When most people think of 5G, they think of consumer mobile services. However, 5G is much more.
5G enables mobile services to be provided with high speed, reliable, and low latency performance. This opens a whole range of new use cases and revenue opportunities for mobile service providers and enterprises. The 10 times increase in download speeds provided by 5G makes Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) a compelling alternative for access connectivity. The ease of installation and setup of 5G FWA, as well as its applicability in a range of use cases, means that 5G FWA could become the preferred access connectivity choice.
This article explores how with 5G FWA speeds, reliable and low latency performance, 5G FWA is also a compelling wireline alternative for urban connectivity in both homes and enterprises, smart factories, private campuses, and entertainment venues.
When most people think of 5G, they think of consumer mobile services. However, 5G is much more.
5G enables mobile services to be provided with highspeed, reliable, and low latency performance. This opens a whole range of new use cases and revenue opportunities for mobile service providers and enterprises. The 10 times increase in download speeds provided by 5G makes Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) a compelling alternative for access connectivity. The ease of installation and setup of 5G FWA, as well as its applicability in a range of use cases, means that 5G FWA could become the preferred access connectivity choice.
5G FWA is ideal for providing access connectivity in areas where fiber or cable deployment cannot be justified, such as rural connectivity and for temporary sites. However, with 5G FWA speeds, reliable and low latency performance, 5G FWA is also a compelling wireline alternative for urban connectivity in both homes and enterprises, smart factories, private campuses, and entertainment venues. It not only provides connectivity but also opens the door to new types of services supporting private networks and targeted marketing.
But 5G is not one service or radio spectrum. It spans a broad range of frequencies and options that requires an equally broad portfolio of access connectivity products. As a pioneer in this field, Inseego provides the most comprehensive portfolio of 5G FWA solutions that can support mobile service providers and enterprises, in a range of use cases to take full advantage of the new revenue opportunities that 5G and 5G FWA provides.
The 5G FWA Opportunity
Today, broadband access is dominated by wired technologies like xDSL and cable. It is hard to envisage alternative technologies usurping this dominance. However, just like mobile phones, the appeal of wireless broadband connectivity cannot be denied. There are inherent advantages in providing immediate connectivity without the need for costly digging to lay copper cables or fiber such as that required for the wireline technologies. The concept of wireless broadband connectivity is as old as mobile itself and yet has struggled to find the same appeal as mobile phones.
However, with the introduction of 5G, this is all set to change. The higher throughput and lower latency than 5G provides will finally establish wireless broadband connectivity as the dominant paradigm for years to come. Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), in particular, can be expected to become the preferred form of broadband connectivity for homes and businesses.
5G download speed is now faster than Wi-Fi for smartphone users in seven leading 5G countries
5G makes Fixed Wireless Access competitive
FWA is a decades-old concept and there are over 2000 Wireless Internet Service Providers serving 4 million customers in the U.S. alone. FWA has been mainly used to serve rural areas or provide temporary communication facilities in the event of disasters. The big advantage of FWA is that wireless connectivity can be deployed extremely quickly without the need for cables. However, the relatively low data rates that could be delivered in the past hampered the adoption of FWA for other applications and thereby resulted in inexpensive solutions.
This can be seen in the availability of FWA services in the U.S. today. While there are many FWA residential broadband providers in the U.S., the data rates they offer are very low. Only very few providers are currently capable of offering connectivity rates comparable to xDSL and cable.
The introduction of 5G is now changing the perception of FWA as it addresses the shortcomings of earlier generations. 5G offers 10 times the bandwidth with 10 times lower latency across a broad range of radio frequencies. In a recent survey of 3000 people in the U.S., U.K., and South Korea, Nokia found that 76% of all respondents saw FWA as the most appealing 5G use case. 66% indicated that they would subscribe to 5G FWA if it cost the same as their current broadband offering and could deliver the same performance.
Part of the appeal of FWA for consumers in the report was the fact that 41% of the respondents currently have only one broadband provider choice in their area with many resenting this lack of choice. In addition, the easy Do-it-Yourself installation without the need for an engineer was especially appealing with 80% indicating that this was a valuable benefit.
This is driving global growth in 5G FWA adoption. According to a recent report by Polaris Market Research, the global 5G FWA market is expected to reach $88.5 billion in 2027 with a compound annual growth rate of 99.3%. As can be seen below, there is a healthy distribution of investment across all regions.
5G Fixed Wireless Access Market Size, by Region, 2019-2027 (USD Billions)
What to expect from 5G FWA
The key question is whether 5G FWA can deliver performance similar to current broadband access technologies. As seen in Figure 1, 5G is providing faster download speeds than Wi-Fi, where the majority of connections are supported by fixed-line technologies, such as xDSL, Cable, or fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). The figure also shows that 5G has improved download speeds compared to 4G, making FWA a more attractive alternative to fixed broadband access.
According to recent data from Opensignal, in leading 5G markets users see average download speeds many times faster than 4G.
In every country, 5G users’ real-world download speeds are much faster than 4G
The large difference in performance improvement is due to the availability of spectrum or specific carrier strategies. For example, in the U.S., Opensignal notes that the “modest 5G Download Speeds in the U.S. are due to the combination of a limited amount of new mid-band 5G spectrum available now and the widespread use of low-band spectrum by operators. For example, T-Mobile’s 600MHz and AT&T’s 850MHz offer excellent availability and reach but lower average speeds than the 3.5GHz mid-band spectrum used as the main 5G band in every country outside of the U.S. However, in our recent U.S. report, we found that Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service offers a very considerably faster average 5G download speeds of 494. 7 Mbps, which is faster than the average 5G download speeds Opensignal has seen on any operator, or in any country to date, including Saudi Arabia.”
Mobile service providers across the globe have chosen different paths to market and made specific choices on which types of 5G services to offer first. Some, like T-Mobile and AT&T, have leveraged low-band spectrum with wider range and availability, while Verizon has chosen mmWave spectrum to offer faster download speed, but with a more limited range. However, the FCC has recently auctioned 20,000 mid-band spectrum licenses and major U.S. mobile service providers plan to use several frequency bands to offer both highspeed data upload and download as well as broad range and coverage with their 5G service offerings.
5G FWA for a broad range of applications
The broad range of spectrum available in 5G enables FWA solutions that can be optimized for many different applications, leveraging 5G infrastructure and services to serve a variety of new markets. 5G Radio Access Networks (RANs) are now being virtualized, enabling functions to be flexibly deployed to meet the specific speed, latency, and reliability requirements. 5G network slicing ensures that each customer receives the performance they need without impacting others.
This enables 5G FWA services to be offered with precisely the performance profile to achieve the right balance between throughput, coverage, latency, and reliability. This means that 5G FWA can be used to meet a variety of broadband access needs, with flexible, cost-effective, high-performance solutions. But, in addition, it means that 5G FWA can address a broad range of new applications with a cost-effective, high-performance solution. This has already led to a vibrant ecosystem of 5G FWA solution vendors and partnerships that are driving down costs, enabling more applications to be profitably addressed. As 5G matures, we can expect 5G FWA to not only address more use cases but potentially become the preferred access method for consumers, enterprises, and governments.
From rural extension to urban meshes
Current discussions on 5G FWA focus on the potential extension of broadband access to remote rural communities that cannot be profitably addressed with landline alternatives. It is estimated that only 1.2 billion or 60% of global households have a broadband connection*. When you consider that 56% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, one can see a clear indication that providing broadband connections in rural environments is a major opportunity for 5G FWA.
However, 5G FWA can also be used in urban environments. One of the challenges of deploying 5G services in urban environments is connectivity to each cell or antenna. Ideally, this should be a fiber backhaul solution, but the expected increase in the number of microcells, particularly for services based on mmWave 5G, poses a practical issue of providing fiber connectivity to each micro-cell. A mmWave 5G micro-cell could be installed on top of a bus stop or on a light pole or the side of a building, which makes it difficult to get fiber to the antenna.
One of the solutions is to use microwave backhaul, which operates in the same frequency as mmWave 5G. Because microwave signals need line-of-sight connectivity to avoid interference, a mesh architecture can be used to provide multiple connectivity paths for backhaul.
At this point, it is fair to ask if we are still talking about fixed wireless access or are we discussing fixed wireless backhaul. In the past, there was a clear delineation between the two as the technologies and spectrum used for access and backhaul were different. However, with 5G and the use of mmWave spectrum, the line between fixed wireless access and backhaul has blurred. It is now possible to use the same technology and spectrum to both provide access and backhaul, at the same time.
One example is the upcoming Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB) feature introduced in 3GPP release 16. IAB provides multi-hop backhauling based on 5G mmWave radio spectrum.
IAB nodes can act as both backhaul and access nodes by using the directionality of MIMO antennae to direct radio signals to the right receivers. Relaying of backhaul signals can be in-band using the same frequency for the access and backhaul links or out-of-band where separate frequencies are used.
What IAB and similar concepts enable and support is the establishment of mesh architectures in urban environments for mmWave 5G services. 5G mmWave services will require a magnitude increase in the number of micro-cells deployed and the mass deployment of antennae. This will include new locations, such as bus stops and lamp-posts, some of which will have access to fiber backhaul, but where most will not. Rolling out fiber to all these locations or even providing connectivity to existing fiber could be cost-prohibitive. Therefore, the ability for the access antennae to also act as its backhaul solution is extremely attractive.
Each IAB node can have multiple paths to other neighboring IAB nodes allowing redundant backhaul links. Conversely, a service can be delivered via multiple IAB access nodes ensuring a redundant and reliable access service.
The ability of FWA solutions to function as IAB nodes, therefore, provides new opportunities for offering competitive broadband connectivity solutions not only to residences but also to enterprises.
Directional beamforming antennae ensure there is no cross-interference
5G FWA for enterprise
In previous generations, mobile technology was almost exclusively associated with smartphones. Very few considered mobile services such as FWA as a viable alternative for enterprise connectivity. However, this is now changing with the enhanced throughput, latency, and reliability that 5G FWA can offer. It opens a range of new opportunities in addressing enterprise use cases that were previously unviable.
In fact, in many discussions on FWA, it is considered a “use case” synonymous with residential access rather than an access or connectivity alternative that has the potential to support multiple use cases, including a wide range of enterprise use cases. It is therefore time to broaden the scope of the FWA discussion.
Enhancing enterprise connectivity
Just as many residential broadband access consumers have limited choices in terms of connectivity providers, so are enterprise clients limited in their choices of cost-effective connectivity. Enterprise connectivity is expensive due to the higher bandwidth and availability requirements that enterprises require. However, with COVID-19 work-from-home practices, enterprise-class connectivity now extends to residential environments. This challenges conventional thinking on residential needs versus enterprise needs when it comes to connectivity. It also opens new opportunities for 5G FWA solutions.
Supporting alternative enterprise connectivity
Most enterprises already have a primary connectivity service, often based on Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) services or even legacy leased lines, to ensure reliable, always available connectivity. However, these services are complicated and expensive and can be difficult to update in response to new requirements or adaptation needs.
It is for this reason that software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions were introduced. SD-WAN solutions allow enterprises to choose the most appropriate connectivity service for a specific application. Traditionally, MPLS connections have been used as these provide the most reliable connectivity. However, as Internet services delivered over broadband connections, both fixed and mobile, have improved, enterprises are increasingly using these lower-cost connections.
SD-WAN enables all available connectivity options to be managed by a single controller effectively separating the application layer from the connectivity layer. This allows new connectivity options to be introduced and managed by the SDWAN controller. 5G FWA can thus be introduced as a new, reliable, highspeed, and cost-effective connectivity option for connecting enterprise locations. The flexibility of 5G enables FWA solutions to be tailored to the specific needs of the enterprise, finding the right balance between throughput, latency, and reliability.
This provides carriers with an opportunity to extend their services to enterprises with an offering that can keep pace with their needs.
The big advantage of 5G FWA for enterprise access is that connectivity can be provided to new locations quickly and at very low cost.
Supporting temporary enterprise connectivity
An extension of the 5G FWA enterprise connectivity use case is the provisioning of temporary connectivity. There are many industries where temporary work locations are required, such as building sites or temporary office space or disaster-response situations where emergency facilities need to be set up quickly. In the worst-case scenario, this can be in the event of a catastrophe where communications need to be reestablished as a matter of priority.
With 5G FWA, it is possible to establish reliable, high-speed connectivity quickly with a minimum of installation effort and cost. This makes 5G FWA ideal for temporary connectivity use cases and a valuable extension of services offered to enterprises by carriers.
Supporting connectivity for entertainment venues
Entertainment venues often face the challenge that while events are underway, there is a massive need for high-capacity connectivity. However, when the event is over, that demand falls to almost zero. This leads to the dilemma of investing in a permanent solution with the capacity to meet peak demands or finding a temporary solution that can increase capacity when required. The latter option is the more attractive option and 5G FWA provides the potential to make that option a reality.
The venue can use a solution with a combination of permanent and temporary installations. The low cost of 5G FWA devices without the need for wired connectivity means that it is feasible to install permanent 5G FWA antennae at strategic locations in the entertainment venue. This can enable a certain level of capacity sufficient for most events. This capacity can then be enhanced with temporary 5G FWA installations both outside and inside the venue to increase capacity when required. This could be as simple as vans with 5G FWA antennae parked outside the venue.
This is a use case that lends itself well to carriers who provide communication services to entertainment venues and need to respond quickly to event needs.
From public to private networks
One of the more interesting opportunities that 5G FWA enables is the potential to support private enterprise networks. With 5G FWA, the cost of deploying and maintaining private networks is dramatically reduced, making it an attractive proposition for manufacturers, enterprises, college campuses, shopping malls, and entertainment venues. 5G FWA provides connectivity, but also provides access to the full spectrum of 5G services and capabilities that can be applied in a private network environment. This can enable rich experiences for the private network users whether they are employees, clients, students, patients, or consumers.
Supporting private campus networks
One of the challenges of campus environments is that connectivity needs to be provided between buildings as well as within buildings. This is where 5G FWA combined with Wi-Fi 6 can provide a compelling alternative.
5G FWA can provide the signal to the building where WiFi 6 distributes the signal within the building. In the future, we can expect even greater convergence between 5G FWA and WiFi 6, which opens carrier opportunities to offer managed private campus network services.
Once a private network is established, it is possible to offer a range of IP services that are confined to that network enhancing the value of the campus to employees. There is also the added benefit of security, allowing sensitive information to be confidentially shared across the campus.
The same concept can be extended to other types of private campuses, such as college campuses, hospital campuses, government offices, ports, or even military installations.
Supporting manufacturer digital transformation to smart factories
Manufacturing firms are in the midst of a major digital transformation to smart factories, often referred to as Industry 4.0. The smart factory vision is to enable a fully automated production where the factory itself can detect and resolve issues via intelligent processing of data from a network of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors and robots.
5G FWA can provide connectivity to factory buildings that are tailored to the needs of manufacturing networks concerning capacity, latency, and reliability. IIoT sensors do not require a large amount of bandwidth, but there can be millions of them leading to a different capacity profile compared to typical modern networks. For smart factories requiring real-time automated response based on IIoT input, latency and reliability become critical requirements. 5G Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) capabilities were designed with precisely these needs in mind. The flexibility in 5G concerning frequency spectrum used and the locations of virtual RAN functions closer to the network edge means that a 5G FWA solution can be provided that matches the specific capacity, latency, and reliability needs of the smart factory.
Supporting targeted marketing in shopping malls and entertainment venues
When 5G FWA connectivity is provided as a private network in entertainment venues and shopping malls, it opens up new possibilities for those venues to interact with their customers. In the first instance, this could be by providing valuable information that enhances their experience at the venue. For entertainment venues, this could be access to online maps and background information on the teams or acts performing. For both venues and shopping malls, it could be offers and discounts for a limited time that drive visitors to stores on site. It also serves to establish a trusted relationship with visitors that will allow effective marketing of new events and offers that can attract them back to your venue or shopping mall.
Carriers can thus enhance their 5G FWA connectivity offering to shop malls and entertainment venues with advanced cloud services enabled by 5G and delivered over 5G FWA.
Supporting a broad range of requirements
In summary, there are a broad range of use cases that can be supported by 5G FWA, opening many new revenue opportunities for carriers and enterprise customers, as well as greater choice, reliability and affordability for consumers.
However, all of these use cases have specific needs that require solutions that are tailored to deliver exactly what is required within the budget agreed. The broad-spectrum range of 5G as well as the virtualized functions and network slicing that 5G provides enables service providers to meet specific needs for bandwidth, latency, and reliability. By providing a broad range of 5G FWA devices, it is possible to support all of these options allowing the various use case requirements to be met.
As can be seen above, each use case has a different combination of requirements concerning overall capacity or throughput, range, latency, and reliability. Even within certain use cases, there can be different needs. For example, temporary connectivity can require short- or long-range coverage depending on the location. In the real world, each customer will have specific requirements that may challenge these categories.
It is therefore essential that a comprehensive portfolio of 5G FWA devices is available that can support a broad range of frequency spectra and connectivity options so the right solution can be provided to the customer.
5G is a game-changer for FWA. It provides the throughput that makes 5G FWA a compelling alternative for residential and enterprise connectivity not only in rural locations but also in urban environments. It provides the reliability and latency performance that enables 5G FWA to address new opportunities such as supporting private networks and smart factories.
5G FWA provides carriers with the means to compete in use cases and locations where they previously have not been able to offer superior solutions. The growing and vibrant ecosystem of 5G vendors and partners ensure the availability of lower-cost 5G FWA equipment, thus changing the economics and basis for competition.
The inherent advantages of wireless broadband connectivity that 5G FWA provides, along with the low cost and ease of installation, not only makes 5G FWA competitive to alternative forms of connectivity but has the potential of making 5G FWA the preferred form of connectivity for residential, business and government organizations.
To successfully exploit this emerging opportunity, carriers need to support a broad range of options. This enables carriers to deliver exactly the performance, reliability, and cost profile required.
With Inseego’s range of secure, 5G FWA solutions, carriers can take advantage of the most comprehensive portfolio of 5G FWA solutions available on the market today safe in the knowledge that Inseego is committed to providing the latest advancements and standard requirements.