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13 December 2022

Qualcomm ups FWA ante with compact 5G RAN platform

Fixed wireless access (FWA) has come in from the fringes of 5G discussions to generate almost as much interest as mobility in recent months. This has led to some upgrades in previous growth forecasts, with Ericsson recently revising numbers upwards substantially to predict global FWA subscribers passing the 300m mark by the end of 2028. That is certainly well ahead of predictions from RAN Research, the wireless analytics arm of Rethink Technology Research, issued earlier in 2022.

That report from RAN Research predicted that global subscribers would reach 218.8m by early that year, so certainly behind that curve. We agree with Ericsson that FWA has enjoyed a very good year with some technological developments and deployments that have accelerated the growth curve. However, we also think Ericsson has over-egged the pudding by extrapolating too far across the world from the areas where developments have accelerated.

As the RAN Research report made clear: “The headline figures mask great variations between regions, operators and even localities, revealing uneven advance for FWA with spectacular gains in some areas being partially offset by marginal impact in others.”

That remains true but it is still worth charting recent developments that have added some impetus to the field. Wireless Watch reported the launch by Vodafone of a 5G FWA service in Spain aiming to reach 65 cities and surrounding areas over the next year, as an example of advance in developing countries beyond the USA.

Wireless Watch has already reported Ericsson’s argument that emerging markets, such as Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines and India, will largely be the drivers of the extra growth now expected. As we noted, just one operator, Reliance Jio, India’s largest mobile operator, has set a target of 100m households to be reached by its 5G FWA service by about 2026. If achieved, that alone would make up those higher numbers, although being one-third of all Indian households it looks overly ambitious during that timeframe. Such bullish predictions should not always be taken at face value.

It is significant though that technological developments are stoking the FWA fire, starting from chipsets. Qualcomm is a prime mover here helping to start the recent surge in 5G FWA deployments as chipsets it launched in 2021 enter RF equipment.

A significant step came in February 2021 when Qualcomm launched its second 5G FWA platform with the claim this was the first with sub 6 GHz support and 8 receive antennas optimized specifically for 5G FWA CPEs. This included Qualcomm’s FWA Reference Design to help OEMs accelerate commercialization of the CPEs incorporating the QTM547 millimeter wave extended-range antenna module as well. The latter had a 30% wider RF scanning angle than its predecessor, as well as the company’s Dynamic Antenna Steering for better all-round FWA performance in the field.

This product extended high bit-rate coverage within cells but meanwhile Qualcomm continued working on improving speeds and range further, while reducing the cost of suitable macro packages for FWA that combine mmWave and midband. This culminated in the launch in early December 2022 of the company’s next generation, the Qualcomm Compact Macro 5G RAN Platform, pitched equally at mobility and FWA with the primary focus on cost and range this time.

The key step lies in combining the scale of macro cells with the cost and compactness of small cells as far as possible. It is based on the Qualcomm FSM 5G RAN Platform for Small Cells but incorporating macro-grade antenna module support with 256 antenna elements, spanning up to 1 GHz of spectrum.

Qualcomm claims this will enable OEMs to make a new class of compact macro cell for outdoor deployments at a more competitive price point after sampling begins in Q1 2023. A particular goal is to attract more operators in developing countries to 5G FWA, as well as stimulate uptake of mmWave more widely.

“Building on our 5G infrastructure and mmWave leadership, we are pleased to announce a new long-range outdoor platform for compact macro cells that present our customers and operators with a cost-to-performance paradigm highly differentiated from traditional macro solutions,” said Durga Malladi, general manager of, cellular modems and infrastructure at Qualcomm.