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13 December 2022

Swisscom unveils enterprise FWA service amid spate of European launches

Fixed wireless access (FWA) is gaining ground in the enterprise sector for similar reasons to consumers, for reaching the poorly or unserved, or as a competitive alternative to wired offerings. For enterprises there is an additional use case among temporary facilities such as construction sites where FWA can turn on connectivity faster and more cheaply than direct fiber, cable or telco copper.

Swisscom is the latest telco to launch an FWA service targeting enterprises specifically at remote locations not reached by its fixed network, of which there are a number in the mountainous country despite the relatively small geographical distances involved. This follows over two years of pilots demonstrating the capability and showing demand is coming just from smaller enterprises but also branch offices of larger ones.

One of the first such trials conducted during 2020 was at the Chalet Jolimont holiday accommodation on the edge of the Champéry resort, typical of remote locations at high altitude lacking fiber connection yet well placed to receive mobile signal. This proved capable of sustaining the demanding Internet access requirements of the resort’s mostly young clientele.

Now the service has been made fully available commercially, as Friederike Hoffmann, head of connected business solutions at Swisscom, underlined. “5G FWA offers great potential for our business customers. They can use it to benefit from the fastest Internet at their sites and be ready to make full use of all services,” he said.

Called Enterprise Connect and using Nokia kit, the service allows customers to integrate any number of business locations into their office networking via 5G FWA, overlapping with fiber or copper connections for sites where those are available.

The carrier also emphasized that 5G FWA technology can work well as a back-up for 5G mobile services.

Mountainous terrain suits 5G FWA well, especially in countries where distances are not too large with intermediate population densities. Not surprisingly then, FWA is also gathering momentum in neighboring Austria, which is similarly vertiginous except in the plains of the NE around the capital Vienna. Three became the first operator there to launch commercial standalone (SA) 5G services in October 2022, singling out FWA for both homes and enterprises as early targets. Branded 5G+ the service is available to 1.3m households and companies, offering FWA in a network slice.

This offers guaranteed bit rates across multiple tiers from 50Mbps to 250Mbps, so unlikely yet to be enough for larger enterprise sites.

Elsewhere in Europe, Vodafone’s recently launched FWA service in Spain is also available to enterprise customers, along with a similar service unveiled a few weeks earlier in Italy in October 2022. The latter supports higher speeds than Three’s in Austria with separate offerings for consumers and businesses, respectively up to 300 Mbps and 500Mbps. The operator boasts this means “small municipalities can benefit from speeds that comparable to that of large cities”.

Rather as on the consumer side, enterprise FWA cut its teeth in the USA. The big three all had commercial enterprise FWA offerings on the table early in 2021, even AT&T which had earlier decried the technology as unfit for demanding applications, preferring to promote fiber. But the pandemic with increased home working in areas not always reached by fiber or even decent telco DSL made FWA more appealing and AT&T launched 5G FWA for businesses in March 2021, daring to describe it as the ‘First Nationwide Business-Focused Broadband Network’. Customers could choose from Sierra Wireless or Ericsson Cradlepoint routers, although the speeds were modest at 50Mbps or 100Mbps. Reports were that some enterprises were underwhelmed.

A month later in April 2021, Verizon came in with a faster 5G FWA service for business at up to 400Mbps, seeing an opportunity to recast its millimeter wave 5G Ultra-Wideband network, which had failed to achieve the consistent performance across cells that had been anticipated.

T-Mobile entered with its WFX (Work From Anywhere) service in March 2021, targeting businesses with a number of staff working from home. It bundled three offerings: Enterprise unlimited 5G, Collaboration Tools, and Home Office Internet. The latter was designed for self-installation with 4G or 5G routers delivered directly to employees, with preconfigured content filtering.

These early deployments have given the three telcos opportunities to grapple with some FWA issues arising in enterprise deployments, such as how to position them alongside fixed offerings and also mobility. In some cases, satellite is then positioned as a further option in more remote locations where even cellular backhaul connectivity is unavailable. There is also the integration of office with work at home offerings, which T-Mobile USA has gone furthest to address.

One difference between consumer and enterprise FWA is that the former is now gaining traction fastest in developing countries where the latter is only just getting going. That may change as 5G rolls out more widely in developing countries and already there are signs in India of activity just four months after completion of the country’s 5G spectrum auctions.

Reliance Jio, India’s largest telco, has earmarked FWA as a major use case for 5G and is targeting both homes and businesses with equal fervor. The operator aims ultimately to connect 100m locations with FWA, which would transform the broadband scene for both enterprises and businesses in a country that historically has lacked widely available strong fixed broadband services.