In modern day times, tech giants share a similar dream in wanting to develop and expand the Internet to every corner of the globe. For example, Google and Facebook, whose rise to success is attributed to the Internet, are fully aware of how significant it is for businesses. This has led them into significant exploration of and innovation on the development of affordable broadband technologies, aiming to deliver Internet connections through the use of satellites, balloons, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). However, it is not these Internet giants who are principally making Internet access broadly available to global households. Global telecom operators and the equipment vendors who support them are playing an overwhelming role in delivering this global Internet presence.
By the end of 2019, the fixed wireless access (FWA) technology had already been implemented in more than 230 networks across 120 countries. As a result, more than one hundred million users, mostly from younger generations, were then able to access the Internet in the rural, suburban, and urban areas lacking sufficient fixed broadband coverage. This has not only increased the coverage of the global village, but also will have far-reaching implications for bridging the digital divide and sharing inclusive growth called for by global organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
“It will benefit not only these living in the vast rural areas, but also benefit those households in need of connections and broadband upgrades. Furthermore, it delivers huge benefits to numerous small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Advancing wireless network technologies and growing industry ecosystem have already enabled 4G/5G FWA in providing high-bandwidth wireless broadband services with huge capacity. As a result, FWA has been widely used in extending connections to these unconnected, increasing the speed of xDSL connections, and enabling fiber-like service experiences,” said Cao Ming, Vice President of Huawei’s Wireless Network Product Line, in an interview with FromGeek.com. “4G/5G FWA can now provide up to Gbps data transmission, showing that FWA has entered into the Wireless Fiber era. It is now already a popular trend for mobile operators to provide home broadband access through wireless networks.”
FWA Is an All-Time Favorite Among Operators
Though it has only been a few years since FWA has started becoming a trending topic, its applications have been in use for a lengthy period of time, which date back to as early as the 2G era. From the view point of Vice President Cao, FWA enables fixed home broadband access through wireless network technology. Simply, it allows for the Internet access by just using wireless routers, known as customer-premises equipment (CPE) in the communications industry, at users’ homes. The CPE bridges various terminals to wireless network base stations and to the Internet.
Being a cost-effective, easy-to-deploy, and flexible broadband solution, FWA has invariably played a crucial role in the broadband industry. In comparison with wired access technology, it eliminates the requirements for right of way (ROW) acquisition and cable routing in trenches or through walls. This makes it an ideal choice for many countries and regions to deploy broadband. With 4G matured and 5G entering a new stage, 4G/5G FWA can now provide up to Gbps downlink bandwidth required for fiber-like experiences. This enhances its advantageous position among global mobile operators seeking to expand their market presence to the home broadband industry.
In 2019, 4G FWA gained more new users than wired broadband in the markets outside of China. A total of 12 countries have seen wireless broadband connections outnumber wired broadband connections. 5G commercial deployment started by approximately 60 telecom operators, half of which decided to deploy 5G FWA in parallel. This shows that FWA has become the most important business next to mobile broadband (MBB) among operators.
“In addition to providing mandated basic coverage, operators must speed up the development of FWA, and the core is to meet commercial requirements,” said Vice President Cao. “Connections represent a major source of revenue. After years of business growth, operators are now shifting the priorities from people-to-people and people-to-things markets to the vast and lucrative home broadband market. FWA means new users and a fresh source of revenue, and this is the biggest driving force behind FWA.”
“Particularly in the early stages of 5G development, 5G terminals still have a low penetration rate, generating a relatively low traffic load for 5G networks. Home broadband is an ideal choice to leverage vacant resources for maximized growth in revenue, accelerating 5G monetization.” Mr. Cao added.
He also pointed out that FWA is an all-time favorite not only for mobile or mobile-prioritized operators. Fixed network operators have also attached high importance to FWA, aiming to make the very best of its advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness, deployment convenience, and short ROI period.
FWA Is the Optimal Supplement to Full-Optical Services
In global practices, FWA has seen major adoption in three scenarios: connection expansion, connection speedup, and fiber-like experience. “Commercial adoption has shown that FWA is already a strong supplement to broadband connections of high-speed Internet services among homes and SMEs. Some operators, particularly these mobile-prioritized ones, have their broadband services fully carried over wireless networks,” said Mr. Cao.
In connection expansion scenarios, operators extend connections through FWA to these without digital connections in untapped markets. Based on 4G FWA technology, operators provide home broadband services over the existing wireless networks to users in suburban and rural areas lacking sufficient fixed broadband coverage. FWA deployment does not require ROW to be obtained and cables to be led through trenches or walls, shortening the pay-back period. Therefore, this business model is sustainable in helping bridge digital divide in society.
According to Vice President Cao, an increasing number of countries are joining the program initiated by the United Nations to deliver universal coverage of connections as a key move to bridge digital divide and reduce poverty. Home broadband is an essential part, placing operators with more responsibilities to make network coverage universally available.
In Sri Lanka, the home broadband usage rate was approximately 9% in 2013. In this tropical island country, 80% of its population live in vast, sparsely populated rural areas, with huge digital chasms between rural and urban areas as well as between different economic strata. Since the local operator Dialog turned to 4G FWA, the home broadband usage rate rose to 26% by 2019, bringing connections to 800,000 people. FWA has also promoted distance education, medical diagnosis, digital finance, female education, and climate change response.
In connection speedup scenarios, operators leverage FWA to increase the speed of existing broadband connections. Enhanced 4G FWA solutions incorporate a series of leading wireless network technologies, including multi-antenna and Massive MIMO, and support device-network synergy. With these enhancements, connections will be able to achieve a peak rate of several hundred Mbps or even 1 Gbps. Therefore, FWA offers operators ideal choices in quickly increasing the speed of copper-line connections with cost-effective solutions for improved digital experience, simultaneously achieving business success.
In 2017, the Internet penetration rate was only slightly above 77% in Trinidad and Tobago, with fierce competition among its three operators in the fixed broadband market. Due to low-quality user experience and high operating expenses as a result of copper-line connections, TSTT, one of the operators, suffered a 21.4% drop in business revenue within one year, along with a 33% decrease in user numbers within 18 months. In 2018, it started the zero-copper project, aiming to deliver basic coverage through the use of Huawei’s FWA solutions. Combined with optical fiber deployment in dense urban areas, the operator managed to have its voice, Internet access, and third-party video services priced 30% below the market average. This enabled the operator to extend the Internet services to more low-income households, succeeding against its competitors.
In fiber-like experience scenarios, operators provide FWA-based broadband services with a premium experience. Having greatly progressed in many areas, 5G enables FWA to significantly improve user experience to Gbps. This allows operators to satisfy the midterm and long-term broadband requirements of smart homes, 4K video, and AR/VR services as well as SME businesses. As a result, operators will be better empowered to achieve efficient service growth and business success.
In Kuwait, the three major operators Zain, Ooredoo, and VIVA officially launched 5G commercial networks in June last year, all with FWA being listed as the first 5G service. The 5G FWA service packages were fully aligned with fiber-optic counterparts. This greatly helped improve service capability and profitability in terms of both service experience and package prices.
For the operators who have succeeded in their 4G FWA businesses, the technological consistency between 4G and 5G provides them with extra convenience in proactive expansion of 5G FWA. In the Philippines, the operator Globe successfully took full advantage of FWA in achieving efficient growth in user numbers, registering a 25% increase in 2019 over 2018, while the broadband revenue accounted for 14% of its total revenue. With proactive deployment in 2019, 5G FWA become the first 5G commercial service available on the market.
“FWA brings business success to operators, helping them increase user numbers, revenue, and profits as well as user loyalty,” concluded Vice President Cao. For example, after FWA was introduced, a Japanese operator who once leased fixed networks from other operators to provide home broadband services in the past, successfully provided FWA services bundled with mobile service packages. This enabled it in achieving a fivefold growth in user numbers, exceeding three million, within two years, driving its broadband market share from 10% to above 15%. At the same time, with an appropriate fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) tariff design, it successfully reduced its user churn rate to a record low level.
Opportunities Coexist Side by Side with Challenges
According to Huawei’s forecast, the number of global FWA users will increase from 100 million in 2019 to more than 500 million by 2025, with an average annual compound growth exceeding 30%. With 5G having gone through the initial commercial adoption to a new stage of scaled deployment, the 4G/5G FWA industry ecosystem is increasingly maturing and developing. The CPE products of all levels from high end to midrange and low end are available, with the low-end CPE products expected to be priced at below USD 30. This provides the favorable conditions for allowing FWA to expand to home users.
An ITU report indicates that nearly half of the world’s population still had no Internet access by 2019. The proportion of households with Internet access in developed countries is 1.86 times that in developing countries, and only 11.8% of households in less developed countries had Internet access. According to the World Bank, about 72% of households outside of China still access the Internet through low-speed xDSL and cable connections, keeping them outside the digital world of high-definition video, online streaming, and many other benefits. Facing the markets with such huge potential, FWA still has multiple pressing challenges in terms of insufficient spectrum, weak investment, and lack of cost-effective terminals.
Such a scale of opportunities and challenges highlights the importance of joint efforts across the entire industry.
In his interview, Vice President Cao called for strong support from regulatory authorities at the national level in four areas to further promote “Broadband for All”. First, unified broadband standards must be developed with regard to, for example, connection rates in rural areas and for urban streaming media services to facilitate operators’ service deployment. Secondly, special spectrum must be allocated for FWA to eliminate the development bottleneck in spectrum resources. Thirdly, social infrastructure must be flexibly opened up to FWA, for example, in terms of new site resources to simplify site addition or expansion. Lastly, preferential tax policies must be introduced in terms of network construction and terminal industry to ensure that FWA networks will be affordable to both operators and their customers.
Mr. Cao called upon operators to pursue 4G/5G FWA coordination, spectrum coordination, and experience coordination in line with network environments, business strategies, and user requirements. He advised operators to adopt specific coverage solutions for the major three FWA application scenarios to fulfill their respective service requirements. His another advice is in-phase FWA network construction, from sharing MBB networks to building dedicated FWA networks, to ensure service experience best suited to users at different stages.
Mr. Cao further emphasized that Huawei, as a telecom equipment vendor, is going all out to achieve the “Broadband for All” ambition. Wireless to the X (WTTx) is Huawei’s brand of FWA based on 4G and 5G technology. It provides an end-to-end (E2E) solution spanning from networks, CPE terminals, and operation and maintenance (O&M) tools. It helps global operators address the challenges associated with fixed-network connections, promoting wireless broadband connections across the globe. For example, WTTx contributed to the FWA business success for the operators aforementioned.
At the network side, Huawei’s innovative Massive MIMO solution works with high-end CPEs tailored to stationary scenarios, maximizing spectral efficiency. Compared with MBB, the spectral efficiency improves by three to five fold and the per-GB cost is reduced to 10% to 25%. At the terminal (or CPE) side, Huawei has launched a full category of indoor and outdoor products priced from CNY 300 to CNY 3,000, fully meeting the requirements of high-end, mid-range, and low-end markets. In regard to O&M tools, Huawei’s WTTx Suite supports comprehensive functions, including rate-based reliable number provisioning evaluation, network expansion guide, CPE experience management and assessment, and user churn analysis. The tool enables operators to achieve lightweight deployment with service provisioning accuracy to above 90%. This provides operators with strong capabilities to implement one-stop service provisioning and O&M management of WTTx services.
Globally, more than 2,700 CPE products have already arrived in the market, and a multitude of high-end 5G CPE products are soon to be available, too. They will add strong fresh support for the operators seeking to explore the FWA applications in various scenarios. The wide availability of diversified terminal products is always an essential basis for network service development. A thriving terminal industry will further accelerate the development of FWA as an industry.
The value of broadband inclusiveness is far more than achieving broadband connections. Quoting an industry report of the World Bank, Vice President Cao said that universal broadband availability is conducive to eliminating digital divides and improving the economic development of developing and less developed countries. Based on the report, a 10% increase in broadband penetration will lead to the global GDP increasing by approximately 1.3%. In areas with abundant availability of network services, improved broadband experience means that innovative services of a greater diversity and enhanced online experience will be enabled, further driving the development of digital economy.
This is the real charm with the information and communications technology (ICT) as the underlying infrastructure. Greater capabilities entail greater responsibilities. FWA increases the inclusiveness of broadband connections, helping deliver the benefits of technology to all mankind. This should be the bounden responsibility as well as the obligation of leading ICT players. Today, more than half of the planet’s 7.5 billion population are still denied access to the digital world. This underscores the consistent, unwavering significance of global telecom operators and equipment vendors tapping the full potential of FWA and other connection technologies to bring the benefits of technology to everyone at an early date.
Vice President of Wireless Product Line,
Reported by Zhu Junsen at www.FromGeek.comSubscribe to our daily newsletter Back