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.

Vodacom launches 5G in South Africa as broadband market looks vulnerable

With some lockdown protocols still in place and low broadband penetration, launching 5G with a fixed wireless access (FWA) spin is telecoms opportunism at its finest.

Having recently assigned temporary spectrum by regulator ICASA, Vodacom is making use of 50 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band to launch 5G services in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Mobile subscriptions will of course be on the radar of the company, but with the Huawei 5G CPE PRO FWA router also available to purchase, there is an opportunity to disrupt the traditional broadband market.

“Vodacom’s 5G launch in South Africa comes at an important time as it will help us improve our network efficiency during the COVID-19 national state of disaster,” said Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO.

“During this difficult and unprecedented period, we are proud to offer world class network technology to South Africa, and all of its associated benefits, as we provide an essential service to keep the country connected. This is largely due to the allocation of temporary spectrum by ICASA which has already mitigated the network congestion we have experienced since the start of the lockdown period.”

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, mobile traffic on the Vodacom network has increased by 40%, while it has surged 250% on fixed networks. This presents a risk due to network strain and congestion, but an opportunity to launch an alternative to traditional broadband products while demand is at its highest.

South African broadband market (2019-end)
Internet service provider Subscriptions
Liquid Telecom 169,927
MTN South Africa 279,531
MWeb 119,400
Others 462,918
Rain 68,750
Telkom South Africa 2,165,000
Vodacom 235,337
Vumatel 15,042

Source: Omdia World Information Series

“We have talked to CSPs in emerging and also mature markets,” said Dario Talmesio, Practice Leader for mobile at Omdia. “FWA sales have doubled even in highly penetrated fixed broadband markets.”

With traditional broadband penetration down at 28.38% during the first quarter of 2020, Talmesio pointed out a significant opportunity for the right FWA proposition in South Africa. Its fast to deploy, affordable devices are emerging, and the demand is currently present under current circumstances.

With FWA, you don’t have to dig up roads, lay cables, seek planning permission from local authorities or cause major disruption to communities with construction. It is fast, simple and cheaper. And with the low broadband penetration, Talmesio suggests there is a very interesting opportunity.

The question of longevity and sustainability of FWA products in more mature markets have of course come under question, but in rural environments and nations where the economics do not drive ROI for traditional broadband deployment, FWA is a viable alternative.

Vodacom might be the first to launch services on the temporary spectrum licences, but there is certainly more potential considering what ICASA handed out to telcos in April. Some will of course be allocated to improve resilience of existing services, but the stage has been set for a FWA disruption in South Africa.

Allocation of temporary spectrum licences in South Africa
Service provider Spectrum band Block
Telkom 700/800 MHz 40 MHz
2300 MHz 40 MHz
2600 MHz 20 MHz
3500 MHz 12 MHz
MTN 700/800 MHz 40 MHz
2300 MHz 50 MHz
3500 MHz 50 MHz
Vodacom 700/800 MHz 40 MHz
2300 MHz 20 MHz
2600 MHz 50 MHz
3500 MHz 50 MHz
Liquid Telecoms 3500 MHz 4 MHz
Rain 2600 MHz 30 MHz

UK security chiefs reportedly warn PM against banning Huawei

The UK is much less likely to hit ambitious broadband targets if Huawei isn’t involved in the 5G network, Johnson has apparently been told.

The report comes courtesy of the Mail, which reckons the National Security Council has been warned that Prime Minister Johnson can forget hitting his 2025 fast broadband targets if the UK’s 5G network isn’t up to scratch. This would apparently be made inevitable if we didn’t let Huawei participate, the NSC has apparently conveyed to the PM.

When BoJo first announced his ambition broadband targets they seemed to be focused entirely on fibre, but it looks like he has been subsequently advised that there’s this thing called fixed wireless access that is really handy for connecting remote locations. His patient telecoms advisors will presumably have then pointed out that the kind of FWA needed to help him hit his targets would require a decent 5G network, hence the Huawei angle.

This leak to the Mail, presumably from somewhere in the government, seems designed to serve two purposes. The minor purpose is to rebrand BoJo’s pledge as being focused on outcomes rather than technology types. But the main reason for it is probably to provide cover for the decision not to block Huawei from the 5G network, which seems to have been made already but won’t be announced until after the general election.

US President Trump is a Johnson supporter, but that relationship will be strained if BoJo decides not to tow the US line on Huawei. Maybe BoJo is hoping to use his own broadband pledge as mitigation during the inevitable awkward conversation he will have with Trump after announcing he’s not blocking Huawei from the UK 5G network.

Qualcomm claims 30 5G fixed wireless access deal wins

5G has opened up a whole new channel for Qualcomm to flog its modems through and it seems to have got off to a decent start.

The company has announced that its X55 5G Modem-RF System has been bought by over 30 global OEMs to form part of fixed wireless access customer premises gear that they’ll start flogging sometime next year. The bandwidth promised by 5G makes fireless a viable alternative to fixed broadband in certain scenarios and it looks like that market is picking up.

Here are 34 companies that were prepared to admit they were making Qualcomm-powered FWA kit: Arcadyan, Askey, AVM, Casa Systems, Compal, Cradlepoint, Fibocom, FIH, Franklin, Gemtek, Gongjin, Gosuncn, Inseego, LG, Linksys, MeiG, Netgear, Nokia, Oppo, Panasonic, Quanta, Quectel, Sagemcom, Samsung, Sharp Corporation, Sercomm, Sierra Wireless, Sunsea, Technicolor, Telit, Wewins, Wingtech, WNC, and ZTE.

“The widespread adoption of our modem-to-antenna solution translates into enhanced fixed broadband services and additional opportunities to utilize 5G network infrastructure for broad coverage in urban, suburban and rural environments,” said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon. “Due to the development ease of our integrated system and industry movement toward self-installed, plug-and-play CPE devices, we expect OEMs will be able to support fixed broadband deployments beginning in 2020.”

In related new Qualcomm has also unveiled a new reference design that integrates 5G and Wi-Fi 6 for all your FWA home gateway needs, claiming it’s a plug-and-play alternative to boring old fixed line broadband. They’ve whacked the X55 modem and the Networking Pro 1200 platform into one handy package that Qualcomm will be hoping companies such those listed above will build into their gear.

“This new home gateway reference design can help ISPs and broadband carriers deliver triple-play home internet to customers, including fiber-like high-speed data, television and phone services, all with support for hundreds of devices, in a high-performance single-box solution powered by the latest connectivity offerings from Qualcomm Technologies,” said Nick Kucharewski, GM of the Wireless Infrastructure and Networking Business unit at Qualcomm.

Qualcomm is showing all this shiny new FWA gear off at the Broadband World Forum event currently underway in Amsterdam. FWA has been a theme of the show for a little while, but this is probably the first year is has the potential to steal the limelight from fibre and that sort of thing. Having said that it’s still hard to see why anyone would opt for that when proper fibre was available.

All Modes Lead to Home: The New Broadband Access Boom

Mobile broadband in the form of 4G and now 5G may have been grabbing the headlines for the past few years, but in the background the fixed line broadband market has been growing steadily, driven by both regulatory imperatives and operator expansion ambitions on the supply side, and the increasing use of bandwidth-hungry applications on the demand side.

Here we are sharing the opening section of this Intelligence special briefing to look at the status of the broadband market and explores how stakeholders can best capture the opportunities and overcome the challeges.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here

Introduction: The Many Flavours of Broadband

Although demand for ever higher-capacity broadband connections are often associated with entertainment services, for example high-definition video streaming or connected gaming, much of the demand for fixed line broadband connectivity is linked to the pervasiveness of digital lifestyles, as growing numbers of people require reliable Internet connectivity to support an ever broader range of applications — remote working, financial services, medical care services, e-commerce and more – and an increasing number of devices.

Ovum, the research firm, reported that by Q1 2018, 1 billion consumers worldwide had been connected to broadband access networks. The firm forecast that the total number of broadband subscribers would top 1.1 billion by the end of this year. More than 20 million broadband subscribers per quarter have been added during the past two years.

Broadband access is an encompassing concept. Competing technologies have flourished during the past two decades. Some ride on the legacy copper PSTN networks – the various iterations of DSL technology and, most recently, Gfast – while others deliver fast Internet connections via cable networks, especially in North America. Satellite connections have also played a (limited) role.

In recent years, fibre connections running all the way to homes or buildings – collectively, fibre-to-thepremises
(FTTP) — has evolved from a niche, high-end solution to becoming a mass market proposition, though this varies wildly from country to country. This medium promises the fastest broadband access speeds to support the most demanding of applications and, as will be evident at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam (October 15-17), it is
still witnessing ongoing technological innovation as various flavours of passive optical networking (PON) technologies, such as XGS-PON and NG-PON2, come to market.

Meanwhile, thanks to the ascendency of 4G cellular technologies — primarily LTE, but also WiMax – and the arrival of 5G, fixed-wireless access (FWA) is also gaining increasing, albeit still limited, traction. This option is usually associated with rural and/or underserved areas but is now becoming a viable option in urban areas where the deployment of fibre is challenging or deemed uneconomic.

In addition to the differences between technologies, what qualifies as ‘broadband’ has also been evolving. In 2010, when Finland became the first country to set out the national policy to define access to broadband Internet as a basic right, the threshold was set at 1 Mbps downlink.

The FCC has been using 25 Mbps/3 Mbps (downlink/uplink) as the benchmark to evaluate how well fixed broadband has been deployed. By way of contrast, the US regulator has adopted 5 Mbps/1 Mbps as the benchmark for mobile (LTE) data service coverage.

At the beginning of September 2019, the Norwegian government started the consultation process to make broadband access a statuary obligation by the operators, becoming the latest country to elevate or aim to elevate broadband access to the status of a legal right. Here the government proposed two sets of metrics on which to gather comments: 20 Mbps/2Mbps and 10 Mbps/2 Mbps.

In its policy paper, titled ‘Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – Towards a European Gigabit Society’, published in 2016, the European Union’s vision included Internet access downlink speeds for all European households of at least 100 Mbps.

Sweden is the most aggressive country when setting its broadband targets. The country’s ‘Broadband Strategy’, published in 2016, defined a ‘completely connected Sweden by 2025’ in three tiers: 98% of all households and businesses should have access to a downlink speed of at least 1 Gbps; 1.9% should have access to 100 Mbps; and the remaining 0.1% should have access to at least 30 Mbps.

For any deployment of broadband connectivity to succeed, a number of factors need to be in place: There must be market demand that can be met by broadband connectivity; the technologies being used should be tried, tested and future-proof; the broadband service providers must be able to achieve a positive return on investment; and there should be a favourable regulatory environment.

Given the current market conditions impacting the suitability of the different technologies (see the next section), projected potential service uptake, and the drivers on the supply and demand sides, this report will focus on developments related to two key technologies: FTTP and 5G-based FWA.

The rest of this briefing includes sections on:

  • The Winners and the Others
  • It’s the Economics: When Fibre Makes More Sense than 5G, and Vice Versa
  • How the Public and Private Sectors Can Help
  • An interview with Nick Green, 5G Business Lead and Marketing Director, Three UK

To access the full briefing please click here

When Fixed Wireless Access makes sense periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece William Webb, telecoms industry consultant, explores the scenarios in which Fixed Wireless Access is most useful.

Getting copper, cable or fibre to homes and offices is tough. Typically, it requires digging up roads, paths and gardens, using expensive labour, taking months or years and overcoming multiple bureaucratic hurdles. It gets ever-harder as the better opportunities are addressed first, leaving areas where houses are further apart and the willingness to pay for high-speed broadband less clear.

With a take-up rate of 1/3rd and 10m home spacing, costs of providing fibre can easily be £2,000 per home connected. And with wholesale broadband prices at around £15/month that means a payback of over 11 years – a long time for investments that can easily run into billions. In suburban areas with greater home spacing and lower take-up, payback can extend towards 20 years.

Those difficulties have led many, over the last 30 years, to consider wireless as a way around the need to dig. Fixed wireless access (FWA) has been tried around the world with bespoke technologies, with WiMax, with cellular solutions and now with variants of 5G. To date, none have been particularly successful and wireless provides only a tiny fraction of the home broadband connections.

FWA has failed in the past because the economics were never as good as hoped. Often the range of the base station was less than expected and many homes within range were unable to get an adequate signal due to local blockage resulting in too few homes per base station. Self-installation of the customer premise equipment (CPE) rarely worked, leading to relatively expensive installation costs. And often the existing competition upped their game, providing higher data rates and lower prices such that the wireless solution became unattractive. All of these factors remain true, suggesting serious questions need to be asked about any FWA proposals.

The current US deployments by AT&T and Verizon look likely to fall into many of these traps. Base stations and masts are expensive so the operators try to push the range to the limit. This results in many homes not being able to get a good signal, and weaker signal conditions at some pulling down the overall cell capacity. Getting fibre to the masts is expensive and if that much fibre is being laid why not just extend it to the homes anyway? The amount of spectrum that they have is also limiting. While much greater than at cellular frequencies, it is insufficient to allow for many homes in a cell to have simultaneous Gbit connectivity and have some spectrum spare for wireless backhaul or repeaters. And the competition in the US is intense with most homes already being served by copper, cable and in some cases fibre.

But despite all that history and the pessimism, there may be a role for FWA. It could succeed in areas where:

  • Current broadband speeds are below around 20-40Mbits/s, such that for some homes the broadband speed becomes a limiting factor.
  • Fibre is expensive to deploy, perhaps because homes are farther apart, access rights are limited, or likely take-up rate for the service is low.

FWA has been helped by the availability of 60GHz spectrum. This brings three big advantages over other mmWave or FWA spectrum:

  1. The spectrum is unlicensed so there are no costs of spectrum acquisition, and deployment can start immediately.
  2. There is a lot of spectrum – between 7GHz and 14GHz in many countries. This allows for relatively profligate usage to homes and for wireless backhaul, keeping costs much lower.
  3. There is low-cost equipment, building on the back of chipsets developed for WiGig and on a growing global marketplace generating economies of scale.

But mmWave frequencies bring challenges of low range and the need for line-of-sight connections if Gbit rates are to be delivered. This inevitably means a lot of base stations. So the economics only work if the overall base station cost can be kept low. This requires:

  • Using existing structures for masts – lampposts are ideal as they also have power available.
  • Using wireless backhaul from the lampposts to avoid the need to run fibre down the streets anyway.
  • Using low cost fibre connectivity to a cluster of lampposts ideally by accessing existing ducts, removing the need to dig.
  • Using low-cost base stations (often called “access points” or APs) designed and built more like Wi-Fi routers than cellular base stations.

These conditions all need to be met – otherwise the economics of broadly one base station per eight homes will just not work. Barriers can include limited access to lampposts or excessive rent charging from local authorities. Initial experience suggests that there are many towns, villages and outer suburban areas where FWA can be made to work. Where it does, it not only lowers the through-life cost by 50% or more, it is much faster – deployment can happen in weeks rather than the months or years needed to bury fibre. That is good news for those awaiting broadband, for politicians keen to move up the broadband league, and not least for investors who start to see revenues almost immediately.

In a country like the UK, FWA could easily access 20% of the home broadband market. It will not succeed in urban areas where fibre is already deployed, or where the economics of fibre work. Gbit FWA will not work in rural areas where the range needed is too great (although other, lower speed solutions can be helpful here). But in between there are many homes and businesses who might otherwise have to wait a decade for fibre. It could be deployed by a new dedicated FWA operator or as part of a toolkit of solutions from fibre broadband players. It could be used as a way to provide service to areas before eventual fibre deployment, or as a long-term solution.

There is one other barrier to its success. Many have become fixated on “full fibre”. This is a technology obsession – what is needed is high speed broadband to the home not glass buried under the front driveway. This view has arisen because of the assumption that only fibre can provide the near-infinite bandwidths assumed to be needed in the future. But this is false because (1) there is little evidence of rapid bandwidth demand growth and (2) wireless can also provide extremely high bandwidths using ever-higher frequencies. If wireless can deliver what it needed more quickly and cheaply then why not use it? But for many, fibre has become something of a religion, and it is hard to shake those kind of beliefs.


William Webb smallProfessor William Webb is CEO of the Weightless SIG, the standards body developing a new global M2M technology. He is also Director at Webb Search, an independent consultancy, where he acts as a consultant for companies including Tutela. Previously, he was a Director at UK regulator, Ofcom.

Three goes live with 5G broadband service

UK telco Three has become the latest to join the 5G bonanza with the launch of its 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) service in London.

With plans to launch the service in 25 cities throughout the UK, the FWA proposition looks to be a challenger to traditional broadband services. We have been told the new service will promise speeds of 100 Mbps between the hours of 8pm and 10pm, peak times for streaming in the living room, offering an alternative to fibre broadband for speed hungry customers.

“Three’s 5G is going to revolutionise the home broadband experience,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “No more paying for landline rental, no more waiting for engineers, and even a same day delivery option. It really is the straightforward plug and play broadband that customers have been waiting for.

“We’ve taken a simple approach with one single truly unlimited data plan to give customers the opportunity to fully explore 5G and all its exciting possibilities. The ease and immediacy of it all means home broadband using 5G is going to be key to the future of the connected home.”

Looking at the deal offered, there are some interesting elements. Three is promising a ‘plug and play’ experience, meaning customers will no-longer have to wait for an engineer to start the service, while contracts can be taken to new homes if the customer moves. This of course depends on whether Three has launched 5G in the new area, though removing the dependence on physical lines into the home can offer some benefits.

Although this does look like a promising opportunity to disrupt the traditional home broadband market, questions still remain over the long-term viability of FWA as an alternative to the delivery of connectivity over physical infrastructure.

There is a business case for FWA in the remote regions, where the commercial attractiveness of connecting ‘the last mile’ with fibre falls dramatically, though these are not the areas which Three will be targeting to start with.

The launch today is in certain areas of London, while Three is promising to connect 25 towns and cities by the end of the year. These will most likely be the more urbanised areas, this makes commercial sense after all, perhaps targeting regions where fibre penetration is lacking.

As Heavy Reading Analyst Gabriel Brown points out, £35 a month is not overly aggressive pricing, and the 100 Mbps download speeds are very achievable. Users might experience higher speeds during the day, though the proposition might well be more attractive financial and performance wise than many cable services today.

This is where Three could find its appeal. As Brown points out, accessibility to fibre services is a challenge today in the UK. If Three is able to target the regions where Openreach, Virgin Media and the fibre ‘alt-nets’ are missing, there could be a tailored audience for the speedy and reasonably priced 5G FWA service.

Played smartly, Three can drive additional revenues through the business. And while Three does already have 800,000 broadband customers with its 4G FWA service, this could be a notable driver of new revenues for the business. 5G network deployment is going to be an expensive business, therefore sweating the assets in every way possible will be an important factor.

This product opens up a new world for the challenger brand. Over the last few years, subscriber growth in mobile has been relatively flat, though should Three push towards the convergence game, there could be new opportunities to engage new customers with a new message.

5G: Enabling the future telco and beyond periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece, Ashu Singh, Lead- Solutions Engineering at Tata Communications Transformation Services discusses an effective guide to operationalising and commercialising 5G networks

By 2025, 5G will account for 15% of the global mobile industry – GSMA Mobile Economy Report, Feb 2019

5G is not breaking news anymore, and neither is it hype that you can afford to ignore. Early adopters have embraced the 5G wave and have been busy planning and deploying data-centric networks. Others have been approaching 5G with some restraint, strategizing their move by closely consulting with authorities and facilitators.

Regardless of where they are along their 5G journey, the fact remains that 5G is a game-changing, all-IP solution that can benefit users and CSPs alike. What’s more, 5G adoption is almost always coupled with industry-wide digital transformation, which functions to challenge and disrupt the human-machine connection as we know it.

Meeting the challenges in operationalising 5G

Drawing from experience, TCTS believes that the 5G ecosystem will largely be attributed to open source contributors and vendors who are standardising the reference architectures for its operationalisation – be they the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), OpenRAN, Open CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter), or so on. Among mainstream OEMs, 3GPP, Broadband Forum, and several others are doing great work in developing standards around NG-Radio, fronthaul-backhaul, standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) core architectures, while simultaneously building the technology gears required to run 5G networks.

The main challenge with 5G operationalisation or commercialisation, as always, would be appropriately planning, building and operating networks of highly complex nature. 5G-enabled projects are often intended to enable futuristic and definitive use cases, driven towards greater socio-economic commitments and purposes.

Steps for an effective 5G deployment   

  1. Strategic planning and governance: To begin with, 5G would require precise long-term planning, involving not only RF but also integrated fibre. Such planning will be key for transport networks as well the X-haul, while targeting the throughput and scenarios governed by ultra-reliable low latency services. The governance will extend to FWA as well, since it is the sole solution to the present broadband crunch and the time-limited demands of networks (since FTTx types of solutions will be non-economic for such scenarios).
  1. Making the right technology choices: 5G networks are going to be densified and localised, and so the application of mmWave as a choice needs to be done carefully. Transport networks would need careful planning around fibre deployment, IP/MPLS and so on. 4G-to-NSA-to-SA migration strategy will be key to an impactful and end-to-end 5G rollout. Such a project is likely to be governed by virtualisation at the core and RAN. CSPs will have to exercise discretion in terms of ascertaining future flexibility, and selecting the right vendor and open source platform/tools for different domains, while keeping the services live and the costs, contained.
  1. Testing to perfection: Prior to any large-scale deployment, it is advisable to have a virtualised test environment where prototypes or small-scale replicas can be tested and run on near real-time networks, by enabling 5G services encompassing URLLS, eMBB and mMTC. This must be governed by DevOps methodologies so that CSPs may test and assess multi-vendor networks that are a mix of proprietary and open source software. In-house development and having a 3rd party vendor-agnostic service partner can be beneficial as well, bringing a broader outlook into the picture.
  1. Orchestration and operationalising: In the end, it all comes down to operationalisation, and that is where the role of orchestration becomes even more important. The master of orchestration will oversee the end-to-end domain architecture, managing the life-cycle of network elements, services, resources, traffic paths, and so on, to make network visibility and service availability efficient and effective. From a business perspective, and in regard to commercialisation, network slicing and multi-access edge computing would assume priority as enablers of new revenue streams and transformative, yet disruptive, business models.


About the author

Ashu Singh, Lead- Solutions Engineering, Tata Communications Transformation Services (TCTS)

Ashu SinghAshu Singh is a leading the Global Solutions for Telco Cloud and Virtualisation at Tata Communications Transformation Services (TCTS) and has been focussing on innovative solutions around next-gen technologies like Network Slicing, SDN/NFV, ML and Blockchain in Telecom. Prior joining TCTS, Ashu has worked for Cisco Systems, Netcracker Technologies and Idea Cellular Ltd. in diverse roles spanning across Mobile Packet Core Engineering, SDN/NFV Solutions Presales and Prepaid Billing Operations respectively. Ashu, holds an Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering degree from Army Institute of Technology, Pune, India.

FWA is starting to gather momentum in UK

The idea of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) has been belittled in the past, but it is moving beyond ‘flash in the pan’ territory and becoming a genuine alternative across the UK.

Some have been harping on about the benefits of FWA for years, while others have snubbed the concept for more traditional means of broadband connectivity, but there is growing interest in the technology throughout 2019. The latest to join the hype is Macquarie Capital, yet another private investment company looking to capitalise on the sluggish telco segment. Here, the team is backing the rollout of FWA solutions in rural communities.

“The roll-out of superfast and ultrafast broadband has too often focused on the UK’s urban centres – leaving untapped investment requirements in the UK’s rural communities,” said Oliver Bradley of Macquarie Capital.

“We believe that using Macquarie Capital’s unique principal investment and development expertise there is a significant opportunity to work with Voneus to accelerate the deployment of UK rural broadband, this will help unlock significant economic and social benefits for the UK.”

Working alongside emerging ‘alt-net’ Voneus, Macquarie Capital will invest £10 million initially and an additional £30 million through various different build-out phases. FWA will be the tip of the spear, as Voneus looks to focus on 900,000 homes across the UK countryside who still don’t have access to Superfast broadband services.

“Macquarie Capital’s backing is a huge endorsement of Voneus’ business model and vision, as well as an indication of how much work still needs to be done to connect the many homes and business across the UK that still do not have access to decent broadband services,” said Steve Leighton, CEO of Voneus.

While the only option for genuine 100% future-proofed broadband connectivity is fibre, the FWA revolution does offer considerable benefits. Firstly, it is faster to deploy as last-mile connectivity is over-the-air, removing the complications of civil engineering. Secondly, it is cheaper to deploy raising the interests of the telcos. And finally, it satisfies the need for the moment.

FWA could be viewed as half-way house on the road to full-fibre deployment as it offers the connectivity speeds which are required today. Some Government targets for broadband infrastructure are non-sensical as they focus on technology not the desired outcome. If the immediate desire is to deliver relevant download speeds in the home, this can be done through FWA solutions. There is no reason why FWA can’t address the immediate challenge, assuming of course there are on-going plans to rollout fibre infrastructure over a reasonable period of time simultaneously.

This is what Voneus is proposing. It will deliver FWA connectivity in areas which have largely been ignored by the traditional providers, while also working the business case to deploy full-fibre broadband in the future.

This approach might irritate some of the traditional telcos in the UK, but there are cases around the world where it has been proven a success. Over in the US, Starry is a FWA ISP which is rapidly expanding. Although it is focused on multi-dwelling units in major cities, the theoretical business model, and customer appetite has been proven.

Closer to home, Three and Vodafone have also launched their own FWA propositions for 5G. It will be interesting to see how these convergence strategies play out, but Three already has 800,000 home broadband subscribers through its acquisition of UK Broadband. This is an area of great potential for these two broadband challengers, especially should the reliability of FWA be proven as 5G rolls out across the country.

The idea of a fibre spine and wireless wings is not a new one, but it is certainly one which has merit. Here, Voneus could certainly gain traction in areas which have been neglected by the traditional player because of the high-cost of deploying infrastructure. FWA can be a good idea, just as long as its not the final goal for the ISP in question.