As the 5G communications industry enters a phase of maturity, all focus is now on the use cases for 5G networks. Of these, fixed wireless access (FWA) deployment is attracting increasing interest for service providers and enterprises alike, so much so that global technology intelligence firm ABI Research has forecast 72 million 5G FWA subscriptions by 2027, representing 35% of the total FWA market.
Overall, ABI’s Fixed wireless access market data report observes that 5G FWA will allow mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide quality of service (QoS) offerings with higher speeds and unlimited data, creating demand for 5G FWA that will continue to grow over the next few years.
Although LTE FWA services have already been widely deployed worldwide, they often cannot provide the speed needed to compete with wired broadband connections. 5G FWA is set to offer data rates rivalling the range of fibre, making it a competitive alternative to wired broadband solutions.
“FWA is one of the few use cases that utilise 5G massive multiple-input multiple-output (mMIMO) networks to their full extent, with a typical monthly utilisation that could be as high as 1TB per subscriber. Many MNOs that have launched 5G are expected to offer FWA services, driving 5G FWA market growth,” said Fei Liu, 5G and mobile network infrastructure industry analyst at ABI Research.
Not surprisingly, North America, Western Europe and Asia-Pacific are driving 5G FWA deployments, but the report found that both developed and emerging markets stand to benefit from 5G FWA.
It noted that in North America and Western Europe, MNOs are using 5G FWA to compete with DSL broadband services, and that major US operators, such as T-Mobile, see a huge opportunity with 5G FWA because two-thirds of its residential customers living in urban and suburban areas are dissatisfied cable customers, making up a significant number of its 5G FWA customers.
As regards Western Europe, the report highlighted the fact that EE UK launched 5G FWA in 2019 and plans to cover 90% of the UK with 5G by 2028, while Fastweb in Italy launched 5G FWA in 2020 and plans to cover 12.5 million homes and businesses by 2025. There is growing interest in Asia-Pacific as Reliance Jio eyes 100 million homes through 5G FWA.
Going forward, ABI Research advised MNOs that they should launch 5G FWA to utilise their network capacity to make additional revenue. However, it also said they must be vigilant on how many FWA subscribers they can support and which type of service they wish to offer, best effort or QoS.
In the long term, MNOs need to apply artificial intelligence (AI) techniques such as machine learning (ML) to evaluate their network resource, network capacity and spectrum, to ensure steady 5G FWA growth,” said Liu. “When the 5G FWA service starts to challenge their network capacity, these MNOs may have to deploy millimetre wave (mmWave) to guarantee the quality of their FWA services and overall network capacity.”