FWA could help inform operators of fibre rollout priorities – Nokia

While some are still sceptical of the longevity and performance characteristics of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as a usecase for 5G, Nokia thinks it could serve a very useful purpose for fibre rollout plans.

Although the case for fibre has been built and justified, forecasting where demand will actually be is still a tricky task. For every correct prediction analysts and forecasters make, we suspect there will be dozens of forgotten failed ones. But Stefaan Vanhastel, Head of Fixed Networks Marketing at Nokia, thinks there could be useful benefits from FWA in making economical and efficient fibre rollout plans.

Here is Vanhastel’s theory. Offering a gigabit FWA service to customers will meet the demands of tomorrow, and offer a bit of breathing room from those who demanding full-fibre connectivity. Monitoring the data consumption of customers who have taken up the service could indicate where the greediest users are, and therefore the greatest potential for strain on the network and bottlenecks. Once these areas have been identified, they can be the first to receive the full-fibre connectivity diet.

Although fibre is the perfect solution for our connectivity cravings at home and work, upgrading current infrastructure is not going to happen overnight. It is an incredibly expensive process, time consuming and fibre is a product which is in high-demand. The reality of fibre connectivity is that it will be a gradual rollout throughout the network. Connecting small cells with fibre is a tough enough ask, but the last-mile is where telcos will struggle the most. 5G FWA might offer a temporary solution, while also providing valuable insight to the areas which need full-fibre the most.

Of course, it’s always worth bearing mind Nokia has something to gain out increased FWA interest, though it is not the worst idea we have ever heard.

BBWF 2018: Telefonica Germany pitches case for FWA

Telefonica’s UK business O2 might be avoiding convergence like the plague, but for its cousins in Germany, FWA is one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of 5G.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum in Berlin, Cayetano Carbajo Martín of Telefonica Germany is not fearful of the convergence distraction. In fact, it might just save the country from a connectivity embarrassment.

“5G implementation will be driven by different needs from fixed wireless access to ever increasing eMBB demand and even co-created new industry and service solutions,” said Martín.

As you can probably imagine, dealing with the tsunami of internet traffic is a big driver for 5G within Telefonica, but FWA is a long-term money making opportunity. In terms of the rate of growth, Martín highlighted traffic increased 160% over the last 12 months on O2’s network. Looking forward, even if you take a conservative estimate of 50% year-on-year growth, by 2027 internet traffic will be 38 times greater than it is today.

Looking at today’s resources, the network will hit full capacity by 2022 and the demand for new frequencies will become a necessity. And of course, these are conservative estimates not taking into consideration the unknown usecases of tomorrow. From a bandwidth perspective, 5G is increasingly becoming a necessity, with the deadline is becoming shorter and shorter.

This will also facilitate the telcos plans to venture into the FWA market. Martín highlighted there are no ambitions to explore the possibility of 4G FWA, it simply wouldn’t be able to compete with the experience of traditional broadband, though trials in Hamburg are readying the assault on the FWA space. If you listen to Martín, the opportunity is quite significant, with the CTO predicting 20-25% of Germany will convert to FWA, and perhaps this will dig Germany out of a hole.

Like the UK, Germany is one of those markets which has not glorified itself with an ambitious fibre rollout and is now playing catch-up. The FWA buzz which is beginning to build might just disguise a couple of blushed Bavarian cheeks should 5G-driven FWA be able to cover up the fibre-less cracks across the country.

What is worth noting though is FWA will not be the saviour many are plugging it to be. Some, no names mentioned, believe it might be able to bridge the connectivity gap between urban and rural environments, but this is exaggerated. The same financial pressures will be on FWA as there will have to be suitable population density to build the business case. FWA will not mean gigabit speeds will be democratized.

Even at what is supposed to be a fixed broadband conference, 5G has managed to muscle in on the action. It’s almost embarrassing how much its hogging the limelight.

US consumers apparently not that bothered about 5G

As 5G is all the US telcos can talk about right now, you would be forgiven for assuming consumers are just as excited, but it appears the feelings are little more than ‘meh’.

According to new research from Repeater Store, consumers just aren’t that bothered by the upcoming wireless revolution. In fact, most aren’t even aware of the work which is being done across the country.

59% of the respondents to the survey didn’t know that 5G is around the corner, though T-Mobile US subscribers were the most clued up which is perhaps unsurprising considering the eccentric narcissist currently in-charge. In terms of understanding the benefits, 28.1% said they were not clear at all, while 27.5% said they were somewhat clear and 23.2% said they sort of understood the added value. In terms of excitement, 18.5% couldn’t care less and 19.6% aren’t really excited. 32% are in the ‘meh’ camp, while the rest are more pleased with the upgrades.

While there are clear benefits for the industry and apparent excitement for vendors, almost the complete opposite can be said for consumers. To date, the limited communications on 5G have focused on increased speed on mobile devices, though most of the time, a 4G connection is more than sufficient to watch videos, play games or check your bank balance. Perhaps in the eyes of the consumer, the telcos are trying to fix a problem which doesn’t exist.

Consumers do not know about the stress being placed on networks, nor are they likely care that much either. Telcos can promote the long-term benefit of 5G due to the increased efficiency of data delivery, but as long as the experience is good enough today, few consumers will actually care about these messages. Strain on the network is the telcos problem not the consumers, they don’t pay to be concerned about the piping.

Perhaps the issue is the telcos haven’t been discussing the most relevant usecases enough. The fixed wireless access usecase is certainly an interesting one, and an area which can be communicated to the consumers as an immediate benefit of 5G. According to Repeater Store, although only 17% of consumers would sign up to a 5G FWA subscription today, 75% would be open to the idea. This of course will be determined by the experience, and so far, there is still a lot of work to do.

The majority of survey respondents stated 4G signal in their homes was nothing more than average right now. 40.8% of AT&T subscribers described their experience as excellent, while it was 49.7% for Verizon, 42.3% for T-Mobile and 30.2% for Sprint. These are the customers which are perfect to sell 5G FWA to, though for the offering to be a genuine success, the number of 4G satisfied customers will have to be higher. Part of the buying decision for 5G FWA will be based on the experience of 4G signal in customer homes; it’s not a bad start, but certainly more work needs to be done.

One of two conclusions can be taken from this research. Either, the telcos need to do a better job of telling consumers about the benefits of 5G, or, the consumers simply aren’t bothered by what the telcos have been saying so far. If the former is correct, expect more marketing dollars to be spent, but if it is the latter, the industry will have to more away from the ‘faster is better’ approach to advertising which has dominated for years.

We suspect it is a bit of both. In the rush to bring services to market, US telcos might not have had the time to tell the full story about 5G. This is something which can be developed over time. Another area worth considering is whether we need faster? We are struggling to think of many cases when a stable 4G connection is not good enough for content to work effectively on devices, raising another question; if 4G is fast enough right now, why do we need better?

There are other benefits to 5G, FWA is an excellent example, especially in the US. Though it does appear the telcos just need to get better at explaining the benefits and potential usecases, instead of lazily falling back into the same routine of ‘our network is faster than everyone else’s’.

FWA success is about deployment without engineers – Nokia

The 5G euphoria might have reignited excitement for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) but Nokia doesn’t think we need to wait that long.

The FWA portfolio from Nokia isn’t new, here we’re talking about enhancements to products and solutions which are designed for 4G connectivity. What is worth bragging about is the simplicity of the portfolio, something which Nokia’s Head of Fixed Networks Marketing Stefaan Vanhastel thinks is critical for adoption.

“Fixed wireless access is all about ease of deployment, so need to make it is as easy as possible,” said Vanhastel. “We don’t want to send out engineers for every customer, but make the products all about deployability. Each of the announcement make by themselves are relatively minor, but when you bring everything together suddenly you have an offering which is appealing.”

FWA might be primarily a 5G conversation, though there is no reason the technology cannot be run over 4G networks. With 4G networks peak residential speeds beyond 100 Mbps are possible but not always achievable, though Nokia will be launching new antennas which it claims can improve performance. Nokia FastMile can help improve spectral efficiency by 4-5x, resulting in faster connections for residential users, more consistent performance at the cell edge and lower RAN costs. It starts to make 4G FWA a more viable proposition.

Another area of the portfolio which has received a power-up are the indoor gateways. Nokia is introducing new products which include high-gain antennas and 4X4 MIMO to increase performance. Some models are also claimed to be 5G upgradable. However, the most important point is ease of deployment; it is simply a plug-in device.

This for Vanhastel is one of the most important aspects of FWA. The usecase not only has to be built for the telcos, though this is a simple one with the cost of laying fibre, but also for the users. FWA is likely to be a considerable change for some customers, many of whom will know the pros and cons of mobile connectivity and coverage. Simplicity and ease of deployment will certainly come as an advantage over waiting for a couple of weeks for an engineer to show up.

Realistically most broadband connections across the UK do not reach the speeds which Nokia will suggest is capable over a 4G-FWA offering, but the task will be to convince telcos and users of the reliability of the offering. Should reliability be proven, it poses an interesting question; why should we have to wait for 5G when FWA is theoretically possible over 4G networks?

EE shows its 5G ambitions are greater than the smartphone

EE is set to green light its first 5G trial in London, testing out its fixed wireless access ambitions.

Five businesses and five homes will have the chance to test out EE’s 5G broadband capabilities as the telco shows us it’s not all about bufferless cat videos on the bus. The trial will see 5G switched on at ten sites around East London in City Road, Old Street, Hoxton Square, St Paul’s and Chiswell Street.

Although details of the trialists are thin at the moment, EE has hinted it will make use of social media to find them. If anything else, it’s an interesting idea to increase follows across the various platforms.

“This live trial is a big step forward in making the benefits of 5G a reality for our customers, and in making sure that the UK is at the front of the pack for 5G technology,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer business.

“We’re focusing our resource and experience across EE and BT to ensure that we continue to lead the UK market with a mobile network that keeps giving our customers the best speeds and the best coverage. 5G is a fundamental part of our work to build a converged, smart network that keeps our customers connected to the things that matter most.”

Of course it wouldn’t be a proper trial if a politician didn’t get the chance to show off the fluoride smile to the world.

“We want the UK to be a global leader in 5G as part of our ambition to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister for Digital. “Together with the Government’s own test beds and trials programme, industry initiatives like this will help deliver the benefits of this new revolutionary technology to businesses and consumers across the UK.”

While the main buzz of the 5G euphoria has been centred around improving the experience on your smart phone or filling the roads with autonomous vehicles, the fixed wireless access use case has been seldom touched in the UK. It certainly has been a talking point elsewhere, Verizon just launched it offering in very limited pockets of the US, though now the UK telcos seem to be catching on.

In recent weeks, Vodafone outlined their plans and trials for the 5G world, unusually selecting two rural locations as test beds, Cornwall and the Lake District. The explanation here; there is a need to trial all sorts of different use cases in different environments, with fixed wireless access being one.

Of course, 5G broadband connectivity does not offer the same reliability or potential of fibre-based connectivity (at least not until we start talking about 6G/7G/8G…) but it is a genuine use case which can be brought to the market in the near future. While we will have to wait until mid- to late-2019 for 5G compatible smartphones, routers will be on the market much sooner.

5G becomes real as Verizon launches FWA offering in four cities

It might not have been the blockbuster moment the industry has been building towards, but the dawn has broken on the 5G era.

Just to put that statement into perspective, this is a small launch, a handful of pockets in four US cities, and only available as a wireless broadband offering for the home right now. If you happen to be one of the few Americans living in the right area and fancy cutting the cord on your broadband connectivity, Verizon is up your street promising ‘typical speeds’ of 300 Mbps, and peaks of 940 Mbps. Houston, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles will be receiving the 5G treatment, with Sacramento gaining special attention.

“We were able to make Sacramento one of our first 5G cities because Mayor Darrell Steinberg and city leaders embraced innovation and developed a strategic vision for how 5G could be a platform for the larger Sacramento technology ecosystem,” said Jonathan LeCompte, Pacific Market President for Verizon. “We believe this vision will pay off big for the city, attracting new investment, businesses and next generation services for residents.”

Sacramento has seemingly been the most proactive of partners for Verizon, with the city hoping 5G can spur investment and growth in a variety of different industries, autonomous vehicles for instance, with the city recently announcing a partnership with Phantom Auto to prepare infrastructure to support teleoperation safety technology for driverless vehicles. Over the last 12 months, Verizon has installed small cells on more than 200 utilities poles and street lights.

“This is a significant day in Sacramento,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “When cities like ours partner with innovative businesses, investment follows. Not only has Verizon invested heavily to bring the latest network technology to our city, but they are partnering with us to focus investments on equity and economic opportunity for all neighbourhoods.”

While it is only available in a very, very small number of locations, it is a promising start. Those who signed up to be the first to receive the surface will be rewarded with a three-month free trial period before paying $70 a month (or $50 a month for existing Verizon customers) and the promise of no data caps. These customers will also receive a free Apple TV 4K or Google Chromecast Ultra device at installation.

Irrelevant to the size of the launch, Verizon now has the bragging rights of being the first in the US to deliver 5G to customers. Competitors will argue this is not the promised 5G experience, and no-one will be able to deliver the 5G bonanza until compatible mobile devices hit the market next year, but that is beside the point. Verizon can now run as many in-your-face adverts as it wants, boasting about beating all the other telcos in the world in delivering 5G to the consumer. It’s a nuance, but it is not incorrect.

Qualcomm gets involved with Facebook’s Terragraph FWA project

Facebook reckons fixed wireless over 60 GHz is the answer to a number of urban connectivity challenges and Qualcomm seems to agree.

Terragraph is a Facebook initiative that promotes the use of 60 GHz spectrum over a multi-hop multi-point wireless distribution network, using commercial WiGig gear. Facebook has been banging on about it for a couple of years now, but maybe Qualcomm’s involvement will help it gather some momentum, so long as lobby groups don’t break the company up first.

Qualcomm is throwing its family of 802.11ay (the follow-up to 802.11ad, for some reason, that adds 4×4 MIMO, or so the internet tells us) chipsets into the mix. The companies expect to begin trials of the integrated solution mid-2019.

“We’re excited to work with Qualcomm Technologies to advance the adoption of pre-802.11ay and 802.11ad 60GHz technologies and build a robust ecosystem of interoperable solutions based on Terragraph,” said Yael Maguire, VP of connectivity at Facebook. “With Terragraph, our goal is to enable people living in urban areas to access high-quality connectivity that can help create new opportunities and strengthen communities.”

“Our collaboration with Facebook will bring advanced 11ad and pre-11ay technologies to market increasing broadband penetration and enabling operators to reduce their capex for last mile access,” said Irvind Ghai, VP of product management at Qualcomm Atheros. “Terragraph cloud controller and TDMA architecture coupled with Qualcomm Technologies solution’s 10 Gbps link rate, low power consumption and early interference mitigation techniques will help make gigabit connectivity a reality.”

FWA is expected to be one of the first commercial use-cases of 5G and 60 GHz is eventually expected to be part of the spectrum mix. Terragraph seems to be currently happening in parallel to the main 5G effort but if it takes off, surely it will eventually be absorbed.

EE rolls out FWA to compensate for BT inadequacies

EE has launched a Fixed Wireless Access solution to provide tolerable broadband speeds to the 580,000 homes across the UK that BT fails to adequately service.

Following trials across the Northern Fells in Cumbria, the 4G antenna and installation service is available nationwide from today (February 9) with EE claiming speeds could exceed 100 Mbps. The quoted speeds are of course drawn from results of the trial and whether the reality lives up to the promise remains to be seen.

This is of course a funny little loop-hole. Connectivity providers are no-longer allowed to use the ‘up to’ metric in the irresponsible manner it did before, instead having to use an average reading in advertising, but EE has no alternative. In the vast majority of instances trials dramatically exceed performance in the real-world, but as this is the only data which EE has available it is free to use it. Maybe EE will deliver on the promise, only time will tell.

“As our network continues to expand into some of the most remote parts of the UK, we’ve seen the amazing impact that 4G connectivity can have on rural communities,” said Max Taylor, Managing Director of Marketing at EE.

“Our newest 4G home broadband router and antenna takes this one step further, ensuring thousands of families in rural areas across the UK could enjoy the benefits of superfast broadband inside their home for the very first time – whether video-calling the grandparents or streaming their favourite TV series.”

EE has predicted there are 580,000 homes with slow or no fixed line access across the UK. This could prove to be a useful opportunity for EE’s 90% 4G coverage to bail out its lethargic big brother BT.

While there have been a couple of examples of FWA across the UK, it is more prominent in Europe and the US. It has been lauded as the saviour of the unconnected though there has only be glimpses of the promise so far. In this example, the EE FWA proposition could be used as an alternative solution for the areas which BT deems too expensive, tedious or strenuous to connect. They are only famers after all, why should Gavin Hasselhoff Patterson interrupt Baywatch recitals for the commoners in the countryside.

This is of course how many of the telcos are viewing FWA. Orange said the other day it was going to be testing out various FWA initiatives in Romania, as this is one of the countries where the fibre roll-out has not been as extensive. Should operators be able to find a suitable alternative to the expensive task of trenching and laying fibre it would certainly be welcomed.

Considering the amount of fibre Orange has laid across France and Spain, we can see why Orange is seeking an alternative solution to throw into the mix, BT does not have this excuse however. Perhaps this is just another way to force the fibre rollout down the list, but Gav and his buddies must be running out of ideas.

Generally, this is a pretty good idea. Considering the 4G coverage EE currently offers it is a feasible to a problem which has largely been ignored by all the telcos in the UK; rural connectivity. No-one seems too bothered about connecting field-dwellers so EE could collect a useful number of subscriptions. The antenna is attached to the outside of the house and a cable run through to the router, so customers won’t have to worry about thick walls causing issues either.

The plan also takes EE into the eagerly sought world of convergence. If the customer has an existing EE pay monthly phone plan or 12 month SIM only plan, EE will boost their phone’s monthly data allowance by an extra 5GB. Packages range from £35 to £60 which include the 4GEE Home Router.

One final concern regarding the speeds delivered is whether this will live up to customers’ expectations. Of course customers who experience 30-40 Mbps will not find any services are sub-par, but there are those in the world who want the best available, irrelevant as to whether the extra speed will be useful or redundant. If there is a 70 Mbps service out there, they won’t be happy unless they get it. But nothing can be done about these people.

Another CEO climbs aboard the Google Fiber merry-go-round

Alphabet has named Dinesh Jain as the latest CEO of the Access business unit, the third boss in a little over a year.

Alphabet’s Access business unit, which features Google Fiber and the acquired Webpass, was certainly one which caught the attention of the US telcos are a potential threat at the beginning but this has amounted to very little so far. Perhaps three CEOs in a period of 16 months is a perfect example of this bundling business unit.

“We’re excited to announce that Access has a new leader to move the Google Fiber and Webpass businesses forward,” a statement on the Google Fiber blog reads. “Dinesh (Dinni) Jain, an accomplished veteran of the U.S. and European cable and telecommunications industries – most recently as Chief Operating Officer at Time Warner Cable – starts as CEO of Access today.”

Taking over from Gregory McCray, who left the business in July 2017, who took over from Craig Barratt after he left in October 2016, Jain has the complicated task of figuring out the future of Access. The division has a minor but notable presence throughout the US, Google Fiber is in twelve metropolitan areas while Webpass has eight, but so far it has looked nothing more than an expensive play thing.

Perhaps the only saving grace for Jain is the openness to experiment in new areas. Losing a couple of hundred million here and there doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Alphabet execs just as long as every avenue is explored. The Googlers have shown on numerous occasions they are willing to fund an unprofitable idea if there is light at the end of the tunnel, Google Maps is an excellent example, but this one might such up a lot of cash until that glimmer is found.

Alphabet started out with some very big ideas for the connectivity world but found out that competing with the big boys was going to be a difficult task. Playing in the physical world of connectivity is an expensive and time consuming game, and it is very different from Alphabet’s core competencies. We get the impression this was under-appreciated at first, but with this appointment perhaps Alphabet is showing it is ready to dig its heels in and persist until there are no other options left.

It is unclear for the moment as to whether the team will continue down the fixed wireless path or fibre ambitions will be remembered, but there will be a few in the US who will welcome this news. A notable proportion of US citizens only have access to one connectivity provider in the US so any additional competition would be welcomed.

We’ve also mentioned before that a company with the brand reputation of Google could shake things up considerably in the US. US citizens like Google more than the likes of AT&T or Verizon, should Access be able to sort itself out, it might be able to cause some damage. Perhaps this is what is fuelling the desires of the Alphabet executives.