Ofcom adds some credibility to UK fixed wireless access industry

telecoms radio mast

Ofcom has been announced as the latest member of UK Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (UKWISPA), perhaps another step towards further validation of the technology.

The fixed wireless access (FWA) ecosystem is in somewhat of a difficult position. With enthusiasm for full fibre deployment on the rise, the appetite for FWA as an alternative to ageing copper networks is dampened. It might be an interim solution and there will always be niche usecases in the remoter regions, but it the technology is at somewhat of a crossroads, not being a perfect answer for anything material.

That said, Ofcom joining UKWISPA is a vote of confidence, perhaps suggesting the regulator might have bigger plans for the technology.

“The recent support from Ofcom and surge in members, together with the release of next-generation multi-gigabit wireless systems are all key indicators of the vital role of Fixed Wireless in addressing the urgent need for better quality internet access for everyone,” said David Burns, Chairman of UKWISPA.

Burns might be over-egging the pudding, especially if the telecoms operators can figure out how to sell fibre connectivity to the consumer (competitive pricing might be a good start), but this is an important milestone for the UKWISPA. Ofcom adds credibility.

“As a regulator, Ofcom sets the rules, allocates the spectrum and sets the policies for broadband,” said Burns. “By joining UKWISPA, a symbiosis is created where wireless operators can affordably and efficiently improve their broadband quality whilst providing Ofcom with the valuable data required to roadmap a plan for improving connectivity nationwide.”

The challenge for FWA is now to find its place in the connectivity landscape alongside traditional technologies which are gathering steam.

Broadband subscriptions by technology (thousands) – Omdia Knowledge Centre
  Total broadband Full fibre Fixed Wireless Access
Year 2020 2024 2020 2024 2020 2024
UK 27,204 29,945 2,218 8,600 191 1,135
Germany 35,624 38,182 1,868 2,607 218 1,531
France 30,356 31,901 8,675 14,550 68 267
Spain 15,968 18,188 11,195 14,050 143 464
Italy 18,006 20,478 3,132 6,242 1,500 1,993

The UK is certainly a slow starter when it comes to fibre deployment, and while these numbers are encouraging, political momentum has slowed in recent months as 5G and the Huawei saga claims attention.

Perhaps the most interesting developments over the coming years, in the UK at least, is whether the telecoms operators figure out how to sell full fibre broadband to the consumer. As you can see from the data, the telcos in France and Spain seem to have found the sweet spot, the number of homes passed in comparison to subscriptions elsewhere is low.

Full fibre penetration and price per GB – Omdia broadband report
Country Full fibre penetration (2019) Price per GB (fibre)
UK 2.5% $1.16
Germany 3.2% $0.61
Spain 81.9% $1.15
France 46.1% $0.29

When we asked readers why full fibre broadband penetration was low, 44% suggested it was because services were priced too high, 18% said consumers didn’t feel they needed the speed upgrade, 19% believe there isn’t enough market awareness of services and 6% questioned whether there was trust in the telecoms operators advertising campaigns for consumers to actually consider purchasing.

Price might be factored into the equation though the French prices and adoption undermine this. There will of course be regional differences, however price is certainly a factor for the majority of consumers. In Spain, you can see why adoption is so high; why wouldn’t you buy full fibre broadband when it is so cheap.

Although this is slightly off topic, the success of FWA depends on the adoption of full fibre services. Both are an upgrade for legacy copper networks in countries which has not been making considerable progress with fibre broadband deployment, offering a speed upgrade for impatient and data hungry consumers.

There is a use case for the rural communities, where full fibre deployment is somewhat economically challenging, or student and short-term let customers, but these are niches. FWA is fighting to be more than a niche, a technology filler for the not spots, and Ofcom joining UKWISPA is certainly another weapon for the cause.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies

One comment

  1. Avatar Chris Evans 22/07/2020 @ 3:18 pm

    Q What is a 5G network?
    A A 5G network is a fixed network with 5G wireless base stations on the peripherary

    Q What is an FWA network?
    A Well, actually it’s pretty much like a 5G network without the mobility and with a different RF interface

    Q What is a fibre broadband network?
    A A fibre broadband network is a fixed network with (mainly) wifi base stations on the periphery – a bit like an FWA network with the base stations inside households

    Q What is the most expensive part of building a fibre broadband network?
    A The bit between the street and households

    Q So, why are we duplicating network infrastructures (5G and fixed BB) when a single fixed network, using fibre to the street/lampost and radio access interfaces (5G/FWA/wifi) to the household is much cheaper and quicker to roll out?
    A You tell me.

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