Fixed wireless access (FWA) is having a moment. The technology, which once was considered inferior to other broadband technologies, is now playing a key role in bridging the digital divide and connecting underserved markets.
New data from research firm Dell’Oro Group indicates that revenues from FWA gear, including radio access network (RAN) equipment and customer premises equipment (CPE) is on track to increase 35% this year, largely due to FWA subscriber growth in North America. Dell’Oro said that the North American market is the most dynamic FWA market because there are fixed wireless services being deployed in many different spectrum bands including Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and other sub-6 GHz bands as well as higher bands such as 60 GHz.
Dell’Oro projects that FWA equipment revenues will surpass $5 billion by 2026 and that those revenues will come from subscriber growth and investment in both 3GPP and non-3GPP-based FWA network deployments.
In the U.S. alone, at the end of 3Q Verizon had more than 1 million FWA customers and T-Mobile had 2.1 million FWA customers. Both operators are using 3GPP-based 5G and 4G technologies for their FWA services.
However, FWA provider Starry, which delivers broadband service using IEEE 802.11-based technology in the 24 GHz and 37 GHz spectrum bands is currently seeking a buyer as it is running low on cash to sustain its business. The company, which also recently defaulted on its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding, has a customer base of slightly more than 91,000. Jeff Heynen, VP and analyst at Dell’Oro Group, said that the research firm had very conservative growth expectations for Starry and it accounted for a very small portion of the analyst firm’s FWA projections.
Heynen also said that the research firm considered the fact that many U.S. wireless internet service providers (WISPs) are now evolving into hybrid ISPs and providing connectivity through both FWA and fiber because they are able to get government funding to build fiber networks.
However, he added that there are cases where WISPs are able to enhance their existing unlicensed services with CBRS and improved 6 GHz technologies. In addition, he said that there will continue to be cases where fiber to every home within a service area is not feasible and wireless will still be used to provide last-mile connection.
According to Heynen, both 3GPP-based 5G FWA equipment and non-standardized high-throughput FWA equipment are able to effectively compete with cable and wireline broadband technologies and both are viewed as a key component to connecting rural and underserved markets globally. In addition, although North America is currently driving much of the FWA demand, Heynen said that long-term subscriber growth is expected in emerging markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.