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5G fixed wireless access broadband to rack up 60 million subscribers by 2026

Demand for efficient home broadband access expected to drive deployments and migration of FWA

Demand for high-capacity residential broadband, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, is set to continue. 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) is set to be the fastest-growing residential broadband segment, according to a study from ABI Research, increasing at a CAGR of 71% and exceeding 58 million subscribers in 2026.

The Pay TV and residential broadband subscriptions market data report calculated that the worldwide residential broadband market reached a subscriber’s base of over 1.1 billion in 2020, a 4% increase from the previous year. It added that key applications such as remote working, online learning, e-commerce, and virtual healthcare drove high-speed broadband demand throughout the year.

The significant increase in use of internet-based home entertainment such as video streaming and online gaming also pushed existing broadband users to upgrade their broadband services to higher-tier packages, while households previously without broadband access signed up for new subscriptions.

“Increasing adoption of internet-connected devices, smart TVs and smart home devices, as well as consumers’ media consumption through internet applications, will continue to drive high-speed broadband adoption in the years to come,” observed Khin Sandi Lynn, industry analyst at ABI Research. “In addition, many businesses are allowing remote working for some of their employees after the pandemic, which will boost the need for home broadband services even further.”

To fulfil demand, ABI noted that broadband operators were investing heavily in expanding higher-capacity broadband networks. It said that while some cable operators continued to invest in and upgrade to the DOCSIS 3.1 specification, the cable standardisation body, CableLabs, and other industry players were already working toward DOCSIS 4.0 technology.

“Although cable companies don’t anticipate the need to deploy the new cable standard any time soon, Comcast has completed a lab test of DOCSIS 4.0 full-duplex system-on-chip from broadband in April 2021,” said Lynn.

“Cable companies are likely to stretch the life of the existing DOCSIS 3.1 standard for a few more years. However, DOCSIS 4.0 can support speeds of up to 10Gbps downstream and 6Gbps upstream, enabling improved customer experiences as well as the use of AR/VR [augmented or virtual reality] or bandwidth-demanding services, which will certainly emerge in the future.”

Similarly, the study observed that telcos continued to upgrade their xDSL to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks. In addition, FWA services were seen as a cost-effective alternative when the deployment of a high-speed fixed broadband network is not economically feasible.

Ongoing 5G network deployment alongside the development of extended 5G mmWave solutions will allow service providers to offer high-speed 5G FWA services in both urban and low-density areas. 5G FWA services are expected to represent 4% of residential broadband services in 2026, growing from less than 1% in 2020.

ABI predicted that as residential broadband penetration saturated mature markets, competition among broadband operators was likely to create challenges to maintain market shares.

“In addition to network upgrades, broadband operators need to invest in cutting-edge software and hardware to optimise network performance and support better user experiences. Providing advanced home networking devices, internet security, and home network self-diagnosis tools can help service providers reduce churn and improve average revenue per user,” Lynn concluded.

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