Mobile technology and smartphones have changed a lot over the years. In recent years we have gone through 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G networks. With the latter, new features are appearing that several years ago seemed unthinkable. The reason is that, for the first time, with the arrival of 5G, it is allowing this mobile technology to compete with fixed line services and prices. In this sense, Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) allows network operators to offer ultra-high-speed broadband in rural and suburban areas. In this way, in the future we can have an alternative for those places where fiber is very expensive to install and maintain.
How mobile networks have evolved in recent years
In this section we are going to do a brief review of how mobile networks have evolved from 2G to the current 5G. Let’s start talking about 2G , some of you may have heard about GSM, GPRS and EDGE. On your mobile phones when you are browsing a network of this type, the letter E appears next to the coverage lines. With GSM and GPRS it is allowed to send SMS, multimedia messages (MMS) and e-mail. In addition, it has transfer speeds of between 56 to 114 Kbps. Then came EDGE, which allows reaching speeds of up to 384 Kbps. This mode allows you to browse the Internet and download files, what happens is that currently, due to the design of the webs and of the files that we download, make their use difficult.
The next to appear was 3G , using fluent web browsing in its networks is possible. On your smartphone it would be represented by the letter H for 3G, and H + for 3G +. Current mobiles in favorable theoretical conditions could reach a download speed of 42Mbps and 5.8 Mbps in upload.
Then came 4G and LTE , watching videos and streaming content or videos on YouTube is no longer a problem. The theoretical speed through 4G networks is 300 Mbps. Generally we will not exceed the actual 150 Mbps speed. On the other hand, LTE networks can even exceed 450 Mbps, although this is usually the normal limit. In addition, we have LTE Advanced that in some high-end models can exceed the speed of 1 Gbps. On our smartphones we will see the 4G and 4G + symbols as appropriate. Finally, we have 5G that can reach up to more than 7 Gbps in real environments.
In addition, the 5G where it has improved substantially compared to 4G is in latencies. In this sense, it is what could facilitate broadband connections in sparsely populated areas.
FWA is an interesting alternative for rural and sparsely populated areas
The price and installation of fixed broadband has continually challenged the deployment of high-speed data services. Although technologies like WiMAX have tried to compete like fiber, these initiatives have ended up failing in many cases. The main reason that has dragged them down is because they require a completely new overlay infrastructure, and expensive proprietary equipment.
However, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) employs standardized 3GPP architectures and common mobile components. Thus, you can offer ultra-high-speed broadband services to residential customers and business customers.
In this sense we have to comment that using New Radio (NR) in the millimeter wavelength (mmWave), the 5G FWA, can provide a competitive alternative in fixed lines compared to:
- DSL / ADSL
- Optical fiber
Reasons why FWA can be competitive against fiber, cable and ADSL2 +
The deployment of the mobile 5G NR mmWave requires the acquisition of new spectrum, rights of way, easements and use concessions. Therefore, mobile operators want those installation and maintenance costs to be borne by as many applications as possible. That is why they will look for:
- Provide higher speed mobile broadband to your customers.
- Offer services to low latency IoT (Internet of Things) smart sensor networks for autonomous automation.
Currently the greatest opportunity for FWA is in emerging countries, where fixed broadband is not common today. This is because fiber optic installation is not exactly cheap. This greatly limits not only individual prospects for expansion, but also the economic growth potential of these countries.
Furthermore, FWA will also become an attractive alternative to slower and more expensive landline options in developed countries. In that sense, EU broadband funds could take advantage of this technology to provide better internet access in less developed or unpopulated regions.
Strengths and positives of the FWA
Initiatives prior to FWA failed because their nature was based on using proprietary technologies. With few equipment and support providers, there were few options to choose from and prices increased.
On the other hand, the 5G provider ecosystem is already large and offers us:
- Standardized user equipment for the EU.
- Mobile network equipment that can be reused for FWA without modification.
Fixed 5G wireless access in the lower bands of the wireless spectrum can be used to quickly and inexpensively provide an alternative to wired broadband. At millimeter wavelengths, 5G FWA can provide a level of service bandwidth capacity comparable to fiber optics. In addition, the narrow beams also allow a higher density of users without causing interference.
It should also be noted that the penetration of mmWave through common building materials such as walls or glass is low. However, this has an easy solution since by using external antennas we can drastically mitigate the signal degradation.
In that sense, FWA using 5G lays the foundation for entirely new service offerings that require low latency and high bandwidth.
Of the three primary frequency bands planned around the world for 5G networks, those in the mid-GHz range are the most appropriate for FWA. Therefore, the 3.4-3.8 GHz band would be suitable for low-density rural or suburban areas. As for the 24.25 to 27.5GHz range, it is adequate to serve higher density suburban cities and places, although we may need to install outdoor antennas.
The development of FWA
Initial fixed wireless access trials using the 5G network employ a classic Evolved Packet Core (EPC) infrastructure to transport data and control information. The distribution of 5G antennas, together with the applications of high-bandwidth transmission through FWA, will make the capacity of the access network greater, and even need to have a higher density of aggregation points.
LTE and CUPS control techniques can provide a partial solution to these problems. The problem is, they involve prolonging a predominantly hardware-centric approach to delivering the data plane. This is an expensive and complex proposition that will ultimately require migration to 5G. In contrast, a 5G user plane function (UPF) deployed within a highly automated Multiple Access Edge Computing (MEC) cloud environment can meet the prerequisites of a fixed wireless access infrastructure.
Here’s an example of Ericsson’s 5G FWA Architecture:
Finally, according to this scheme, the location of the RBS (Base Stations developed by Ericsson) in relation to other nodes depends on the frequency in which it operates. In that sense, the higher the frequency, the shorter the range of radio links from RBS. The primarily indoor entities that provide connectivity to clients are orange and the corresponding outdoor entities are green.