A great American writer, Mark Twain, once said, “It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races.” This is a fitting quote for fixed wireless access (FWA).
While the mainstream—and certainly larger mobile broadband segment—focuses on 5G mobile broadband, we see plenty of innovation in FWA. New wireless solutions are coming into play with enterprising Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and other competitive carriers. The race is on to provide fixed broadband service to homes and businesses, especially in underserved areas.
We surveyed several WISPs, large carriers, and network suppliers for our recent Fixed Wireless Access report. The breadth of diversity that we uncovered in our survey is dramatic—in utilized spectrum and technology, as well as the use cases by region and market conditions. Some are leveraging 802.11-based proprietary solutions that are optimized for lower startup infrastructure costs, while others are leveraging 3GPP-based LTE and 5G for speed and lower-cost customer premise equipment.
The range of spectrum utilized for fixed wireless access is diverse as well, from sub-1 GHz to the millimeter wave bands. An operator in a rural environment may be using 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, or 5 GHz unlicensed band to inexpensively cover as many potential subscribers, while operators in urban settings are looking to large spectrum bandwidth found in the licensed 28-39 GHz and unlicensed 60 GHz bands.
Some fundamental technology enablers like MU-MIMO, massive MIMO and beamforming have reached a tipping point through 3GPP-based and 802.11-based ecosystems, making FWA service much more economical. This means that enterprising vendors and operators are eager to bring these innovations to market where the underlying demand for broadband access is unwavering everywhere.
An inevitable truth in the wireless industry is that spectrum is a “lifeblood” commodity. As new spectrum opens up and the industry explores new applications to maximize return, let us hope that the “difference of opinion” on how new spectrum is allocated and which technologies are appropriate for new opportunities ahead is kept intact.
Kyung Mun is a senior analyst at Mobile Experts LLC. Mobile Experts is a network of market and technology experts that provides market analysis on the mobile infrastructure and mobile handset markets. Over the course of his 20+ years in wireless and cable industries in a dynamic range of roles from engineering to product management and technology strategy, Mun has contributed to the advancement of mobile communication while working at leading companies in the mobile value chain including Motorola, Texas Instruments, Alcatel-Lucent and a few startups in between. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and Georgia Tech, and studied finance and strategy at Southern Methodist University.