An Analysys Mason study suggests that the market opportunity for 5G wireless communications fully replacing fixed networks is more a matter of degree. It suggests that 5G wireless may provide about 20 to 30 percent of broadband connections in developed economies by 2023, and a higher percentage in emerging ones. That is an addressable market of 290 million static locations. Analysys Mason forecasts that the challenger opportunity will be about twice as large as the complementary opportunity.
It is early days, but 5G FWA looks somewhat uncompelling from a purely performance perspective. Mid-band variants are marketed with speeds no faster than fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC)-type copper solutions (100 Mbps), and even Verizon’s initial millimeter-wave roll out looks as if it has severe limitations in reach, although it doubtless can and will get better.
The 5G FWA access service may not initially attract many customers, and mobile network operators will remain wary about impairing mobile performance despite the massive headroom afforded by 5G. But starting with a relatively small, price-sensitive customer base, 5G fixed-wireless access can — perhaps more than 5G mobile — be a platform for further investment.
Wireless will probably never conquer wireline broadband: The long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) and lifetime value of fiber to the home (FTTH) look compelling, and FTTH is without doubt the superior solution for fixed locations. However, challenger 5G FWA could nevertheless creep up stealthily and cause real pain for those who ignore its potential.
Rupert Wood is the lead analyst for operator investment strategies, network traffic and spectrum research at Analysys Mason. Visit www.analysysmason.com.