5G Fixed Wireless

Building and operating reliable gigabit speed 5G mobile wireless networks will be challenging. Making MIMO, beam-steering, and non-line-of-sight operation work requires network engineering, operations, and maintenance that is substantially different from LTE networks. This problem is significantly simpler if both ends of a 5G connection are standing still.

5G fixed wireless access

5G fixed wireless access (FWA) is the use of 5G radios and the 5G network for non-mobile uses, such as providing residences and businesses located in areas not well-served by wired access providers. 5G FWA does so with service that has the potential to reach gigabit speeds.

There are two types of 5G FWA: Currently, the kind that is most widely deployed works the same way as 4G (LTE) FWA, by having a 5G router at the premises that, ideally, connects to a 5G mmWave base station. The speeds are much higher, but the maximum distance to the 5G antenna is shorter than when using LTE.

The second type of 5G FWA, with deployment starting in 2022, is extended range mmWave 5G FWA. This requires an outdoor antenna that can mounted with line of sight toward a 5G base station. This requires some changes to radio firmware specific to extended range mmWave 5G FWA, but is otherwise fully compatible with 5G mobile infrastructure.

Commercial viability

The fact that 5G FWA is technologically viable is due in part to millimeter wave radio being a proven technology in proprietary fixed wireless systems. There is existing technology, serving existing markets, with millimeter wave radios. That raises an obvious question: Does 5G fixed wireless have enough of an advantage over proprietary fixed wireless access already on the market, and in use by FWA service providers, to gain a foothold?

Customers of FWA internet service are not likely to be aware of whether their service comes to them via standardized, interoperable 5G equipment, or by equipment made by companies like CBNL that was designed before 5G FWA standards were in place. It is a bit ironic that one market for pre-standards FWA equipment is in mobile networks, including 5G networks, where these millimeter wave wireless links provide high performance backhaul connectivity from cell sites that are uneconomical to connect with fiber.

Standards-based 5G equipment will be produced in larger numbers than proprietary FWA equipment, and might become significantly less expensive. But, even if standards-based FWA equipment eventually captures the FWA market because it costs less, there is another thing about proprietary FWA access that indicates a potential problem: FWA for ISP service isn't a very big market, especially compared to mobile wireless. Customers will likely be closer to an existing 5G base station than to an FWA ISP's towers.


FWA for ISP service competes against Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable TV, and Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) wired connectivity. So far, it is mostly used where wired connectivity is unavailable, very expensive, or for short-term needs. In addition to standardization, there is a role 5G FWA plays in network backhaul that gives it some advantages. Using it in the network will further boost the use of standardized 5G FWA.

5G FWA, mainly in the form of extended range mmWave 5G FWA, also competes with satellite internet connectivity. Even though LEO networks like Starlink do not have the debilitating latency of geosynchronous satellites, they are much less stable than a terrestrial network, and have greater latency - enough to notice in videoconferencing. The market for satellite network connectivity can be substantially impacted by FWA.

While FWA is an example of what is sure to work in 5G, the 5G hype machine runs on fantasy, about which you can read here.