If a city or town is looking to close the digital divide that they are experiencing, fixed wireless access (FWA) is a compelling solution. By leveraging 5G technology, FWA could be revolutionary for both mobile operators and wireless internet service providers (WISPs) to serve homes and businesses in areas that have less than average broadband internet penetration rates.
What is Fixed Wireless Access?
To start, FWA can be defined as delivering wireless broadband between two fixed points via radio links. FWA itself is not an emerging technology. It had previous names and protocols including Wireless Local Loop (WLL), Radio Local Loop (RLL), or simply wireless access. Typical applications in the early 2000s include power radio technology and personal communication systems. However, what FWA aims to deliver in the coming years is what makes it such a promising solution for difficult-to-reach areas, where fiber isn’t as viable from a profitability perspective.
In addition to fiber endpoints serving as the backhaul of FWA, 5G via mobile carriers is another viable endpoint option. Yet another endpoint option is via low earth orbit satellite, which can arguably reach the most difficult-to-access areas, albeit at a much higher cost. Together, these different backhaul options can either be standalone solutions or can piggyback off each other to provide the necessary capacity.
While different solutions have their respective benefits, many scenarios stand to benefit most from a convergence of solutions and technologies. Airwaive is one of the companies that enables FWA operators to deploy neighborhood broadband with significant speed and cost advantages over existing or standalone solutions. Being technology agnostic and compatible with multiple solutions providers, Airwaive is a platform that efficiently bridges the digital divide in both inner-city and rural communities across the world.
Top 5 Benefits of Fixed Wireless Access
The various stakeholders in the wireless industry have recently started to take fixed wireless seriously due to the recent market disruption caused by the convergence of FWA and 5G. Setting aside the timeline of this convergence, the benefits can already be realized today. The top 5 benefits that FWA provides are as follows:
1. Cost and Speed of Deployment
Legacy fixed technologies are thought to be a thing of the past, as operators focus on FWA and fiber as their fixed technologies for the future. This is because FWA, in particular, has a much shorter deployment timeline than fiber, as it takes advantage of the existing network infrastructure. It utilizes capacity that is already available, such as 5G from existing mobile towers or fiber to existing commercial or even residential buildings. Once this capacity is being used, it can be further developed by upgrading the software of existing sites or adding new hardware.
FWA is also much more cost-efficient to deploy in comparison to fiber. Laying down fiber beneath the ground is a capital-intensive process, and most of the investment is required before any revenue is earned. Similarly, returns on investment diminish outside of urban areas where the number of homes per kilometer of fiber is fewer. FWA requires less overall investment; both initial investment and further expansions that are aligned with increasing subscriber numbers. There is also the potential for lower risks as FWA capacity upgrades can be shared with other network providers.
2. Solution for Both Developed and Developing Markets
FWA can target three pain points in developed markets: 1. broadband connectivity in rural areas where fiber or wireline infrastructure is not readily available, 2. sites for festivals, concerts, or other events requiring a significant amount of temporary connectivity, and 3. fulfillment of the connectivity demands of urban areas.
FWA can also help to reduce the digital divide in developing nations or in war-stricken areas. In developing markets, the demand for wireless internet can be likened to rural areas in developed markets. With FWA, these areas will be able to utilize high-speed connectivity instead of the Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) from the first day it is live. This is possible due to the cost-effective nature of FWA as previously described.
3. Leverage for Radio Innovations
FWA is also supported by 3GPP access technology. It can help to utilize radio innovations like advanced modulation schemes, LTE air interface, multi-antenna technologies, and carrier aggregation. Furthermore, FWA networks don’t need as much power as mobile networks do, which opens the door for more performance upgrades. High-gain outdoor Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) and multi-antenna CPEs are also viable options for FWA networks to make use of. This will result in FWA featuring a fiber-like performance with much of the current infrastructure that is already in place.
4. Re-Use of Mobile Infrastructure
For 5G via mobile carriers, the main towers and sites that have previously been built for mobile networks can be used for FWA. Necessary upgrades for these sites will predominantly be software-based, reducing the need for any costly site visits unless new hardware is needed. 5G also allows operators to utilize one network of multiple services, like the Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile Broadband (MBB), and FWA. By leveraging existing mobile networks and fiber-to-the-premise reach (either on-net or near-net), significant traction can be made through FWA in urban and suburban areas.
5. Already Proven Business Case
As we have seen with 4G LTE technology, businesses and end customers have already seen a significant value proposition for the most common use cases. With the layering on of 5G technologies, existing investors and operators stand to benefit even further from lower initial deployment costs and time to market. FWA will also open up opportunities for new challengers in the broadband market that either cannot or do not want to commit substantial investments into traditional wired networks.
FWA can also be an attractive proposition for enterprise customers, particularly those not connected to the wireline infrastructure. It will help them facilitate their digital transformation efforts and build further value for their employees and customers.
Whether you’re an incumbent or challenger broadband provider, FWA enables broadband internet access at scale. This revolution is happening largely because FWA takes advantage of existing infrastructure – fiber, mobile, satellite endpoints – and has a much lower barrier to entry with regard to the initial investment required. It also reduces the risk of any investment made by operators as the network can be used to provide many services.
While the infrastructure is prevalent, the process of identifying and vetting potential sites to host FWA equipment is often a bottleneck. This is where Airwaive shines, by enabling providers to quickly filter potential site locations and streamlining the entire site acquisition process. As a result, providers are able to proliferate FWA networks across neighborhoods with greater ease in both difficult-to-reach and difficult-to-afford markets. And instead of being restricted to one or two solutions, Airwaive allows the optimal mix of solutions to maximize the impact and scale of FWA. And finally, by collaborating across providers and technologies, along with government funding, the dream of closing the digital divide may become a reality in the years ahead. Want to join the movement? Schedule a demo with Airwaive to get started.