.
Cambium Networks’ 60 GHz cnWave solution elements include:
- V5000 Distribution Node – Equipped with two sectors covering up to 280 degrees with beamforming. A single V5000 can connect up to 30 devices, which includes up to four distribution nodes. The V5000 can be used for point-to-point (PTP), point-to-multipoint (PtMP) and mesh configurations.
- V3000 Client Node – Featuring a 44.5 dBi high-gain antenna with beamforming, the client nodes can support up to 3.8 Gbps with the capability for even higher rates in the future with channel bonding for both PtMP and PTP configurations.
- V1000 Client Node – Includes wide-range, 80⁰ beamforming for easy installation. Powered by 802.3af PoE, V1000 supports gigabit throughputs in a compact easy to install form factor
The latest addition to Cambium Networks’ multi-gigabit wireless fabric portfolio of solutions, 60 GHz cnWave is fully integrated into LINKPlanner and cnMaestro™ end-to-end cloud management that provides a unified view of the entire network. The solution delivers reliable and secure connectivity for residential users, schools, enterprises, and industrial operations at a low total cost of ownership.
Find out more about mmWave products including 5G Fixed wireless, Wi-Fi 6 solutions and centralized management solutions at Cambium Connections’ of Cambium Networks’ online events in September. Stephen Cornish of Pentanet will be presenting live Tuesday, 21 September – Register Here.
Cambium Networks’ full wireless fabric portfolio of solutions are available through its global network of partners.
Cambium Networks is celebrating a Decade of Excellence in 2021 with more than 10 million radios shipped worldwide since commencing operations in 2011.
Pentanet is a Perth-based, growth-focused telco delivering high-speed internet to a growing number of subscribers by providing them with next-generation internet speeds. This is achieved through Pentanet’s market-leading private fixed-wireless network, the largest in Perth, as well as reselling fixed-line services such as NBN, where its wireless is not yet available.
Pentanet’s flagship fixed wireless network has benefits for both customers and investors, offering an outstanding customer experience and a fixed-wireless product that is technically superior to most of the National Broadband Network (NBN) – with attractive margins for investors. This sets Pentanet apart from most broadband providers, which only resell the NBN.
Pentanet will also be part of the rollout of the next wave of subscription-based entertainment services – cloud gaming. The Company’s Alliance Partner Agreement with NASDAQ listed NVIDIA – one of the world’s largest producers of specialised graphic chips used in gaming – allows Pentanet to be the first to bring their GeForce NOW technology to Australia in 2021.
Media Contact (Pentanet)
Alison Balch – Pentanet
+61 (04) 14 545 118
About Cambium Networks
Cambium Networks delivers wireless communications that work for businesses, communities, and cities worldwide. Millions of our radios are deployed to connect people, places and things with a unified wireless fabric that spans multiple standards and frequencies of fixed wireless and Wi-Fi, all managed centrally via the cloud. Our multi-gigabit wireless fabric offers a compelling value proposition over traditional fiber and alternative wireless solutions. We work with our Cambium certified ConnectedPartners to deliver purpose-built networks for service provider, enterprise, industrial, and government connectivity solutions in urban, suburban, and rural environments, with wireless that just works.
Media Contact (Cambium)
Dave Reddy – Big Valley Marketing for Cambium
+1 (650) 868-4659