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Fixed wireless access is 5G's first killer app

Thanks to 5G, fixed wireless access is having a moment.

"Without a doubt it's the number one 5G use case that we have seen. It's had very clear success," said Michael McDonald, chief digital officer for Huawei Southeast Asia.

"FWA has been embraced quite heavily by a lot of our operators," he said, citing Middle East markets in particular.

Worldwide, 44 of the 120 commercial 5G operators have announced FWA services, up from 31 just six months ago, according to a new report from the GSA.

Australia's Optus, one of the first into the market, says its 5G home broadband outperforms standard broadband and is growing its market.

"We see 5G as a natural alternative for broadband. Where we do offer it, we see strong demand," said Harvey Wright, head of Optus 5G.

He said in the right market conditions 5G fixed wireless "provides a here-and-now proposition that is good for consumers and provides operators with some real tangible returns in the short term."

Wright cautioned that the Australian market had some "unique characteristics" that made FWA more compelling.

The government-backed NBN wholesale broadband network relies on a cross-subsidy that had led to "a level of margin compression" in fixed wireline, Wright said.

Against that, 5G fixed wireless offered more differentiation and innovation.

"In the wholesale market everyone gets access to the same technology. With 5G we've discovered it gives us much greater latitude to innovate."

Optus has just launched two service tiers a basic service for A$75 ($55.70) a month, and a A$90 service that includes an entertainment package delivered through a set-top box.

Huawei's McDonald also notes out that FWA, unlike other 5G products, provides an "existing model of fixed broadband that it can be compared to."

It was an "easy sell" as telcos don't need to differentiate between 5G and 4G as they have to do for mobile users.

Wright said that following launch in November 2019 the company had offered a guaranteed download of 50 Mbit/s, a little more than average fixed-line broadband speed.


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In reality, customers have been getting average bandwidth of 200-250 Mbit/s, he said.

Wright said FWA was allowing Optus to compete more effectively in the broadband market without "massive levels of self-cannibalization."

With less than 10% of households covered, there was plenty of room for growth.

In the Philippines, Globe Telecom's 5G home broadband service has been driving broadband subscriber and revenue growth.

It went to market with FWA in June 2019, aiming at areas where fixed-line doesn't reach.

In its third-quarter results it reported a 22% increase in broadband revenue for the first three quarters.

"Total home broadband subscriber base now stands at over 3.4 million, up 82% from the first nine months of 2019, driven mainly by the sustained increase of fixed wireless broadband users, now up by 119% from last year," the company said.

Stephen Myers, Omdia principal analyst for service provider strategy and regulation, says 5G fixed wireless has "certainly gone much further than the previous fixed wireless products that have had mixed responses."

The latency and stability of a well deployed 5G FWA product "becomes a really nice alternative platform to be selling."

Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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