Providing broadband service for everyone is a dream, and it requires operators’ improvised action to make the dream come true. Fixed-wireless access (FWA) allows operators to reuse their existing mobile networks, improve the quality of services, and provide faster and affordable connectivity.
There are several reasons why FWA has become a viable technology alternative: Deployment is relatively easy, time to market is shorter, and it can also expand wireless broadband coverage and potentially provide more than 90% accessibility to the population. The 4.5G and 5G network-based FWA services also have the capability to offer a fibre-like experience and enable connectivity service in areas where fibre-based service is impractical or takes a long time to deploy. Return on investment is less than three years; hence FWA can also be a more profitable proposition for operators.
“Vast, outlying areas, and households in need of connections and broadband upgrades, benefit most from FWA,” says Samuel Chen, vice president for Huawei Southern Africa region. “Furthermore, small and medium-sized enterprises derive huge benefits.”
During the pandemic, more than a billion children globally were forced to stay out of classrooms because of quarantine measures. Working from home is only a reality for service sector workers and administrators. Not all children and workers can attend their classes or work online due to the unavailability or expense of home broadband services. FWA can help people continue their work and education during the pandemic without the conventional network deployment and cost barriers associated with fibre.
The benefits of FWA are recognised by operators worldwide, and many operators are investing in FWA in the form of lab trials, licence acquisition, pilot projects, network deployments or commercial service launches.
According to a GSA report from June 2021, FWA technology has been implemented in more than 436 networks in 171 countries using 4G/LTE or 5G technologies. That equates to more than half of all operators with commercial LTE or 5G networks worldwide. There are 84 operators from sub-Saharan Africa delivering FWA services to households and micro and small enterprises. Even now, more than 100 million Internet users in urban, suburban and rural areas benefit from FWA. Estimates show that in 2021, the FWA subscriptions will reach seven million in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Huawei’s own insights, this market is expected to grow by 64% by 2025, to a total of 11.5 million subscriptions.
FWA became one of the most significant growth drivers around the world during the pandemic, as seen in emerging countries like South Africa. The impact of 5G FWA is huge; many believe that 5G FWA will have an impact that is similar to that of 2G on fixed voice more than 20 years ago.
In South Africa, Telkom’s FWA subscriber base increased by 290 000 in the 2020 financial year. Rain plans to accelerate its 5G network roll-out to cover an estimated 5 000 new households each day in 2021, and according to its projections, a million households will have 5G coverage end of this year.
There could be particular demand for 5G FWA where offices and workspaces tend to be temporary, such as construction sites
Today, in this era of 5G, users expect ultra-fast networks everywhere. Small and medium enterprises are no exception: SMEs are increasingly expanding their businesses to areas where the Internet is a must, such as e-commerce and they have a growing number of devices that need to be connected. However, 5G’s enhanced capacity and speed also make it suitable for delivering connectivity to the enterprise where PCs, laptops, IP phones, fax machines and other work devices can be connected.
There could be particular demand for 5G FWA where offices and workspaces tend to be temporary, such as construction sites. 5G FWA allows businesses to simply unplug the router and perform the setup process again at a new location, as long as it is in a 5G coverage area.
It is worthwhile for operators to examine where FWA services fit into the rest of their already-crowded business portfolios — the revenue opportunities are worth it.
In recent months, many operators around the globe have launched FWA services for businesses.
AIS in Thailand launched several 5G FWA business network products, including 5G FWA Broadband, 5G FWA Corporate Internet, 5G FWA MPLS, and complementary product such as 5G FWA SD-WAN and Corporate Wi-Fi.
US operator AT&T launched 5G FWA for businesses in March 2021, described as the “first nationwide business-focused broadband network”. The operator positions these services as fibre alternatives where fibre may be unavailable, and hints that there may also be cases where customers may appreciate the speed, flexibility and easier provisioning of 5G.
In Europe, Vodafone Germany launched FWA services for SMEs, and offering cloud-based payments, mobile payments, video surveillance, Wi-Fi hotspots, electronic billboards and e-advertising services. It introduced several types of packages, which bring up to three times more revenue opportunities compared to a typical household connection.
“FWA increases the inclusiveness of broadband connections, helping deliver the benefits of technology to all mankind.” This should be the obligation of leading ICT players. This statement highlights the consistent and unwavering importance there is for operators and equipment vendors to explore the full potential of FWA (and other connection technologies) to bring the benefits to everyone without wasting any more time.
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