5G FWA not just a US show

A new report sees APAC taking over in terms of subscriber numbers and Europe in terms of revenue by 2030.

Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

May 18, 2023

5 Min Read
5G FWA not just a US show

Reports about fixed wireless access (FWA) developments have come thick and fast in recent months as the service appears to have crystallized into the biggest success story so far for 5G networks. Indeed, T-Mobile US has been reporting quarterly FWA additions like box-office figures since it first launched the service in 2021.

In the first quarter of 2023, T-Mobile reported adding 523,000 new 5G FWA customers, bringing its total FWA customer base to 3.2 million. T-Mobile and Verizon added a combined 665,000 residential FWA subs in Q1, a level that was at zero in Q1 2019. It remains to be seen if FWA additions have already peaked for US mobile operators, as suggested by New Street Research.

What about FWA developments over in Europe and other regions of the world? As noted by IDC in December 2022, mobile networks have been used for home broadband services in Europe for over a decade, albeit on a small scale, but 5G technologies are enabling an expansion in the scale and scope of FWA services.

Figure 1: US leadership in FWA may not last forever with growth predicted in APAC, EU. (Source: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo) US leadership in FWA may not last forever with growth predicted in APAC, EU.
(Source: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)

According to IDC associate John Delaney, FWA "offers operators attractive opportunities for early monetization of 5G networks."

However, he warned that it is important for operators to "take a long-term view when planning their FWA strategies, to ensure growth in the FWA customer base does not have a negative impact on mobile customer experience or ARPU [average revenue per user]."

Changing FWA map

Meanwhile, a new report from Rethink Technology Research provides some interesting forecasts about the shifting fortunes of FWA depending on the region. To be sure, the US is currently leading the field through rapid rural FWA subscriber growth, and this is expected to continue for several years.

However, as saturation approaches in the US, populous Asia-Pacific countries led by China and India will "roar ahead" in subscriber numbers, the report said. Indeed, it predicts that APAC will "surge ahead over the next seven years for FWA subscriptions, with Europe a poor second, followed by Africa and Latin America as rural deployment ramps up in some countries there." North America will then drop down into last place in the regional ranking.

The picture looks somewhat different when it comes to FWA revenues, however. Here, Rethink Technology Research suggests that Europe will take a strong lead with 35% of the $62.9 billion it expects globally by 2030, followed by North America with 24% and APAC with 16%. This is of course dictated by ARPU levels, which Rethink notes range from $54 in the US to an average of $7 for APAC as a whole, and barely $2 in India.

Another significant FWA trend identified by the report will be a switch to 5G-based approaches, moving away from 4G and non-3GPP standards. "That again will be very variable globally, with almost all FWA 5G by then in the USA, about half in some developing nations in APAC, such as the Philippines, and only about 22% on average in Africa," the report added.

Overall, Rethink Technology Research concludes, FWA is "being driven by three parties – consumers, operators and governments – all acting in response to rising demand and improved technology capabilities. Consumers in areas unserved or poorly served with wired broadband are demanding broadband service more comparable with those offered to their urban peers, and these can now be provided increasingly by FWA."

Mobile operators are interested in the potential for new revenue streams or services that can exploit unused spectrum. In developing nations, as well as some parts of developed ones, FWA has emerged as the most economical option for extending broadband services to users previously denied Internet access at acceptable speeds, or at all, the report adds.

"The other crucial factor is that cellular networks have almost caught up with the curve of ever rising broadband expectations for performance and reliability. In developed economies this is usually in the range 30Mbps to 60Mbps, rising to 100Mbps or more over the coming years," it said.

In conclusion, although 5G FWA may seem like exclusively a US show right now, expectations are that rollouts will gather pace in Europe as well as developing markets that have patchy broadband coverage.

Recent examples include Vodafone Spain, which launched its FWA service at the end of November 2022, promising download speeds up to 1 Gbit/s. In addition, Reliance Jio in India has set an aggressive target of 100 million households to be reached by its 5G FWA service in a few years' time.

According to the recent Ericsson Mobility Report Business Review Edition, many service providers are launching 5G FWA in Europe, with strong market uptake in Italy, Austria and the Nordic countries. The report also estimates worldwide FWA service provider revenues at $27 billion in 2022 and projects them to reach $67 billion by 2028.

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— Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Anne Morris

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Anne Morris is a freelance journalist, editor and translator. She has been working in the telecommunications sector since 1996, when she joined the London-based team of Communications Week International as copy editor. Over the years she held the editor position at Total Telecom Online and Total Tele-com Magazine, eventually leaving to go freelance in 2010. Now living in France, she writes for a number of titles and also provides research work for analyst companies.

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