Monday, 23 April 2018

Fixed Wireless: The new standard for broadband?

Written by Steve Collins, Chief Technology Officer, NetComm Wireless
Wednesday 28 March 18

One of my colleagues raised an interesting point about the title of my upcoming panel discussion at Gigabit Access in Brussels.  The session is titled - Fixed Wireless: The new standard for broadband?   Her comment was: “That should be a statement – not a question.”    2017 was a “watershed moment” for Fixed Wireless. The network access technology that was initially developed for mobile phones is being used to connect the unconnected, and is now attracting a significant amount global attention for the broadband use case as the ramifications of 5G begin to be understood…

One of my colleagues raised an interesting point about the title of my upcoming panel discussion at Gigabit Access in Brussels. 

The session is titled - Fixed Wireless: The new standard for broadband?
 
Her comment was: “That should be a statement – not a question.” 
 
2017 was a “watershed moment” for Fixed Wireless. The network access technology that was initially developed for mobile phones is being used to connect the unconnected, and is now attracting a significant amount global attention for the broadband use case as the ramifications of 5G begin to be understood. 
 
Fixed Wireless has been successful in bringing consistent broadband services to homes and businesses in underserved areas to date, where it’s not commercially viable to deploy fixed networks. And while rural broadband is still the primary use case for technology today (4G), new markets and service categories for fixed wireless access are fast emerging with the advent of the 5G standard. 
 
Much of this growth is driven by encouraging network deployment economics. Fixed wireless enables the reliability of fixed line-equivalent broadband services without the need to deploy costly in-ground infrastructure over sometimes massive distances. 
 
Once reserved for rural areas located beyond the reach of fixed line infrastructure, fixed wireless 5G will soon out-perform VDSL in urban areas. The technology is being considered to make use of existing infrastructure and there are no permanent facilities.
 
ABI Research released a report that forecasts worldwide fixed wireless broadband subscribers will grow at a 30% CAGR to top 151 million in 2022. It states that the “exponential growth of 4G LTE coverage and capacity is driving wireless service growth”.
 
Much of the noise in the press today is coming from the arrival of 5G fixed wireless. Media coverage is saturated with announcements about 5G trials and launch plans, and everyone’s talking about the urban 5G eMBB use case.
 
With the growing use of terms such as ‘Wireless Fibre’, the prospect of fixed wireless becoming the new standard for broadband may not seem so far-fetched.  
 
An important thing to remember is that Fixed Wireless has several unique characteristics. Not only around what it does, but how it’s installed and managed.  The bottom line: “Fixed Wireless” may not always mean the same thing to everyone.
 
Carrier-grade Intelligent Fixed Wireless Access (IFWA) devices differ from off-the-shelf alternatives that provide a ‘best-effort’ connection from the base station to the premises.
 
IFWA devices are engineered to maximise the wireless link budget between the base station and the premise to optimise range and cell capacity, while enabling the efficient use of the spectrum and deliver a high standard of Quality of Service and performance.
 
The fixed wireless market includes both self-install indoor devices and IFWA devices that may be installed by technicians. Some enable broadband as a service, while others are set and forget. 
 
Regardless of the device type, to deliver real broadband fixed wireless devices should always be engineered with software defined networking to provide a managed wireless connection that allows operators to deliver on their speed promises. 
 
So – Fixed Wireless itself is already fragmented, offering an array of technology options. I contend that as 5G becomes a reality, we will see even more variations in this technology space – making it even harder for “Fixed Wireless” to become a standard for broadband. Therefore, it’s likely that Fixed Wireless will probably have its niche – a vital one – but a niche all the same. When viewed holistically, Fixed Wireless is a vital part of the multi-technology mix needed to connect a nation – along with other technologies like Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH), Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) and Satellite (among others) to meet growing customer expectations of a broadband service in the fastest and most cost-effective way. 
 
This multi-technology approach may just be the closest we will ever come to a standard for broadband. I look forward to hearing what my fellow panellists have to say at Gigabit Access 2018.  

Keynote and panel session: 9.20am, 11th April at Gigabit Access 2018.  
 

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