5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) makes possible a 'broadband-ready' label for the 1mn UK forgotten homes. The Ofcom report finds that 4% of UK properties cannot access speeds of at least 10Mbps deemed necessary for modern internet use to meet a typical family’s needs, for activities like watching Netflix to browsing YouTube. On top of that, a new directive from the EU, which has also been adopted into UK law, is supposed to mean that all newly constructed buildings (i.e. those that gained permission after the 31st December 2016) are equipped with a high-speed-ready in-building physical infrastructure, up to the network termination points. Although the UK government has long been advising councils to ensure that they factor all this into local planning approvals, these things often take time to have an impact.

Today, there are two methods of delivering broadband to homes and businesses: Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC); and Fibre to the premises (FTTP). FTTP can be more challenging, whilst FTTC can offer a quick footprint with the speed that can satisfy customers’ needs. However, FTTC isn’t a walk in the park - in terms of delivering internet connectivity to UK homes to enable fast downloading of films or streaming music and watching services such as Amazon and Netflix. 

On 23 July 2018, the UK Government published the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which sets out a national, long-term strategy for digital connectivity to meet the government’s targets to roll out full fibre to 15mn premises by 2025 and achieve nationwide coverage by 2033 as well as provide 5G access to most of the population by 2027.

Why delivering full-fibre broadband is a challenge

In the UK, there are plenty of fixed network legacy issues to deal with when it comes to providing superfast broadband. In some locations, the copper is buried, and the last thing people want is having their garden dug up. Moreover, some of the UK network is really old, with the copper network having been in place for over 100 years. 

Why is 5G FWA such a big deal for achieving government’s 2025 full-fibre pledge?

5G FWA is an established alternative for providing fibre, like internet access, to homes and businesses using 5G wireless mobile network technology rather than underground fixed lines. 

Outside the UK, there are some good government initiatives that involve 5G FWA:

  • In the USA, the Connect America Fund (CAF) has the ambition to expand the benefits of high-speed internet to millions of consumers in every part of the country.
  • In Europe, one initiative offers a fund to unlock investments of €1–1.7bn in broadband deployment in underserved areas where high-capacity networks are not yet deployed. The fund aims to have invested in 20 countries by 2021.
  • Norway has an interesting model – the Haga model – involving municipality-driven collaboration in rural areas where purely market-driven broadband build-out is not feasible.
  • In Australia, state owned NBN is building a fast, wholesale local access broadband network to connect the nation and bridge the digital divide. NBN’s key objective is to ensure all Australians have access to fast broadband as soon as possible and at affordable prices.

5G FWA enables the establishment of a quick and cheap broadband service even in areas that don’t have ready access to fixed line home broadband. 5G FWA doesn’t require any engineering works at the customer end - just the provision of a 5G broadband router (Customer Premise Equipment (CPEs)), which can be easily installed by the customer.

Market Insights Reports estimates that 5G FWA will reduce the initial cost of establishing 'last-mile' connectivity by as much as 40% compared to a physical fibre line approach. Moreover, 5G FWA will be able to deliver a level of service that’s similar to a fibre-based broadband network and should even be able to provide data speeds that are well ahead of current broadband standards.

The current average UK home broadband speed is around 30Mbps. Initial UK 5G FWA trials have shown that a 5G FWA mm wave link service can deliver download speeds of around 1Gb per second at the CPE. This speed allows for simultaneous streaming of more than 25 UHD 4K TV channels, as an illustration, meeting more than the needs of today’s typical household with considerable room for future growth. With this in place, UK fixed fibre broadband reach and performance will continue to improve, but that’s not the point - 5G FWA could offer a competing service to fixed home broadband for the forgotten homes and those in more built-up and highly populated areas. More competition, of course, means lower prices and improved services for the end-customer.

5G FWA rollout needs government support

While the UK government will not control 5G FWA, it cannot happen without it. At the most basic level, the UK will need to free up radio spectrum, which is currently used for other things such as satellite and radar systems, and work with the UKWISPA (UK Wireless Internet Service Providers Association), the official trade body representing the fixed wireless internet access industry. Last year they announced the broadband industry’s first Quality Accreditation Programme for service providers. This initiative is set to benefit UK broadband customers the most.

Security is also fundamental to 5G FWA success, and government intervention is most important, especially when 5G FWA is linked with IoT devices based on earlier wireless standards, which are notorious for poor security. It is now possible to fit more processing power into tiny devices but, more importantly, 5G FWA has the capacity to incorporate security at the network level.

KPMG UK brings a crucial mix of ingredients that leading operators will need to make this a reality in the UK. Clients benefit from regular and timely intelligence and direct access to investment models and business analysts for 5G FWA.


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