GSA forms working group for Fixed Wireless Access

The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has announced the launch of a working group to standardise the quickly developing fixed wireless access (FWA) segment.

While there are pockets of enthusiasm for FWA solutions growing throughout the world, success to date has been muted. Perhaps the introduction of a formal working group will add credibility and validity to the technology.

“As technology has improved, operators have been turning to mobile networks to deliver home and office broadband services, in some cases offering mobile-based services as an alternative to fixed-line broadband technologies,” said Joe Barrett, President of the GSA.

“The home/office broadband services on offer are no longer limited to mobile data subscriptions associated with mobile phones, dongles, or even MiFi devices. They now include use of mobile technology to provide the main broadband connection for a home or business in the form of a fixed wireless access services.

“In a relatively short space of time, fixed wireless broadband access has become a mainstream service offer and the formation of this new GSA Working Group is testament to the acceleration in industry activity in Fixed Wireless Access.”

Originally positioned as an alternative to traditional broadband networks and services, the sustainability of this technology has been widely questioned. There are of course niche usecases which will ensure it has a permanent fixture in the connectivity landscape, but a mainstream challenge to the status quo is almost impossible in the developed markets.

For the developed markets, usecases for rural communities, where the deployment of traditional broadband infrastructure is cost prohibitive, are attractive, as are products for customers who might not consider their current dwelling permanent in the long-run, students for example. In less developed markets, there is a very interesting usecase for FWA.

Last week, Vodacom announced the launch of 5G services in South Africa. This might be considered a mobile push by some, but when you come a partnership with Huawei with low penetration of traditional broadband infrastructure, it looks slight a play towards FWA.

As Omdia’s Dario Talmesio points out, 5G FWA offers high-capacity services which are quick to deploy, cutting out the need to dig up roads or deal with the bureaucratic nightmare which planning permission can be. The broadband market in South Africa is there to be disrupted with new technology, and Vodacom has got a running head start on its rivals.

South Africa is one market where this is relevant, but there are numerous others. Regions where ARPU is lower making ROI more difficult or bureaucracy is high making progress difficult. India is another market which comes to mind, as does Indonesia.

The GSA has currently identified 395 operators in 164 countries selling FWA services based on 4G, while an additional 30 have 5G FWA services. This is a technology which has potential to take-off in certain usecases, though this is not going to dislodge traditional broadband networks.

GSMA set for crisis meeting at MWC over Huawei bans – report

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd has reportedly been writing to members to set up a meeting on the side-lines of Mobile World Congress to discuss what to do about further Huawei bans.

Huawei might be facing pressure from governments around the world, but if reports turn out to be true, diminished support from the operator industry’s own lobby group would be a significant dent in the confidence of the vendor. As Huawei is one of the firms which contribute financially to GSMA events with astronomically large stands and branding presence, it certainly would be a brave move from the association.

According to Reuters, Granryd has proposed the implications of further Huawei bans should be discussed as an item on the agenda at the next board meeting. The meeting will take place during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of the month.

The GSMA has been evasive in its response to the claims, confirming there will be a board meeting (there always is), though the agenda has not been set. The meeting will of course discuss all the most pressing points in the telco industry, of which the Huawei situation has to be one, but there is no confirmation of specifics.

That said, it would not be unusual for such a discussion to take place. The GSMA board is made up of representatives from 25 of the worlds largest operators, the majority of which must be twitchy about the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government. The US, Japan and Australia have already banned Huawei from contributing to 5G infrastructure, while more are putting very stringent conditions around participation.

Germany is one which is considering upping the security requirements to protect itself, however, Chinese companies which meet the criteria would still be allowed to do business. However, these protections might well be superseded by broader sweeping rules from the European Commission banning any companies from ‘suspect’ countries from providing kit for critical infrastructure.

Another Reuters report quotes German leader Angela Merkel as calling for guarantees from Huawei that it won’t hand over data to the Chinese state. Everything about Huawei will make executives nervous at the moment. To make such vast investments the telcos need certainty and consistency with policies and regulations. Huawei is the polar opposite of these concepts.

The focal point of the anxiety is the National Intelligence Law, which kicked into effect during July 2017. The law gives Chinese intelligence agency an extraordinarily wide remit to monitor both domestic and international ‘threats’, as well as the power to coerce domestic Chinese companies to aide its ambitions.

Here are a couple of the relevant articles from the original text passed into law:

  • Article 12: National intelligence work institutions may, according to relevant state regulations, establish cooperative relationships with relevant individuals and organizations, and commission them to carry out related work.
  • Article 14: National intelligence work institutions, when carrying out intelligence work according to laws, may ask relevant institutions, organizations and citizens to provide necessary support, assistance and cooperation.

For such a complex and powerful document, the language and remit are worryingly broad and vague. The law itself only has 32 articles, compared to hundreds of articles and even more clauses of immensely precise text in other countries.

Considering the GSMA named Huawei as the winner of the associations ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Mobile Industry Award’ for 2018, everything that has taken place since the last event puts it in a difficult position. If the GSMA decides on a general policy of distancing its members from Huawei in anticipation of further bans, that would be a significant further blow to the Chinese vendor.