Fixed wireless access architecture provides 'last mile' connectivity with improved bandwidth, speed, and latency in 5G coverage areas
Although wired providers continue to make impressive gains in building out high-speed broadband services with improved reach, consumers and businesses in many locations still lack access to the level of Internet performance needed to stay connected in an increasingly virtual world. Many enterprises have heard that fixed wireless access can help, but they're also asking, "What IS fixed wireless access?"
Fixed wireless access (FWA) technology seeks to close the digital divide by bridging gaps in wired coverage and supporting the ability to expeditiously stand up connections to sites. In fact, the number of FWA connections is expected to climb from 100 million in 2022 to 230 million in 2027, with 5G fixed wireless access accounting for nearly half of those total connections.
What is fixed wireless access?
The term “fixed wireless access” refers to the ability to supply broadband connectivity to a fixed location by broadcasting wireless Internet from nearby towers to wireless receivers located at the designated site. A subcomponent of Wireless WAN (WWAN) and hybrid WAN, fixed wireless access architecture supports branch and remote locations in three primary ways:
- Providing a wireless only or “primary wireless” connectivity solution.
- Supplying connectivity for a hybrid WAN solution where both wired and wireless access are equally accessible for bandwidth augmentation.
- Creating a wireless failover link.
Until recently, fixed wireless access has mostly been discussed in the periphery, with little attention from broadband suppliers who traditionally wanted to focus on wired-line offerings. However, as LTE speeds become more noteworthy and 5G continues to stake its claim as a highly sought primary connection, the conversation around FWA has become more mainstream. This growth is evident in a recent JC Market Research report, which states that the FWA market will reach a value of $21.7 billion by 2029.
How FWA can benefit enterprise business customers
Originally designed to meet the needs of millions of homes across the globe that lack broadband access, FWA is now piquing the interest of businesses that are not only asking “what is fixed wireless access?” but are also seeking to understand how to take advantage of its benefits.
In situations where they lack affordable access to wired connectivity or need a diverse failover link to ensure uptime, enterprise businesses may find FWA to be a viable solution. Fixed LTE and 5G sites also enable businesses with dispersed locations to use a pooled or “flat rate” data plan from a single carrier. This simplified approach to data management eliminates the need to manage bills from multiple vendors. While FWA pricing and metering were once considered to be barriers to entry for businesses, carriers are increasingly rolling out new plans with limited or fixed rates to drive predictability in cost on a month-to-month basis, mirroring the consistency of wireline pricing.
The merits of Wireless WAN solutions like fixed wireless access continue to spread throughout businesses of all sizes in nearly every industry. In 2020, a study done by Nemertes reported that 80% of participants found WWAN performance to be as good as or better than wired connectivity for loss, latency, and jitter, and more than two-thirds of those participants found throughout to be as good as or better than their existing wired WAN links. This confidence in WWAN solutions shows no signs of slowing. In 2021, an IDG and Cradlepoint survey reported that half of all organizations utilizing 4G or 5G connectivity use it as the only WAN link for at least some of their branch locations.
How does 5G increase the appeal of fixed wireless access?
Historically, perception has been a challenging hurdle for fixed wireless access. Businesses are often concerned that they won’t be able to achieve the same level of performance with wireless connections as they can with wired broadband. However, with unprecedented speed, bandwidth, and latency performance, 5G is turning that assumption on its head.
Compared to legacy wired connections, 5G fixed wireless access:
- Increases access and coverage availability for users in locations traditionally exempt from established or affordable wired connectivity solutions.
- Provides bandwidth solutions capable of supporting thousands of users, devices, applications, and IoT connections without reserving high-quality links for top-tier applications only.
- Expands the potential of advanced SD-WAN capabilities including in-depth cellular insights, cellular-optimized quality of experience (QoE), and application-centric traffic steering.
- Improves business agility as a result of increased network uptime, rapid deployment capabilities, and scalability.
With pricing, quality, and performance aligned, fixed wireless access is poised to continue gaining momentum and increased adoption rates among enterprise businesses.