The fast expanding fixed wireless access (FWA) market in the USA is providing fertile ground for each of the principal non-Chinese mobile equipment makers – Ericsson, Nokia and especially Samsung. Samsung has consolidated some earlier successes with selection by Mediacom Communications, one of the country’s largest cable operators, for deployment of FWA networks in CBRS spectrum, in some rural communities poorly served by traditional wired broadband options.
Mediacom has been extending reach of its Internet service beyond its own cable footprint to underserved or remote areas of the country and had already deployed FWA in different areas with Ericsson and Casa Systems equipment.
“Having access to fast, reliable Internet is essential for the way we live, work and learn today,” commented JR Walden, Mediacom’s CTO. “By combining Samsung’s broad experience in wireless networks with our commitment to bringing broadband to smaller US markets, we will be able to quickly and efficiently deliver quality broadband services to more consumers in underserved areas.”
Availability of midband CBRS spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz range has helped accelerate FWA roll-out in the USA by providing additional capacity so that operators do not have to jeopardize their existing mobile offerings. In addition, some of the licences in this band were previously allocated for FWA or video services and some of those, mainly local operators converted their spectrum to CBRS.
Samsung had earlier announced, in March, that regional US Internet service provider Mercury Broadband had placed an order to equip over 500 FWA sites in Kansas, Missouri and Indiana with its CBRS equipment, planning to add further states over the next three years. In this case, Samsung was supplying its 64T64R Massive MIMO radios and CDU50 baseband units, working with t3 Broadband, a privately-owned Kansas based provider of telecoms technology, to support service requests and engineer the network.
CBRS spectrum is also supporting a 4G FWA network deployed by Nokia to provide broadband connectivity to underserved students in the Dos Palos Oro Lomo (DPOL) school district of California. This district comprises five campuses and serves Internet access to the homes of 2,400 students using the Nokia Private 4.9G/LTE Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) operating in the CBRS/On-Go GAA spectrum. The CPE equipment includes Nokia FastMile 4G Gateways and WiFi Beacons to reach devices around the premise.
Ericsson, as already noted, is also involved in the Mediacom FWA roll-out, with the Samsung products being used for the latest roll-out in the Midwest and Southeast regions. Ericsson’s involvement with Mediacom, the fifth largest cable operator in the USA with over 1.5m domestic and business customers across 22 states, was announced in August 2021. Mediacom then became the first major cable provider in the country to launch a CBRS FWA service, using Ericsson 4G and 5G RAN systems, capable of reaching premises up to nine miles from the tower.
Ericsson has also been involved in FWA deployments by the major operators, such as AT&T, which in March 2021 started deployment of a 5G FWA service for businesses. This used routers from both Sierra Wireless and Ericsson’s Cradlepoint subsidiary, in a point-to-multipoint architecture.
The big three operators – AT&T, Verizon and T Mobile USA – have indeed been leading the country’s FWA charge, both on the consumer and enterprise fronts. T Mobile reported a total of 1m FWA customers at the end of Q1 2022, a year after launching the service. AT&T claimed around 500,000 by then, while Verizon cites almost identical numbers of consumer and business FWA subscribers, 216,000 and 217,000 respectively. According to RAN Research, the forecasting arm linked to Wireless Watch within Rethink Technology Research, there were 2.23m total USA FWA customers at the end of 2021, rising to 3.2m at the end of 2022 and onto 17.7m by 2028.
Some of these deployments will feature millimeter wave as well as midband spectrum. Indeed, this has already happened, with US Cellular, in collaboration with Qualcomm and mobile CPE developer Inseego, launching a 5G mmWave FWA service in April 2022, reaching areas of 10 cities. Called Home Internet+, this delivers speeds up to 300Mbps, 10-15 times more than its previous LTE home internet offering, over the Inseego Wavemaker FW2010 outdoor 5G CPE, based on the Qualcomm 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform Gen 1 featuring Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System, operating in the 28 GHz band.
This followed earlier completion of tests showing that a 5G mmWave data call could reach over 3.1 miles at speeds over 100Mbps in favorable terrain. In areas that are reasonably flat, mmWave can deliver superior performance to midband over such distances.