The recent announcement of the rollout of 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) in several cities across the US has many abuzz with speculation about what this next-gen advancement will do for residential broadband. The short answer is some very good things; the long answer is more complicated. FWA is not a new access technology. According to Ovum research it had 1.4 million subscribers in the US in 3Q18. However, 5G mmWave FWA can be used to fill gaps in the residential broadband market that still exist. 5G FWA can deliver increased bandwidths with more reliability than previous iterations of FWA. Deployment scenarios include single family homes without access to an adequate wireline broadband connection or multi-dwelling units where access technology upgrades are difficult to deploy.
Nevertheless, this solution is not without flaws. 5G FWA requires fiber to be pulled close to the residence, bringing into question the economics of the endeavor and whether fiber-all-the-way is the better option financially for the operator. Furthermore, 5G FWA relies strongly on line-of-sight, which can be doomed by the smallest factors blocking signals, such as various types of tree foliage and low-emissivity windows, among others.
There has been speculation that 5G FWA will challenge cable operators' hold on the market in the US. Currently, cable subscriptions make up over 60% of all broadband subscriptions, according to Ovum research. While there may be opportunities, those that will compete with a wireline broadband connection are going to be few and far between. As such, several cable MSOs have stated that they feel confident that their current networks and offerings can compete against 5G FWA.
Ultimately, a wireline-to-the-home broadband connection is the most reliable form of residential connectivity when it is available to the end user. When it is not, 5G FWA is an effective answer to improving residential broadband connections, but the service delivery and business case need to be suitable in order to successfully deploy.
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