5G FWA Could Serve Half of U.S. Rural Households, New Study Finds

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The push to provide broadband to rural areas may have inadvertently turned into a competition between fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and fixed wireless access (FWA). The wireless industry, determined to get its share of the broadband funding in the trillion-dollar Biden infrastructure legislation, made sure that data speeds in the measure would accommodate wireless, as well as wireline, technologies.

Although the legislation is now passed and signed into law, the wireless industry continues to stoke the influence machine with the publishing of a report titled “5G Fixed Wireless Broadband: Helping Close the Digital Divide in Rural America.” Carriers could serve 8.4 million rural households with high-speed FWA or about half of the market, according to a study by Accenture. The study was commissioned by CTIA, the wireless industry association.  

“5G-to-the-home services represent a dynamic and cost-effective high-speed connectivity option,” said CTIA President/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker. “These findings underscore the value of U.S. infrastructure policy embracing both wired and 5G fixed wireless home broadband solutions to help connect the unconnected as fast as possible, particularly in more rural areas.”

 The report also discusses how 5G FWA offers benefits for both mobile rural connectivity and home broadband services. Accenture identifies additional licensed mid-band spectrum and nationwide regulatory frameworks as keys to the efficient buildout of FWA infrastructure. 

“5G has transformed FWA into a truly viable home broadband option,” said Tejas Rao, a managing director in Accenture Cloud First’s wireless services practice. “Our analysis shows that 5G FWA can offer rural Americans the broadband speeds and capacity to meet the home internet demands of millions of these unserved and underserved consumers.”

Global FWA forecasts by ABI Research were rosy as well. The firm forecasted that in 2026, the FWA market will exceed 180 million subscriptions and generate $70 billion in revenue. The 5G FWA market will then account for 40 percent of the total FWA market, it said. 

“Quickly progressing 5G rollouts in North America and Western Europe are expected to drive the 5G FWA market as operators offer 5G FWA to the areas where FTTH is not covering,” ABI wrote. “Considering the size of the DSL user base in North America and the low FTTH penetration in Western Europe, the opportunity for 5G FWA service is significant.”

By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor

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