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During an online event last week, Huawei and a select group of 20 chipset, module, and terminal suppliers formally introduced the 4G/5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) Technology Forum 2020. The group’s mission is to help service providers adopt and deploy fixed wireless access by ensuring interoperability, sharing business case successes, and providing best practices for deploying and managing fixed wireless services and subscribers.

Although FWA has been a viable technology option for decades, the proliferation of 4G networks and rapid growth of 5G networks makes it an even more promising tool to connect rural, underserved, and emerging markets where copper and fiber infrastructure has never existed. Already, according to the GSA, over 400 mobile operators and WISPs (Wireless ISPs) globally deliver some type of 4G FWA service, while over 35 5G operators have launched FWA service. Additionally, more national broadband plans or broadband expansion efforts include FWA as an important complement to fiber buildouts, especially for rural and underserved areas.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, broadband access is an absolutely critical service, as much of the world continues to work and educate from home. Being connected with a service that can deliver videoconferencing and other high bandwidth applications consistently is just as important. As we have seen in some countries, including Italy, the zero-touch provisioning afforded by FWA can help to deliver broadband connectivity quickly and safely.

FWA Technology Options Abound

One of the primary goals of the newly-created FWA Technology Forum is to help service providers sift through the myriad technology options in front of them to help put together services that match their available spectrum bands, serving areas, data consumption, and subscriber growth expectations.

To be successful and reliable, FWA demand higher throughput and higher spectral efficiency, as well as dedicated QoS and subscriber/device management. To meet those demands, equipment vendors and component suppliers are integrating MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), carrier aggregation TDD and FDD spectrum, as well as QoS, subscriber, and service provisioning software tools.

The antenna and spectral efficiency tools, including MIMO, beamforming, and carrier aggregation are critical components of both the FWA access networks and CPE to ensure subscribers get as much sustained throughput as possible.

Vendors have shown that providing massive MIMO throughout the RAN (Radio Access Network) can deliver a 3x-5x capacity gain for operators. Coupling this with CPE that can support 4×4 MIMO can also increase an individual user’s throughput by 1.5x-2x.

Chipset and module suppliers are accommodating the various technology options by delivering multi-mode reference designs that support 5G, 4G, and 3G spectrum bands, as well as supporting both standalone and non-standalone 5G architectures in the sub-6GHz band. These chips also deliver 2×2 MIMO in the uplink and 4×4 MIMO in the downlink, with roadmaps to increase the MIMO capabilities in the near future.

Besides, these integrated chipsets also support WiFi 6. The combination of FWA for broadband access to the home, using WiFi 6 to distribute the signal within the home is an ideal combination for operators. Both technologies support very high bandwidth and high concurrency rates, while also delivering the low latency and low power consumption required in today’s homes that are heavy consumers of videoconferencing, online gaming, and cloud VR services, but also have a growing number of IoT sensors and devices that require features such as TWT (Target Wake Time) to preserve their battery life.

Finally, these chipsets and the CPE in which they are integrated can include AI and machine learning capabilities to help them anticipate network or signal quality issues, anticipate increases in consumption based on time of day or user profiles, and even help subscribers identify the best location for the terminal to optimize the FWA signal from the network. These capabilities are critical in helping service providers reduce their operational costs, while also delivering on the promise of zero-touch installation and provisioning. They are also critical in giving service providers the flexibility to provide both indoor and outdoor CPE, depending on their subscriber’s geographic location and dwelling type.

The FWA Technology Forum hopes to streamline the interoperability process and provide a template for FWA providers based on their requirements, matching all the technology options available to their budgets and ROI expectations. Part of the Forum’s efforts is the creation of a catalog of vendor members and their products to make it easier for service providers to piece together FWA solutions based specifically on their needs.

FWA Delivers New Business and Revenue Models

With a wide range of new technology options comes the opportunity for FWA to deliver multiple business cases and help service providers expand their revenue-generating opportunities. First and foremost, FWA is the easiest and most cost-effective method for providing basic broadband access to rural and underserved areas, as well as those areas where fixed infrastructure never existed. From there, service providers can use some of the technologies listed above to deliver broadband on par with today’s DOCSIS and higher-end DSL offerings. Finally, as service providers deploy 5G networks, they can use FWA to deliver services and experiences similar to today’s fiber networks.

Combining the bandwidth and range improvements with emerging edge computing and virtualization efforts also enable FWA providers to move into areas beyond residential broadband into small-to-medium enterprise connectivity, telemedicine, industrial control, remote education and work, and full-fledged VR. Again, the FWA Technology Forum aims to be helpful to service providers here as they work with their vendor partners to deliver FWA services today with an eye to future service revenue growth. The 4G/5G FWA Technology Forum members plan to expand collaboration with service providers by sharing successful business cases of operators, the equipment and architectures they used to deliver multiple types of FWA, and how technology evolutions will give service providers a healthy roadmap for the growth of subscribers, overall connectivity, and revenue.