HUAWEI PRESS RELEASE: Following fibre-to-the-x (FTTx), we now have wireless-to-the-x (WTTx), a wireless broadband solution designed to enable homes and small businesses to quickly enjoy broadband access. The evolution of 4G LTE technologies has increased WTTx cell throughput to 110Mb/s-150Mb/s which is faster than DSL or fibre connections, allowing a wireless broadband experience similar to an optical fibre connection experience, even during peak hours.
WTTx offers a compelling business opportunity for mobile operators by enabling them to quickly deliver cost-effective broadband access to unconnected households. By leveraging existing cellular networks and site architecture, WTTx resolves the last mile access issues encountered using traditional fixed-line broadband solutions in both densely populated urban centers (WTTx high capacity solution), and sparsely populated rural areas (WTTx ultra-wide coverage solution).
WTTx allows wide network coverage and fast deployment, helping operators to shorten their network deployment time and reduce network construction costs. Users can enjoy high-speed broadband services simply by switching on a CPE provided by a customer service center, without the need to wait for installation by engineers. This also helps reduce the O&M costs of operators.
However, as Europe is one of the most developed regions with high broadband penetration, you may be wondering if wireless home broadband is a business growth opportunity for operators in the region. According to recent industry activity, we’re seeing more and more European wireless operators delivering WTTx under names including “Movistar Internet Radio”, “4G for home”, “4G Home”, “4G Box”, “GigaCube”, “HomeNet”. In fact, more than 20 European operators in more than 10 countries have commercially launched this service. So, we can say the answer is a big YES.
There are 3 major categories of WTTx operators:
Telefonica & Orange in Spain: According to European Commission statistics, 81 per cent of households have broadband access. That means, with a total 18 million households, there are more than 3 million households waiting to be connected to broadband. However laying either fibre or DSL in rural and suburban areas is both costly and can be slow. Using wireless to connect these users offers a fast and economical solution. Telefonica positions its “Movistar Internet Radio” as a solution for users who “cannot access Broadband because there is no copper or fibre coverage”. The cost will be €33-€35/month for up to 20Mb/s connection.
“4G en casa”, a similar 4G home broadband product by Orange offers 35GB data at the price of €34.95/month, featuring plug & play, a fibre-like experience, and connection speeds of 20Mb/s to 50Mb/s (up to 150Mb/s). It is an alternative to ADSL and fibre for those who do not need a landline and do not want to pay line rental cost (currently around €15 if users contract with other operators).
Bouygues Telecom in France: The “4G box” is an immediate solution allowing high speed Internet access thanks to the quality of Bouygues Telecom’s 4G network which covers 85 per cent of the population. Some 10 million French households are now able to access the services simply by plugging in the 4G box. Bouygues Telecom offers its “4G Box” at €29.99/month plus €3 for CPE rental, and 30 days free trial without commitment: “I am delighted that Bouygues Telecom is finally allowing many families in the less densely populated areas of the region to fully enjoy their digital live. Accessing high speed Internet is essential today, regardless of the technology used,” says Olivier Roussat, chairman and CEO of Bouygues Telecom.
Vodafone in Germany: In April of 2017, Vodafone launched GigaCube in Germany which provides “quick and instant Internet access” for homes via LTE with up to 150Mb/s DL speed, 50GB data usage volume at the price of only €24.99/month. GigaCube Flex allows users to pay by month only when they use GigaCube whether it’s in their second home, holiday home or mobile home. This is a new kind of nomadic service between traditional fixed and mobile. Vodafone introduced the GigaCube service to maximize its LTE network value, and by combining the service with its mobile contracts it will improve ARPU and user stickiness in the German market.
T-Mobile in the Netherlands: Leading mobile operator, T-Mobile Netherlands wanted to extend its business to fixed access. With the best mobile network in the Netherlands, and un-used 20MHz TDD spectrum at 2.6GHz, T-Mobile used FDD+TDD to offer home broadband. In 2016, T-Mobile Netherlands launched ‘4G for home’ (‘4G voor Thuis’) as a converged fixed and mobile (FMC) offering. This service provides the choice of 25GB for €30, 50GB for €40 or 100GB for €50 per month as an alternative to households that have slow or unstable Internet via their landlines.
Other operators like T-Mobile in Austria and Czech Republic, and Sunrise in Switzerland have also launched similar wireless home broadband as an important service in their portfolios: “HomeNet, our fast Internet at home, has become the most important new product category for T-Mobile, which will contribute significantly to our growth in 2015 as well as in the coming years,” says Andreas Bierwirth, CEO of T-Mobile Austria: “We offer our customers fibre-like service from the air without requiring complex line installation.”
It’s no surprise that we are continuing to see more mobile operators using wireless resources to provide home broadband. It will become increasingly common in Europe as mobile operators consider FMC offerings due to high DSL rental costs which can easily consume half of broadband retail revenue.
If we look more closely at these operators, there are two different spectrum policies: either using current MBB spectrum, or using a dedicated spectrum for home broadband. Using the former policy, operators can launch their network quickly using under-utilized MBB resources. However this mixed mobile and fixed policy may impact the mobile user experience at peak hours in the long term when there are too many home broadband subscriptions. To minimise such impact, operators may choose the latter policy for a more stable and guaranteed user experience.
We have noticed that many operators have under-utilised spectrum such as 2.6GHz band 7, 2.6GHz band 38, 3.5GHz C-band (band 42 and 43), 1.4GHz L-band, which can be converged with current spectrum to boost the current network capacity for both MBB and wireless home broadband. The convergence may include: handover; load balance; carrier aggregation; and flexible services or user differentiation policies. More spectrum, together with optional tailored QoS policies, enable operators to balance the user experience between mobile and fixed services.
This is just the beginning. With the continuous evolution of LTE-Advanced Pro technologies like Carrier Aggregation and Massive MIMO being commercialised, LTE can provide even better performance. For example 64T64R Massive MIMO with 20MHz TDD spectrum can typically provide average 200Mb/s and up to 700Mb/s per cell, which can be sufficient for the operator to offer full HDTV services and multi-play services to drive revenue growth. Moreover with huge capacity, operators could set their pricing strategy based on user speeds just like their fixed broadband strategy rather than on data volume.
It is clearly no coincidence that telecom giants like Vodafone, T-Mobile, Telefonica and France Telecom (Orange) have all embraced this new wireless broadband business. They are convinced by WTTx’s ability to reduce network construction costs, deliver fibre-like speed and enable quick deployment to accelerate revenues. And with LTE-Advance and LTE-Advanced Pro technologies further reducing the cost per bit to 20 per cent or even less, WTTx will not only connect more people, but will remain a more promising business opportunity for operators.