The 5G Home Broadband Opportunity

Operators worldwide showcase 5G home broadband solutions

So far, the dominant news about 5G for most consumers has been the flurry of network launches for mobile broadband and smartphones supporting this latest generation of technology.

But there’s a growing number of operators around the globe, particularly those with strong spectrum holdings such as Optus in Australia and Three in the UK, that are putting home broadband solutions at the centre of their 5G deployments. In the US, Verizon has already rolled out its 5G home broadband service (albeit geographically limited), T-Mobile has plans to launch one, and AT&T has said that in three to five years it expects clear wireless substitution of fixed-line broadband.

On this basis it’s little surprise that leading chipset players such as Qualcomm are working closely with a growing number of companies, including Nokia and Inseego, in delivering 5G-enabled, so-called CPE routers — CPE stands for customer-premises equipment.

With many fixed-line broadband customers in Australia and the UK — where Optus and Three UK operate respectively — only getting single-digit speeds on poor fixed-line DSL-based connections, the appeal of a router that’s easy to set up and delivers speeds of tens or hundreds of megabytes per second is clear. For example, the Optus 5G Home Broadband offering will provide customers unlimited data for A$70 per month, with “a 50 Mbps satisfaction guarantee”.

The benefit of 5G compared with fixed-line services extends to the fact that the effort to deliver connectivity to people’s homes doesn’t entail digging up roads or sending out engineers to provision the service, which are costly and time-consuming tasks. All an operator needs to do is check the customer lives in an area with 5G coverage and send them a router. From then on, it’s an easy “plug and play” solution with a straightforward “do-it-yourself” set-up offering instant access to a fast 5G connection. At least in theory.

In the same week that Three UK announced its plans for a 5G home broadband service in London using the 3.5 GHz frequency band, I travelled to Australia to try the Optus network. Optus is among the first operators offering 5G broadband to customers using a Nokia 5G gateway built on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem and its Wi-Fi platform (pictured below). Optus is using the 3.6 MHz frequency.

I was impressed by the work that Optus and Nokia have put into creating an out-of-box experience with the device. As you can see in the video below, the router comes with a clear step-by-step guide on how to proceed with the installation. Once the router is plugged in, it’s a simple process to complete the set-up; the guide includes instructions on the best place to put the device and the ideal orientation in the direction of the 5G tower, indicated by a light on the top of the router. Although the practical, commercial reality will undoubtedly have teething problems, the potential is clear.

Video production: Will Wood

Another draw of these products is that if you move house, as long as your new address is within a 5G area, you simply unplug the router and perform the set-up process again at the new location. I believe this will be a hugely attractive option to certain segments of the market such as students, who regularly relocate over the course of their studies.

But this opportunity isn’t limited to consumers, and I expect that businesses will also be lured by fixed wireless 5G solutions. It’s a technology that makes sense for temporary deployments, for example, in the construction industry, as well as a backup to fixed-line connectivity for mission-critical applications. With the ability to connect up to 120 devices and with several layers of security built in, the products have a huge role to play.

This is also an important step before we get to the sizeable opportunity of more-robust private 5G networks in commercial and industrial environments. And as 5G home broadband solutions begin to prove themselves, I expect the number of operators offering such services to snowball. Given the significant capital investment that operators are making in 5G, it’s a good opportunity to generate incremental revenue, particularly for those without existing broadband services that can use 5G to challenge fixed-line incumbents. In time, this is also likely to build up interest in higher-throughput, high-capacity millimetre wave spectrum into urban environments outside the US.

The bottom line is that 5G is about much more than just smartphones. So-called 5G CPE devices will spur additional adoption of 5G, and over the next 12 months, CCS Insight expects a rising wave of 5G routers and services to appear in the global market, as operators seize the potential that 5G broadband holds.