Written by Charles Mitchell, UK & Ireland Regional Sales Director, Quectel
Recent data provided by Ofcom shows 96% of UK premises have superfast broadband connections available but this figure describes broadband that is not guaranteed to be either super or fast, encompassing all connection speeds of at least 30 Mbps. Gigabit-capable broadband connections, which can offer download speeds of 1Gbps or faster, in contrast, are available to just 47% of homes.
Fibre broadband is far superior to cable and satellite in terms of speed, low latency and reliability and has a much larger demand than is being met currently. Large providers such as BT/EE, Virgin, Sky and the top Management Service Organisations (MSOs) have built nearly three-quarters (72%) of overall access, while Tier 2 operators such as Gigaclear, Truespeed and others continue to experience growth.
Implementation could happen quicker, if not for the initial plans needing to be approved by various government entities because of the changes to the local infrastructure.
Broadband fibre is resource-intensive, even after approval. Once notified, consumers in their area can wait up to two years before it becomes a reality, depending on the size and location, according to an AT&T employee responding in a company forum.
New Solution Provided by Established Technologies
Mobile network operators can forgo the wait and provide fibre-like speeds, low latency, and reliability to their customers before fibre comes into their area through fixed wireless access (FWA) without the delays inherent in a fibre buildout.
The technology has been available for decades, but the performance was too limited to support most broadband applications until the introduction of LTE to the UK almost a decade ago, in October 2012. Now, with more 5G networks becoming available in many areas of the country, FWA offers benefits comparable to fibre.
The deployment process is also radically simplified and accelerated with FWA because roads do not need to be dug up. In addition, planning approval and liaison with other utilities that run pipelines or cabling underground are not needed. Market Insights Reports estimate that 5G FWA will reduce the initial cost of establishing last-mile connectivity by as much as 40% compared to physical fibre, partly for this reason.
Another aspect that is improving the economics of FWA is enhancements to router performance. 5G routers offer greater speeds and costs are expected to fall as shipments grow. Dell’Oro Group reports that 3 million FWA devices were shipped to operators in 2021, while the price of the units themselves fell during the year and is expected to continue dropping.
The cost for customer premise equipment (CPE) is expected to drop from around £400 in 2020 to under £200 by the end of 2023. At the same time, CPE capabilities have also improved enabling simplified on-boarding with users self-serving their installation of mailed equipment. Today, a single plug-and-play router installed indoors can enable high-speed access to the internet with no need for on-site installation or commissioning of fibre optic cables
FWA will also gain traction from government involvement in attempting to close the digital divide. There are several potential funding sources open to communities seeking to raise money for broadband infrastructure – from the Public Loans Work Board to crowdfunding projects. These initiatives have the potential for communities to fund the establishment of wireless access and will be particularly appealing to unserved rural communities.
These factors have already led to significant growth in the deployment of FWA, which carried about 15% of global mobile network data traffic at the end of 2020, according to Ericsson.
The future of connectivity is FWA
With the falling cost of the equipment and 5G and LTE becoming more widely available, and the increasing demand for more solutions, FWA traffic is projected to grow seven times by 2026, representing more than 20% of worldwide mobile network data traffic. There will be around 180 million FWA connections made within the next four years, accounting for 25% of total mobile network data traffic.
Because there is no physical infrastructure to be installed, bringing fixed wireless access to an area, a much faster deployment time than cable or fibre-optic Internet. FWA’s time is now, and it can help shape a future in which everyone is connected.