How crazy is it that traditional broadband providers are seeing record growth in adding wireless subscribers (MVNO services), while carriers are seeing record growth in broadband subscriber adds (FWA or fixed wireless access aka 5G Home Internet or 5G Business Internet)? Should cable broadband operators work up a reseller agreement and sell fixed wireless access as an MVNO?
The industry is clearly showcasing the stronger trust, energy, and value proposition of wireless overall. We are finally seeing the reach of wireless overtake traditional fiber and wireline GROWTH as the industry matures and 5G delivers connectivity options across business and consumer. Fixed wireless access (FWA) is currently seeing a bit of a battle between Verizon and T-Mobile, while AT&T places its bet on fiber after pulling away from a fixed wireless strategy from 2021. FWA is not new and certainly been around for a while as WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) have been serving rural America with these services for quite some time.
Fixed wireless access or FWA in the most simplest terms provides consumers and business with an alternative or complete replacement to traditional broadband services (DSL, Cable, Fiber, T-1s, etc.). Customers can essentially be up and running with a hardware installation at the home or office (radio/receiver, antenna, cat 5 wiring, and connectivity to your WiFi router, etc.). Of course getting access from a WISP versus a carrier will have differing installations based on the nature of point-to-point and multi-directional access. The service essentially provides broadband over the wireless network or over wireless radios that communicate to the base stations or towers. As microcell, small cell, and mmWave technologies improve and enhance, we will see improved hardware and installation strategies impact overall revenue for the carriers and WISPs offering fixed wireless services.
FWA can be seen as an alternative to wired broadband, but today we are seeing both consumers and businesses look to FWA as a complete replacement to their broadband services (T-Mobile shares in a recent report that their customers are replacing cable). While WISPs generally target rural and remote areas where fiber, cable and DSL is not an option, Verizon and T-Mobile for example are targeting cities and suburban areas, as well as the SMB market. In addition to looking at FWA as a alternative or replacement, customers are also evaluating and implementing fixed wireless to complement or provide additional connectivity options (failover) for their homes or business locations. From a branding perspective you may see the services being called 5G Home Internet or something similar. Outside of Verizon and T-Mobile, US Cellular also provides the service to its customers along with many WISPs.
While FWA has traditionally been sold to homes and rural areas, today carriers are targeting businesses more than they have in the past, and the SMB sector is a primary target. There is an estimated 500K total business FWA subscribers today, with an expectation to grow to over a million very quickly as both Verizon and T-Mobile are adding 100s of thousands business customers each quarter. According to Ericsson's most recent Mobility Report, the global FWA market is expected to reach 300 million by 2028 and be driven my international markets, and more specifically India. They claim we will reach roughly 100 million FWA connections globally by the end of this year.
As for the carriers, CompassIntel shares a summary of the key happenings for the top FWA carriers. T-Mobile is currently winning the race and has done a very good job at releasing new FWA business offerings that will provide them with continued runway as they have a very strong customer base of SMBs, who we believe will be more likely to replace their broadband service.
T-Mobile – T-Mobile states they have more than 2M FWA customers, with a goal of 7-8 million FWA customers by 2025. Their most recent quarter net adds totaled 578K and they have experienced continued quarter to quarter growth in 2022. T-Mobile targets both consumers and businesses and recently announced their T-Mobile Business Internet services offering both primary and failover Internet packages. The packages range from unlimited to those based on data ranging from 10GB to 300GB. Their business strategy revolves around a focus on cyclical or temporary businesses, point of sale operations, pop up shops, and hybrid workforces. They will continue to leverage mmWave capacity for enhancements to its coverage and reach.
Verizon - Verizon offers FWA to both consumers and businesses and their business services aka '5G Business Internet' is available at 2 million locations today, and is scaling to 14-25M locations by 2025. Fierce Wireless states that "Verizon’s 5G FWA service is available to about 30 million homes." Today Verizon shares they serve 1.06M FWA customers and have a target of 4 million to 5 million by the end of 2025. Their most recent quarter experienced additions of 342K net adds in Q3 with an estimated 32% of those adds going to business customers or subscribers. Offerings start at 300Mbps and go to 1-gig while they leverage both millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum and C-Band mid-band spectrum for their coverage.
AT&T – AT&T shifted their focus away from FWA from 2021 to focus more on their overall fiber buildout and strategy. Compass Intelligence estimates AT&T serves an estimated 700K FWA subscribers today.
UScellular – US Cellular currently serves around 57K FWA subscribers on 4G, and is focusing on the expansion of 5G FWA over mmWave spectrum in 10 cities. They claim to have 23% annual growth for their FWA services from 2021 to 2022.
To wrap up, pay attention to the advancements in mmWave and small cell equipment and radio hardware solutions. These advancements will help further improve capacity, installation efficiencies, and better serve business quality broadband services that are needed to help close the digital divide and improve connectivity across the globe.
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