5G Fixed Wireless

The non-mobile mobile network

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 connection are standing still.

5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)

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 with service that has the potential to reach gigabit speeds.

Commercial viability

While 5G FWA is technologically viable, that is due in part to the fact that millimeter wave radio is 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, eventually, 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 existing FWA access that indicates a potential problem: FWA for ISP service isn't a very big market, especially compared to mobile wireless.

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 or very expensive. Will 5G standards and economics change this?

There is a role that 5G FWA is likely to fill within the 5G network: where proprietary fixed wireless backhaul is used now in LTE and 5G networks. It will be advantageous to have the same technology, equipment makers, protocols, and operations interfaces as other 5G network equipment used in backhaul from 5G cell sites, which will be more numerous and cost-sensitive.

5G FWA is a viable technology, and it has a viable infrastructure role. But it is an open question whether retail internet service provider customers will use 5G FWA in greater numbers than they already use proprietary FWA connections.