5G FWA is on the rise, but it’s still a fiber world

5G FWA is on the rise, but it's still a fiber world
Image by bsd studio | Bigstockphoto

ITEM: 5G FWA (fixed wireless access) will gain ground as an alternative broadband access technology over the next five years, but won’t dominate the FWA market for a long time. And it’s still a drop in a very large fiber ocean.

According to a new report from ABI Research, 5G FWA subscriptions will reach 72 million by 2027, representing 35% of the total global FWA market in 2027. That means LTE will still account for the majority of FWA subscriptions.

On the other hand, 5G FWA is doing more to drive new subscriptions. In the US, for example, 90% of new broadband subscriptions last year were for FWA services from T-Mobile and Verizon. In India, Reliance Jio is targeting 100 million homes with its 5G FWA service.

The difference, of course, is that 5G FWA potentially has the speeds to compete with fiber offerings, says Fei Liu, 5G and Mobile Network Infrastructure Industry Analyst at ABI Research.

“FWA is one of the few use cases that utilize 5G Massive MIMO networks to their full extent, with a typical monthly utilization that could be as high as 1 TB per subscriber, Liu says.

Mind your 5G FWA capacity

However, while ABI recommends that MNOs launch 5G FWA to utilize their network capacity to earn additional revenue, they also need to be mindful of how much capacity they can spare to support FWA customers, and whether they’re going to offer best-effort or QoS.

“In the long term, MNOs need to apply AI techniques such as machine learning to evaluate their network resource, network capacity, and spectrum to ensure a steady 5G FWA growth,” Liu says. “When the 5G FWA service starts to challenge their network capacity, these MNOs may have to deploy millimeter wave to guarantee the quality of their FWA services and overall network capacity,”

It’s worth mentioning Karen Egan, lead mobile analyst with Enders Analysis, made a similar point at MWC 2023. According to Light Reading, Egan said that the UK, for example, FWA is expected to hit a bandwidth crunch in five to ten years, at which point subscribers may go back to fiber if the FWA service quality starts to suffer.

Fiber still rules

Indeed, fiber will remain the king of the broadband hill for a long time to come. This is particularly true in Asia-Pacific, where fiber has seen steady growth. According to recent stats from S&P Global Market Intelligence, the Asia-Pacific had 596.5 million fiber broadband connections 2022, with a 50.7% household penetration rate. That figure also accounts for just over 84% of Asia-Pacific’s fixed broadband market.

5G FWA is on the rise, but it's still a fiber world
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Not surprisingly, mainland China accounts for 66% of that number – however, emerging markets in Asia-Pacific, such as India and the Philippines, displayed the strongest growth in fixed broadband subscriptions and ARPU.

S&P Global Market Intelligence also counts 9.3 million FWA subscribers in the region last year – which is, of course, dwarfed by the number of fiber subs. While S&P expects that number to grow over the next five years, so will fiber numbers, which will reach a projected 726 million by 2027.

The ABI report is here.

The S&P Global Market Intelligence report is here.

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