How 5G Enhances Traditional Fixed Wireless Access

POSTED BY Elisha Sudlow-Poole

What is FWA?

FWA, or Fixed Wireless Access, allows MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) to deliver high-speed Internet connections -bridging digital divides in areas that have either insufficient or no broadband access. It is also used in urban, suburban, and rural areas where fibre is considered too expensive to install and maintain.
With this technology, MNOs have the potential to provide wireless network bandwidth capability on the same level as fibre optic. Therefore, FWA can be used to supplement existing wired broadband, provide additional broadband capacity, or act as a backup for a home or business.
Juniper Research acknowledges that FWA can also be referred to as eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband). eMBB is an extension of the already widely used 4G services and is among the first 5G NR (New Radio) use cases defined by 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project).
4G vs. 5G
Although Fixed Wireless Access has been deployed using 4G/LTE (Long-term Evolution) networks, this technology is expensive to deploy, inefficient and not able to compete with the processing speeds of wired broadband connections. 5G FWA employs standard 3GPP architecture to provide higher speed and broadband services to enterprise customers and residential subscribers.
As 5G networks are able to support a larger range of frequencies, this results in significantly more bandwidth being available for the data throughput rate. However, to facilitate this, a significantly higher number of radio stations will be needed to provide sufficient 5G conversation compared to 4G’s LTE. This will provide the increased throughput and lower latency required.
Furthermore, through the use of NR, 5G FWA is able to provide a more competitive alternative to fixed-line DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable and fibre across multiple markets. This allows users in urban, suburban and rural environments with the bandwidth required to support fixtures, such as high-definition streaming services and high‑speed Internet access.
Importance of mmWave
One of the main reasons which allows 5G to provide these improved data rates is its increased spectrum capacity. This is due to the networks’ ability to utilise mmWave (Millimetre Wave) bands, whereby larger areas of continuous spectrum are available for use, thus providing a cost-effective way to increase network capacity.
However, whilst Juniper Research acknowledges that using these mmWave networks will be imperative for the support of 5G FWA, the radio transmission across these networks is inherently unreliable and also highly sensitive to environmental changes, such as extreme weather conditions.
5G mmWave networks have been adopted by operators in many countries including the US, the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Australia. Moreover, these networks have also been supported by OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and device makers. The ability for hardware including smartphones, PCs, and CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) to support these 5G mmWave networks will be imperative when facilitating 5G FWA.
Data Transmission
Juniper Research believes that FWA routers, sometimes referred to as eMBB, will provide the most challenges to monetisation of 5G connections. This mainly owes to the data generated by 5G FWA usage which is essentially similar to household broadband usage.
Services, including video streaming (Netflix, Amazon, etc), music streaming (Apple Music, Spotify, etc) and general browsing, contribute to this growth in data generated.
Additionally, Juniper Research believes that users will immediately expect the same level of service over 5G FWA connectivity, as they do for incumbent Internet services. Even if 5G is used as a last-mile solution, with the remaining connectivity served by fibre networks, the onus is on operators to ensure throughput remains comparable to these services. This can be done through the use of beamforming to ensure minimal signal loss; mitigating noise by using horn PTP (Point-to-Point) antennas and using a zero-loss feeder to maximise power from the base station to the antenna. 

Further Reading

🔎 We predict that total operator-billed revenue generated by 5G FWA services will rise from $515 million in 2022 to $2.5 billion by 2023 - an increase of 385% within only a single year. To discover the factors driving this growth, read the accompanying press release or visit our research store.

📰 Download our 5G FWA whitepaper, which explores the data and monetisation opportunities created by applying 5G FWA to specific use cases, accompanied by a summary of our forecast for total operator-billed 5G FWA revenue in 2023.