Fixed Wireless Access: Small But Mighty

Operators eye strong benefits from this application for 5G networks

CCS Insight’s latest 5G forecast expects fixed wireless access to account for 51 million connections by 2025, a boost from 0.5% in 2021 to 1.4% (see Market Forecast: 5G Connections, Worldwide, 2021-2025). But with fixed wireless access making up only a small slice of both current and forecast 5G connections, it’s set to remain a complementary connectivity technology. Despite this limited role, 5G fixed wireless access has become an important aspect of network operators’ strategy, noted as a valuable tool for increasing connectivity and returns on investment.

One of the most attractive uses for 5G fixed wireless access is as an alternative to cable or fibre connectivity. The additional bandwidth 5G can provide has allowed fixed wireless access to really start competing with cable broadband, especially because it offers much faster speeds than 4G and LTE networks. Emerging and developed markets will both benefit from 5G fixed wireless access, particularly where fixed-line infrastructure is uneconomical, difficult, or impossible to deploy.

Even the most digitalized of countries struggle with deploying high-speed broadband connections for every home and business. In the UK, for example, 1.5 million premises didn’t have access to a broadband connection above 30 Mbps in April 2021, according to government statistics. In 2020, the government reduced its target for nationwide fibre coverage by 2025 to only 85% of premises, highlighting the long road ahead in providing modern, gigabit connectivity.

Mobile operator BT recently announced plans to make 5G available in 90% of the UK’s landmass by 2028, so it’s possible that 5G will reach some towns and communities ahead of full fibre network roll-out. This would strengthen the position of fixed wireless access as a supporting technology in accessing high-capacity Internet.

The developing world is also set to see a digital inclusivity boost from 5G fixed wireless connections. This could spur a deeper change for good, providing access to healthcare, online banking, digital education and a raft of other poverty-alleviating services. The Philippines is a good example here, where the topography makes it difficult to lay fibre, as the country consists of more than 7,500 islands. Local operator Globe Telecom has been vocal about using 5G fixed wireless access to provide connectivity to underserved regions and populations. Its deployment strategy could even be considered a blueprint on for deployments in many other emerging markets.

Enterprise customers, particularly those without a strong fixed-line connection, are set to benefit from the additional bandwidth speeds offered by 5G fixed wireless access. These customers often have various connectivity needs that the technology is well suited to, for example, additional bandwidth in offices, connectivity solutions on construction sites and easily deployable solutions for new premises. The revenue potential of 5G fixed wireless access is so great in the enterprise market that operators have considered building 5G infrastructure to maximize service strength for its use — a commitment that’s already a part of Verizon’s network plan.

Although the applications for fixed wireless services are clear, what’s made operators look so closely at the technology is the revenue it promises. Fixed wireless access can connect more than just one primary device, which often results in higher data usage and therefore commands a higher subscription price. A recent study from Bell Labs Consulting echoes this, concluding that strategic 5G millimetre-wave network investment is likely to produce strong returns on investment through fixed wireless access in locations like commercial centres.

Global digitalization, the changing connectivity needs of consumers and enterprises and the need for strong return on investment all make fixed wireless access an important piece of the 5G business case. This small but mighty application of 5G connectivity is certainly one to watch.