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New 5G FWA trends for homes & enterprises

Aug 21, 2020 By Walter Wang, President, Wireless & Cloud Core Network Marketing & Solution Sales, Huawei

In the past few years, 4G and 5G wireless broadband access – or Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) – has enjoyed sustained double-digit growth in subscriber numbers, thanks to advantages like plug-and-play, zero-wait, and multi-site. It’s the fastest-growing home broadband technology, and 5G’s commercial rollout has only accelerated this momentum. So, how will FWA change home broadband services in the 5G era?

5G era

New capabilities: Gigabit home and 10-gigabit enterprise 

5G's most significant change is the dramatic increase in speed. Ookla’s Speedtest showed average 5G downlink data rates of around 340 Mbps to 6200 Mbps in five countries, including Saudi Arabia, Finland, and South Africa where FWA is the main conduit for 5G. That rate is three to eight times faster than the average wired broadband speed across all countries over the same period.

Huawei believes that we will see gigabit access for homes and 10-gigabit access for enterprises in most regions within a few years as the following conditions occur: 5G coverage expands, Massive MIMO becomes widespread, more wireless spectrum is upgraded to 5G, mmWave is adopted, and advances in CPE are introduced.

New models: Increasing speeds without increasing prices

Subscribers invariably want faster and more reliable broadband connectivity, but shy away from paying extra for it. While China is one of the world's most successful countries in terms of broadband upgrades with FTTH/O penetration increasing from 21 percent in 2013 to 90 percent in 2018, ARPU from Chinese operators' broadband services has barely moved over the same time period.

In a survey of thousands of South Korean, US, and UK subscribers, two-thirds of people expressed willingness to pay the same price as current home broadband tariffs to get faster next-gen broadband, while some hope tariffs should fall. This puts operators in the position of having to increase speeds without increasing prices.

When evolving 4G to 5G, the biggest improvement for FWA is not enhanced user experience thanks to faster speeds, but the fact that 5G FWA creates more business possibilities and dramatically reduces costs per line (including network investment and subscriber connection costs). In a typical 5G network environment, for example, costs per line for a broadband service that provides an average of 100 Mbps during busy hour can be up to 60 percent lower than a typical 4G network environment, offering an ideal solution to the speed-price dilemma. Huawei predicts that most homes will be able to enjoy the smooth experience of gigabit broadband connectivity at current broadband prices within the next few years.

New services: All-round players

Apart from tariff models, 5G FWA has shown a similar development trend as fixed networks, and will remain aligned with fixed networks in terms of service deployment. More exciting is that 5G will fully enable large-scale commercialization of FWA services, whereas commercial FWA services were never realized in the 4G era.

For example, FWA leased line services, which require high reliability, have already been commercially rolled out in Kuwait. New solutions like EN-DC and Super Uplink enhance the upstream guarantee capabilities of 5G leased lines, while an innovative dual CPE + AR router solution enables 99.99 percent or higher reliability.

We will also see the standardization and commercial adoption of 5G Ethernet. 5G Ethernet provides a layer 2 Ethernet service for enterprise users that’s easier to deploy, operate, and maintain. 5G Ethernet will completely redress FWA's final weakness: enterprise services.

The 5G FWA+TV service will enable TV services, which wasn’t possible in the 4G era. Offering multicast support on the network side, the 5G FWA+TV solution will help operators slash core network and backbone transmission bandwidth, dramatically reducing the massive data traffic generated by 4K Ultra HD streaming media. This will help mobile operators to easily implement quad play (broadband, mobile, landline phone, and TV), allowing them to compete with integrated operators on a level playing field.

5G slicing gives operators the ability to monetize different service experience requirements for the first time. Operators can configure 5G slices for different types of users to better meet specific needs, for example, latency-sensitive gamers, enterprise users who demand reliability, and online students and video conferencers who require higher video quality. Slicing can monetize experience, presenting a new opportunity in the 5G era.

Several leading operators in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have begun to propose light enterprise applications on 5G FWA networks. Because it doesn’t require complex integration or new development, we can expect the commercial deployment of services such as 5G FWA MPLS, 5G SD-WAN and 5G broadband backup links in 2020.

In places like the UK and China, operators are streaming important sporting events and galas live in HD using 5G. There is broad potential for commercial scenarios such as these, ranging from music concerts, rallies, and cruise liners, to construction sites and industrial workshops, to holiday properties and seasonal business venues. 5G FWA is a fast and convenient way to fulfill the requirements of these types of scenarios.

New industries: New home & industry scenarios 

In the 3G and 4G eras, innovators and how they innovated were restricted to the consumer market. However, only a year after 5G commercialization, we’re pleased to see that FWA innovation has emerged in a range of areas including ToC (To Consumer), ToH (To Home) and ToB (To Business).

The once-quiet customer premises equipment (CPE) sub-industry has also slowly livened up, with almost all mainstream smartphone manufacturers having launched 5G CPE products. Aside from the broadband market itself, major manufacturers view CPE as a key gateway to the smart home market in the future. Today the 5G CPE market consists of outdoor models boasting lightweight window-mounted DIY, indoor models with plug-and-play advantages, and OTT 2-in-1 models with built-in multimedia capabilities.

Even more exciting is that many innovative cross-sector products have emerged in the industry. For example, TD Tech's quad-proof (shock, EMC, water, and salt spray) industrial-grade CPE brings 5G to various complex and demanding industrial scenarios. Meanwhile, the first commercial 5G PC has been unveiled in the US. It features an integrated 5G wireless module for anytime, anywhere connectivity. 

Home FWA popularity will surge

In 2001, when the first mobile phone with a camera function was unveiled, many people thought it was a gimmick. After all, its 0.11-megapixel image quality paled in comparison to the photographic capabilities of the high-end 5.4-megapixel cameras of the time. Today, however, more than 90 percent of the world's photos are taken using mobile phones, thanks to their portability, ease of use, and continuous improvements in image quality.

Similarly, users have been adopting FWA since the 3G era thanks to its plug-and-play features, portability, and contiunuous improvements in connection speed. In the 4G era, FWA surpassed DSL in terms of user experience and saw widescale growth. In the first year of 5G rollout – 2019 – the number of new FWA users worldwide, excluding China, leapt past the number of FTTH users. We believe that 5G-powered FWA will become the broadband choice for most homes around the world within the next few years and unlock a new blue ocean of cross-sector innovation across a multitude of industries for operators and industry chain players.