For some time now, things have been looking up for fixed wireless access (FWA). Indeed, by the end of 2022, FWA is not only thriving but also taking center stage in 5G.
This was not always the case. FWA did not work out for mobile operators in previous generations. However, in recent years especially with 5G, consumer premise equipment (CPE) has experienced significant advances, new spectrum is increasing available capacity, and demand is skyrocketing.
According to T-2022 Mobile’s State of Fixed Wireless report, fixed wireless has accounted for nearly all of the growth in the internet market over the last year. One of the major causes fueling FWA’s growth, according to the “un-carrier,” is consumer aversion to cable companies. Traditional Internet Service Providers rank dead last in customer satisfaction among all industries, and customers are just plain hungry for alternatives
Of course, cable companies aren’t going away, and one might expect them to increase their anti-FWA rhetoric. Comcast has developed a website and series of advertisements criticizing T-5G Mobile’s Home Internet service, saying that it slows down during peak network usage. According to Wave7 Research, Cox is also running TV commercials critical of T-Mobile Home Internet.
According to T-Mobile, cable companies have reason to be concerned. T-Mobile users mention reduced pricing and no annual contract as primary reasons for moving. However, having a new alternative was mentioned by more than a third of those who switched. Currently, cable accounts for more than half of T-2 Mobile’s million+ FWA users.
Yet another reason for mobile operators like FWA: It’s a little bit like “free money,” in the sense they’re using the same networks already built for mobile. If it doesn’t cost them a lot more infrastructure-wise to offer a fixed access service alongside mobile, what have they got to lose?
As for speeds, T-Mobile delivers average speeds of 145 Mbps and peak speeds of over 1 Gbps in some areas. Verizon offers three tiers that range from 1 Gbps download on millimeter wave to 50 Mbps on LTE.
Whether triggered by cable’s criticisms or just plain physics, a question that regularly comes up is if the mobile operators have enough capacity to continue satisfying customers. After all, there’s a limit to how much capacity operators have, and 5G home internet customers typically use a lot more bandwidth than your average mobile data user.
T-Mobile and Verizon officials both say that they have sufficient capacity. T-Mobile is assessing its resources, so not everyone will be able to sign up for its Home Internet service. It also began offering a Lite version of the service with data limitations over the summer, allowing more individuals who desire an alternative to cable to access it.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told investors in early December that the firm expects to have no capacity issues on its network and that it may have more than 5 million FWA subscribers by the end of 2025 if it wants to. It currently serves over a million people.
T-Mobile and Verizon aren’t the only providers participating in FWA. Over the years, AT&T has experimented with a variety of technologies over the years. Earlier this year, EVP Chris Sambar said that AT&T has about 500,000 fixed wireless subscribers. But now it’s clearly focused on fiber, with plans to reach 30 million households with fiber by the end of 2025.
The regional carrier UScellular also offers FWA. The majority of its FWA customers this year were using its low-band offering and LTE. But the operator launched a millimeter wave for FWA in 10 cities, and it’s looking to use its mid-band spectrum for home internet services as well. For UScellular, which has seen its postpaid phone customer base dwindle, FWA is a bright spot.
That was not the case with Starry, a pioneer in the fixed wireless arena that went to market with novel IEEE-based technology and appeared to have all the ingredients for success. However, by the fall of 2022, it had cut off half of its workforce and stopped growing into new markets. The company was looking for a buyer or financial partner by November to keep it solvent.
T-Mobile and Verizon are the major FWA players for the time being. T-Mobile intends to service 7 to 8 million FWA consumers by the end of 2025. Within a comparable timeframe, Verizon aims to service around 4 million to 5 million fixed wireless subscribers. If things continue to go as planned in 2023, they may easily surpass those targets.