While fixed wireless broadband service has a long history here in the U.S. and across the globe, it’s seeing a bit of a renaissance these days. The economics have always been somewhat favorable, especially when compared with wireline broadband access alternatives, but the capabilities are also now rapidly improving.
That’s caught the attention of policymakers who see fixed wireless as a viable option to help close the digital divide. Fixed wireless is now being used across many scenarios, including rural, urban, and suburban. Online ISP rankings and resource website BroadbandNow lists over 1,549 operating WISPs in the U.S. today.
Most WISPs serve rural markets, but certainly not exclusively. Large carriers including Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T utilize fixed wireless in many markets, as do upstarts like RedZone Wireless, Starry Internet and others. These companies tend to focus on more urban and suburban markets.
In many ways, fixed wireless is getting a government funded boost. A significant amount of CAF-II funding for rural broadband is allocated towards fixed wireless projects. Over $750 million of the $1.5 billion CAF-II funding was awarded to companies who plan to use fixed wireless as their primary broadband access technology.
According to WISPA, at least 16 fixed wireless service providers won funding through the CAF-II auction. Other broadband carriers who are not traditional WISPs, including telcos and electric cooperatives, also intend to use fixed wireless with their CAF-II winnings.
This renewed interest in fixed wireless is also driven by improving capabilities. Traditionally fixed wireless was known for slower broadband service, often providing speeds of 5 Mbps or slower. But improving capabilities from technologies including LTE, TV White Spaces broadband and emerging 5G applications can dramatically improve fixed wireless capability.
Additionally, CBRS technology is quite favorable for fixed wireless. Several carriers are already testing CBRS with 100 Mbps speeds or better, including regional cable company Midcontinent. An FCC auction for CBRS spectrum in the 3.5 Ghz range is slated for June 2020. Unlicensed options are also available. CoBank, a rural industry financial services firm, recently issued a favorable report on CBRS, predicting the spectrum may help drive up the value of operators and may provide an attractive financial exit strategy.
The future looks bright for fixed wireless. ETI stands ready to support clients who embark on any fixed wireless strategy by providing a fully integrated solution that includes remote management of fixed wireless customer premise equipment (CPE), and the ongoing management of customer’s fixed wireless service.