Broadband Forum looks to accelerate fixed wireless broadband in MDUs

July 6, 2023
Standards organization’s “Fixed Wireless Access Extension” project looks to help providers leverage and extend existing and MDU’s wiring infrastructure to support wireless broadband services.

The Broadband Forum is taking advantage of the burgeoning Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) trend by debuting a new project aimed at making it easier for wireless operators to offer high speed broadband services in multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Spearheaded by the Broadband Forum’s Wireless Wireline Convergence (WWC) Work Area, the “Fixed Wireless Access Extension” project, the group is focused on how providers can use a property’s existing cabling infrastructure to extend FWA connections to residents.

Broadband Forum said that wireless operators can realize greater scalability, accelerating deployment times, time to revenue, while achieving operational and capital savings. Apartments can be reached using the existing twisted pair or coaxial cabling, from the attic or basement of the building.

“Mobile operators are investing heavily to acquire spectrum space and base station infrastructure,” said Helge Tiainen, of InCoax Networks, a Broadband Forum member. “They then seek a fast return on investment by turning DSL customers into 5G FWA subscribers. By using the cabling already available in the building, it will save operators’ time and money, and give consumers a better broadband experience.”

Overcoming coverage, infrastructure challenges

Service providers delivering FWA services face various challenges.

For one, the 5G mmWave technology faces difficulties sending mmWave signals through walls. To deliver gigabit and multi-gigabit services, wireless operators have to use mmWave within the 24 – 100GHz spectrum to reach the service speed criteria. At these high frequencies, signal strength can be attenuated as much as 45dB through each wall resulting in the 5G mmWave in-door coverage being uncertain and, in many cases, not possible.

Also, if FWA modems are installed on the rooftop of an MDU, providers must lay Ethernet cabling to each apartment unit. Usually one FWA modem for each subscriber is deployed on the rooftop. In a large MDU this could require more than 100 modems to be deployed, which presents the challenge of finding adequate rooftop space, the required RF separation, and co-site interference issues.

“Broadband Forum is aiming to address and solve these challenges by leveraging the existing in-building infrastructure, such as telephone wiring or coaxial cabling, to extend 5G FWA to each apartment within a hotel block or apartment complex,” said Christele Bouchat, Nokia and Wireless Wireline Convergence Work Area Co-Director at Broadband Forum. “We have launched this project to bring tangible benefits to operators and make the rapid and efficient delivery of multi-gigabit connectivity for residents and building owners a very real possibility.”

Broadband wireless rises

While cable still retains a large share of the broadband market, broadband wireless operators continue to gain momentum.

The Broadband Forum’s timing couldn’t be better as FWA continues to see growth in the U.S. market.

Leicthman Research Group noted that the largest broadband providers in the US added around 3.5 million subscribers last year, with FWA accounting for a massive 90% of the total, up from 20% of net adds in 2021.

Verizon and T-Mobile continue to be the most vocal proponents of broadband wireless. Fixed wireless/5G home Internet services from T-Mobile and Verizon added about 915,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2023 – compared to 530,000 net adds in the first quarter of 2022.

“Over the past year, fixed wireless services have accounted for 105% of the approximately 3,400,000 net broadband additions,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group.

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