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October 18, 2021

Is Fixed Wireless Access Critical for 8K Adoption

Fixed Wireless Access or FWA refers to using cellular networks to offer broadband service to residential or enterprise customers. With the advent of mobile 5G networks, the potential to use mmWave bands to offer Gbps service is now a real possibility. Video on demand, including 8K, is expected to drive bandwidth needs for many years to come which is why both telecoms and even cable network providers are actively pursuing this opportunity.

To learn more about this opportunity, we listened in to a webinar produced by Light Reading called Maximise Benefits From Disruptive mmWave Technology for FWA Services. Below we summarize some of the key take-aways from the webinar.

5G mmWave bands exist in the 24 to 39 GHz part of the spectrum where they offer considerably more bandwidth than lower C (3.5 to 4.2 GHz) or 5 GHz (5.1 to 5.85 GHz) bands. But mmWave also must be line-of-sight and will have much shorter transmission distances than the lower frequency bands.

mmWave bands could be used in private networks for enterprises, for X-haul communications, and even for direct-to-consumer broadband connections that can compete directly with fiber-to-the-home options.

Rolling out a consumer-focused fixed wireless access network for broadband service can be tricky due to the distance limitation and line-of-sight requirements. For urban installs, building-to-building connections make sense but for suburban neighborhoods, some estimates suggest the need for a 5G cell on every third telephone pole.

But can mmWave FWA work for rural applications? It turns out, yes. Perhaps the most important take-away was the revelation that mmWave transmission has been demonstrated at up to 3.7 miles in distance. While that may not seem very long, it has been enough for webinar sponsor Intracom Telecom to roll out service to hundreds of thousands of households with the goal of providing 1Gbps service. 

These installs require a small dish antenna with line-of-sight to the transmitter, so geography will play a key role as will the layout of cell towers, but it is clearly possible. They shared a graphic showing how a suburban neighborhood in Chicago could be serviced with 8 purpose-built FWA cells compared to the conventional commercial 5G matrix approach requiring 860 cells.

The advantage of purpose-built mmWave 5G cells for FWA (credit: Intracom Telecom)

While the reduction in the number of cells is a clear advantage, signal strength at the cell tower center and the edge will be quite different, potentially impacting bandwidth and quality of service.

Intracomm summarized the advantages of purpose-built mmWave FWA solutions in the slide below.

Key factors for FWA success (credit: Intracom Telecom)

The other good news on this front is that many countries around the world have major new initiatives to expand broadband service to households that have no or low-bandwidth service now. Billions of dollars are being allocated for these efforts that will include FWA but also new fiber and hybrid coax networks as well.  All of this will be needed and will only help to make it easier for providers to consider 8K services in the near term.

Government initiatives in Ultra-Broadband (credit: Intracom Telecom)
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