5G FWA is emerging as a competitive alternative to fixed broadband

The bullish sentiment swirling around 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) services continues to build.

Nick Wood

March 24, 2023

3 Min Read
5G signal Communication Mast Concept
5G mobile signal Communication Mast (cell tower) Super fast data streaming concept. 3D illustration.

The bullish sentiment swirling around 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) services continues to build.

ABI Research on Thursday said that 5G FWA is emerging as a competitive alternative to fixed broadband in both developed and emerging markets. It reckons the number of subscriptions will grow to 72 million by 2027, which represents 35% of the total fixed-wireless market.

“FWA is one of the few use cases that utilises 5G Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (mMIMO) networks to their full extent, with a typical monthly utilisation that could be as high as 1TB per subscriber. Many MNOs that have launched 5G are expected to offer FWA services, driving 5G FWA market growth,” said Fei Liu, 5G and mobile network infrastructure industry analyst at ABI Research.

Growth is currently being driven by deployments in the US, Western Europe and Asia Pacific, ABI said.

“Major U.S. operators, like T-Mobile, see a huge opportunity with 5G FWA because two-thirds of its residential customers living in urban and suburban areas are dissatisfied cable customers, making up a significant amount of its 5G FWA customers,” ABI Research said.

On a related note, a study published by Leichtman Research Group earlier this month claimed that FWA services accounted for 90% of US net broadband additions last year, compared to 20% in 2021.

Meanwhile, “in Western Europe, EE UK launched 5G FWA in 2019 and plans to cover 90 percent of the UK with 5G by 2028. Fastweb in Italy launched 5G FWA in 2020 and plans to cover 12.5 million homes and businesses by 2025,” ABI noted. “There is growing interest in the Asia Pacific as Reliance Jio eyes 100 million homes through 5G FWA.”

Taking all this into consideration, ABI’s forecast actually looks a little conservative. Ericsson – which it must be said has a history of being quite optimistic with its forecasts – thinks there will be 192 million 5G FWA subscribers by 2027, up from 35 million this year.

It’s impossible to say decisively at this point which of these predictions will prove to be the more accurate. But when you consider that aforementioned Reliance Jio is targeting 100 million homes for its 5G FWA service – which doesn’t seem too outlandish in a country the size of India – then 72 million does start to look a little low. Admittedly Jio has yet to offer a time frame for hitting that target, but if it makes good on its pledge to offer nationwide 5G coverage by the end of this year, 100 million FWA customers by 2027 seems eminently achievable.

When it comes to revenue, a Juniper Research prediction last September put the figure at $2.5 billion globally this year, up from $515 million in 2022. It expects that number to climb to $24 billion by 2027 driven by consumers switching from fixed broadband.

For all the excitement about 5G FWA uptake, operators still need to be careful not to clog up their networks.

“They need to be vigilant on how many FWA subscribers they can support and which type of service they wish to offer (best effort or QoS). In the long term, MNOs need to apply artificial intelligence (AI) techniques such as machine learning (ML) to evaluate their network resource, network capacity, and spectrum to ensure a steady 5G FWA growth,” Liu said. “When the 5G FWA service starts to challenge their network capacity, these MNOs may have to deploy millimetre wave (mmWave) [spectrum] to guarantee the quality of their FWA services and overall network capacity.”


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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