EE, now part of the BT Group, has announced that it will launch a new fixed wireless solution using (where coverage is more limited) an external, professionally installed antenna connecting to the internal 4G LTE home router. Showing the advantages of the integration with BT Group, EE also launched a coverage checker which will determine if the customers’ optimum broadband solution uses a fixed line or the mobile network based service.
In the announcement, EE touted that its 4G LTE network covers 90% of the UK by landmass, which enables coverage of 99.6% of homes. EE has targeted coverage of 95% of the UK landmass by 2020 and calculate that some 580,000 homes have no or limited access to broadband services, though UK regulator, Ofcom, reported in their 2017 Connected Nations report that around 1.1 million households cannot receive speeds over 10Mbps. This product will target that market opportunity and may help BT Group to meet developing Universal Service Obligations which will guarantee access to a 10Mbps connection to all households by 2020, with a data cap in excess of 100 GB per month.
In customer trials across the Northern Fells of Cumbria the service reached speeds of over 100Mbps. Prices will range from £35 to £60 per month, indicating that they will likely be capped and cost a premium over comparable fixed line services.
Companies targeting the rural broadband market will be impacted by the announcement of this product. One such company is Voneus, which has recently been building its position with the acquisition of Cotswold Wireless and SugarNet. Their offering of 50Mbps/50Mbps is priced at £20 per month for 20GB (and an additional £1 per GB overage) or £35 per month for unlimited data.
The announcement echoes moves by operators in other countries, such as Australia and the United States, to reach locations with fixed wireless solutions. In Australia, NBN Co, a government-owned infrastructure company, has committed to connecting the last 7% of homes in the most remote locations using either satellite or fixed wireless solutions. Currently, NBN Co offers wholesale fixed wireless services with speed tiers of up to 12/1Mbps, or up to 50/20Mbps to more than 500,000 rural and remote premises.
In the United States, AT&T tapped into support from the FCC Connect America Fund to build out wireless broadband to 400,000 underserved rural locations by the end of 2017 and targets 1.1 million by 2020. AT&T promises speeds at a minimum of 10Mbps / 1Mbps. With data caps set at 160GB per month, utility for video streaming services is viable if limited.
Operators will also rely on 5G to expand the scale of fixed wireless deployments. In the United States, Verizon plans to use pre-5G technology to deliver fixed wireless broadband services with launches in up to five cities by the end of 2018 following an initial launch in Sacramento in the second half of 2018. However, those deployments appear to be targeted at relatively densely populated markets, where fibre network deployment is not viable and high band 5G can work as a last mile replacement.
Overall, fixed wireless technology is certainly gaining more traction and attention from network operators, who have been discussing its potential over the years. It now seems that with the improved functionality and a potential to pair the technology with 5G, fixed wireless solutions are capable to provide sufficient speed and capacity to consumers. So after several false starts, fixed wireless may finally begin to prove a viable solution in more developed markets, one which can satisfy both consumers and operators demands to reach more remote users at a low cost.