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Telecom Outlook: Is satellite or 5G technology the answer to rural broadband problems? | Item

Fixed Wireless Access: What is it and who uses it?

Telecommunications operators have experimented with mobile technologies to provide households with a fixed Internet connection. FWA options have come out of the testing phase in the United States. In many cases, the technologies offer a good alternative to broadband services based on DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technologies. Also, FWA is an opportunity to connect areas where previously no broadband was available. In some areas, fiber deployment is very expensive and operators may choose to rely on mobile solutions to provide broadband coverage in these areas. For mobile operators who historically did not have a fixed network, the technology offers an attractive way to compete with traditional broadband operators, especially as traditional fixed operators attempt to grow their mobile customer base.

Speeds on fixed wireless access connections vary between 40Mbit and 300Mbit, depending on the proximity of an antenna and the number of users. New 5G technologies enable lightning-fast broadband connections, especially if a carrier has the right spectrum. Today, FWA technology is used by many operators, such as T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T in the United States, Telstra and TPG in Australia, Fastweb in Italy, while Deutsche Telecom is testing the technology in Germany. In Ireland, Imagine Communications Group sells the technology.

The solutions are on their way now. T-Mobile USA already had FWA available to 30 million homes in April 2021. They had an initial goal of 500,000 customers by the end of 2021 and 7-8 million customers by 2025. They are now in ahead of the 2021 goal with a report of 646,000 High-Speed ​​Internet customers. Verizon had FWA access available to 11.6 million households at the end of 3Q21, while it is targeting 15 million households by the end of 2021, 30 million households by the end of 2023, and 50 million by the end of 2025. Currently, Verizon has 150,000 FWA customers. AT&T has a relatively slow legacy FWA product, but does not disclose clear plans to upgrade to 5G-based FWA. Telstra in Australia offers a product which it markets as a broadband alternative, although this offer is limited to a set number of households in a specific area. TPG also has a (relatively slow) FWA product in Australia. Telstra previously talked about the technology as a fallback, in case of problems connecting to the national broadband operator’s wired internet connection. According to Telstra, this backup solution gives them a competitive advantage. Deutsche Telekom is testing a hybrid offer, supplementing wired lines with a mobile connection. This way, customers can benefit from higher speeds and better reliability.

FWA solutions are definitely making their way. For mobile operators, they offer new growth opportunities. Furthermore, they could reduce the digital divide between citizens with high-quality internet connections and the many households in rural areas, where internet connections are very slow or absent. However, there are also satellite broadband solutions.