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Next-gen network roll-outs drive 5G FWA broadband CPE market

Continued momentum revealed for fixed wireless access as analyst sees such services using 5G technology capable of supporting gigabit speeds, creating huge potential to compete with existing fixed broadband services

After a year of quiet progress, 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) is now finding a louder voice with operators in Europe and the Middle East in particular, and such moves are likely to drive the customer premises equipment (CPE) market to more than four million unit shipments in 2021, jumping to 11.7 million units in 2025, says an ABI Research study.

The worldwide FWA broadband services market has been growing rapidly, supplying broadband access to homes and businesses, and 5G network deployments are expected to accelerate FWA market growth in the years to come. ABI regards FWA has having huge potential, especially in connecting homes and businesses in suburban and rural areas to 5G networks and addressing long-standing broadband connectivity issues.

ABI’s 5G FWA devices market update predicts that the 5G FWA CPE market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48% over the next five years to ship 11.7 million units in 2025. Unit shipments are likely to be concentrated in mature markets because transition from LTE to 5G will focus mainly on mature markets in the forecast period. Emerging markets are likely to continue to rely on LTE-based FWA services, said ABI.

“Although LTE is currently the most widely used technology to provide FWA service, it cannot compete very well against high-speed fixed broadband services,” said Khin Sandi Lynn, industry analyst at ABI Research. “FWA services using 5G technology can support gigabit speeds and create huge potential to compete with existing fixed broadband services.”

Looking at which operators will take advantage of FWA services, ABI cited Verizon as the major operator to launch 5G FWA service in North America, while EE, Three UK and Vodafone are the key operators to launch 5G FWA in Europe. It said a few other operators in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa regions have started their commercial launch of 5G FWA over the past year.

“Except for Verizon, other operators are currently using a sub-6GHz band for their FWA services,” said Lynn. “Considering spectrum availability and the advantage of better propagation, sub-6GHz is likely to be a widely used band for 5G FWA services.”

The study also referenced industry players working towards extending the range of 5G FWA using millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum, noting recent trials demonstrating better coverage, up to a 3.8km range, using extended-range mmWave systems. It said 5G FWA mmWave roll-outs are now limited to high-density deployments, while extended mmWave systems will help operators expand deployments to less dense areas.

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In a December 2020 trial that aimed to reveal how FWA can help urban, suburban and rural areas boost connectivity capacity and prove the feasibility of 5G mmWave frequencies in powering high-speed, long-distance FWA devices, Italian operator TIM, Ericsson and Qualcomm claimed to have set a world record for long-distance speed with 5G mmWave technology.

Also, Nokia has just revealed that it has successfully piloted 4G and 5G FWA network slicing with Saudi Arabian telecommunications services provider Mobily on its live commercial network.

The ABI research said operators are likely to succeed in the FWA market if they carefully identify a strong network deployment strategy and choose CPE developments with technical and commercial advantages.

“Spectrum choices depend on business needs, capabilities and spectrum assets of the operators,” said Lynn. “Besides, operators need to identify the existing broadband competition in the targeted area, consumers’ demand, and the right choice of CPE, whether it be indoor, outdoor, Wi-Fi integration, self-installation support, whatever, for commercial success.”

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