May 17, 2018

5G Business Cases: A Look at Fixed Wireless Access

As 5G networks materialize, fixed wireless access offers a cost-effective way for service providers to deliver gigabit bandwidth to residential customers.

Wireless operators see the promise of 5G network performance as a way to promote a variety of new business and service initiatives. Fixed wireless access (FWA) represents a new opportunity to provide internet access to homes using wireless mobile network technology rather than the traditional cable or fixed-line services that many households use today. Once 5G networks are fully functional, FWA will become a viable and more convenient way to provide gigabit bandwidth to residential customers.

FWA will enable service providers to deliver faster connectivity to customers looking to upgrade, while also expanding high-speed broadband service to areas that don’t have ready access to fixed-line broadband. Bringing 5G FWA services online requires substantially lower capital investment, as it involves minimal to no installation except for a wireless access point outside the home and customer premises equipment (CPE) that can be easily installed and configured by the home owner. Thus, the total cost of bringing FWA services into homes or businesses is lower than what a fixed-line operator invests. It also accelerates time-to-service for customers interested in adopting FWA, allowing wireless providers to monetize services faster.

Initial 5G trials in the U.S. and Europe have demonstrated that the 5G spectrum presents potential download speeds of 10-25 Gbps, which is at least 30 percent faster than what a typical household has from their cable or wireline provider. Such speeds will enable multiple, simultaneous 4K video streaming sessions, enable opportunities for new content services and, ultimately, create a new way for wireless providers to increase wallet share with their customers, as long as the quality of service can be guaranteed.

As 5G and FWA technologies begin their early trials and rolls out in relevant markets, wireless providers enjoy the benefits of already having very high usage penetration rates. Yet, the ability for wireless providers to expand service portfolios with existing customers will be hampered by wallet share, not by technology. For example, FWA consumer targets are either in single family homes and multidwelling units (MDU), and small and medium-sized businesses likely already have fixed line or cable based access to broadband. For customers without easy access to broadband in the home, the potential upside is clear. Meanwhile, consumers and SMBs that already have fixed-line access tied to some sort of video service will be more likely to examine the cost benefits of switching rather than the performance benefits of gigabit connectivity. The likelihood of a 20-30 percent increase in communications service spending because of greater bandwidth is unrealistic, especially at a time when many customers are cutting the cord and using bare bones internet access for their services.

Putting it all in context, wireless operators must bring creativity and customer-centricity to the table as they launch FWA in the coming years. This will entail creating a single customer experience across traditional mobile and new fixed wireless services. The technology must allow a seamless handoff between home-based and externally-based connectivity without disrupting existing services. It also requires real-time, location-aware rating and charging, allowing customers to roam freely at and away from home and reap cost and performance benefits on their wireless devices. Lastly and most obviously, it requires creative service bundling that enables customers to take advantage of the cost benefits of choosing a single provider, and in cases where broadband service is already present in the home or office, to make the switch and consolidate all services with their wireless provider.


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