Fixed wireless broadband is in for a big growth spurt in densely populated areas thanks to 5G technology, according to ABI Research. The research firm forecasts worldwide fixed wireless broadband subscribers will grow at a 30% CAGR to top 151 million in 2022.
In the U.S., AT&T and Verizon already announced plans to deliver broadband access to businesses and residential customers using 5G fixed wireless networks. The companies aim to begin 5G fixed wireless rollouts later this year.
"Superior capacity offered by 5G technology will benefit operators to deploy fixed wireless access in densely populated areas," said Khin Sandi Lynn, industry analyst at ABI Research, in a press release. "This will enable fiber-like broadband service to support bandwidth-hungry applications without the need to install fiber-optic cables to each premise."
The researchers point out that currently, fixed LTE broadband access is mainly deployed in remote areas where fixed-line infrastructure is poor and it is not commercially feasible to deploy fixed networks. While government initiatives, high data-transfer rates and large capacity are all attractive features for fixed LTE deployments now, fixed wireless broadband deployments will be further accelerated by their 5G successor in the years ahead.
Lynn said that trials show that the technology's superior performance over LTE will allow operators to deploy 5G for fixed wireless broadband service in densely populated areas.
Verizon revealed in January that it had installed 5G equipment for fixed wireless services in more than 10 U.S. cities. However, the company also acknowledged that its equipment may not align with the 3GPP’s initial standards for 5G wireless services, and therefore Verizon may have to upgrade its physical equipment at its sites in the 10 cities in order to ensure that its services work with the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standard.
Last year, Verizon released preliminary standards for a fixed version of 5G through its 5G Technology Forum at the group’s website, 5GTF.org. Verizon formed the group in 2015 with Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung to create specifications for a fixed wireless service in the 28 and 39 GHz bands. Verizon has said it will deploy commercial fixed 5G services using the specifications sometime in 2017.
AT&T announced last October that it was conducting trials of a point-to-point millimeter wave wireless technology that uses in-building wiring to deliver a 100-megabits-per-second connection accessible to apartment units in Minneapolis, outside its traditional 21-state wireline service area. The company said apartment and multifamily properties in additional metro areas were under consideration as well.
AT&T is building two new 5G test beds set to go on-air this spring at the AT&T Labs in Austin, Texas, to support its existing 5G work, as well as trials using a fixed wireless 5G connection and the ability to stream DirecTV Now and access enhanced broadband services for residential and small-to-medium business customers in Austin.
The test beds will include dedicated 5G outdoor and indoor test locations and feature infrastructure that allows for modifications and updates as 5G standards develop. AT&T said it will work with multiple vendors to evaluate advanced 5G technology concepts for both fixed and mobile solutions, test network infrastructure and devices and explore 5G signal coverage for the 28 GHz, 39 GHz, and sub-6 GHz frequency bands.
In addition, while Verizon acquired assets of XO Communications, which holds a trove of 28 GHz licenses, AT&T quietly acquired a company called FiberTower in a move to bulk up its high-end spectrum holdings in advance of 5G. FiberTower has spectrum in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz bands.