In 2018, most American households are connected to the internet via cable or DSL. Or, more accurately, most Americans use devices that are wirelessly connected to WiFi routers which are connected to cable or ADSL networks. It’s a distinction worth making because, between WiFi and mobile connectivity, wired connections are increasingly foreign to the daily experience of American internet users.
Although cable-based connections will be around for decades to come, the cable and broadband industry is eyeing a new opportunity that moves the wired connections out of homes and businesses altogether. Fixed wireless, also known as fixed wireless broadband, is likely to see increasing market penetration over the next few years.
Fixed wireless provides internet connectivity via wireless technology. For most of its journey, data travels over fiber and copper cable, but it is transmitted into buildings via an access unit with a wired connection and picked up by a router, which provides a WiFi signal that consumer devices connect to.
Fixed wireless has the advantage that it doesn’t require running cable to the premises, but the speed of traditional 4G fixed wireless is not up to cable standards. It’s a viable alternative in areas where cable doesn’t reach that would otherwise have had to rely on satellite service, but it isn’t an across-the-board alternative to cable broadband.
Nevertheless, fixed wireless for residential broadband is estimated to be a 30-million home market — a compelling opportunity for the cable and broadband opportunity, which has been testing various strategies for improving fixed wireless services.
Over the last few years, efforts have been made to free wireless spectrum that can be used for enhanced LTE services. CBRS — Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service — in the 3.5 Ghz band is being used for enhanced LTE that is viable for fixed wireless. LTE-U is a similar initiative that uses spectrum in the 5 Ghz band that has historically been used for WiFi. The idea with both is to provide fixed wireless and perhaps to replace last-mile wired networks with wireless.
As I have already said, fixed LTE is not likely to be a good replacement for cable, LTE-U is faster than LTE, but there is a technology the horizon that promises better connectivity than LTE or cable: 5G.
5G is faster and lower latency, but because of physical distance limitations with the technology, it’s not likely to work for remote and rural populations, whereas LTE is workable for those markets, albeit with lower speeds.
Where 5G is likely to shine, though, is urban areas. With mooted bandwidths of 1Gbps up and down and radically lower latencies than existing wireless technologies, 5G will be a game changer in the wireless space. The cable industry is in a good position to take advantage of fixed wireless systems, particularly 5G.
5G relies on small cell technology. 5G access points cover a smaller radius than LTE and other wireless technologies and they have to be connected to the wired backhaul somehow. As was argued in a recent Verge article: dense wireless presupposes relatively dense wired networks to connect to the backhaul, and guess who has the densest urban networks? That’s right, the cable companies.
The cable industry will be exciting to watch over the next few years as 5G matures and existing wireless companies and the cable companies compete to see which will gain the upper hand in a rapidly growing fixed wireless market.
About Dean – Dean Madison is the president of TD Madison & Associates. The company is founded on the principle of providing a more predictable approach for evaluating the culture, strategic fit, and qualifications of potential candidates for key senior level positions within the cable and telecom industries. Follow them on Twitter @TD_Madison.