According to panellists at an online event, ‘Releasing the Potential of Fixed Wireless Access in Europe – Challenges, Opportunities and Funding Mechanisms’, the superfast speeds and low latency now offered by 5G, Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) becomes key in the technology mix to provide a solution and to provide high-speed Internet, especially where fibre roll-out is not possible.
“The combination of FWA with 5G technology has the potential to significantly contribute to the achievement of the European connectivity targets set for the end of the decade,” said Franco Accordino, Head of Unit, Investment in High-Capacity Networks, European Commission. “FWA was one of the technologies that was chosen to support the RRF (Recovery and Resilience Facility) goals. This is an important signal for us because it resonates with what we think about FWA. If properly designed and deployed, it can definitely support the gigabit objectives that we have set,” he added.
Organised by Forum Europe, the webinar brought together leading policymakers, industry and experts from across Europe to discuss the obstacles that are still holding back the full rollout of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) in Europe. “Leveraging its fast time to market and cost efficiency advantages, FWA is indispensable to meet EC’s broadband ambitions, particularly in harder to reach rural areas, to avoid leaving citizens behind,” said Julien Grivolas, Chair, GSA 4G – 5G FWA Forum.
Konstantinos Masselos, President, Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT) and the Incoming Chair for 2023, BEREC, agreed that Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), in the context of 5G, “appears as a very interesting alternative to FTTH/FTTP offering fiber like speeds, faster deployment and more attractive investment and risk profile”.
Discussion focused on how public funding initiatives can be leveraged to support wireless infrastructure investments as part of national broadband plans that are being developed across Member States, particularly now with the unprecedented levels of public funding available to boost connectivity through the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and other instruments. “State-aid investments in 5G FWA could also contribute to help achieving EC’s 5G MBB universal coverage targets and support EC green and digitalisation agenda,” added Grivolas.
Harald Gruber, Head of Digital Infrastructure Division, European Investment Bank, suggested that FWA is a useful technological solution to mitigate the market failure of insufficient investments in Very High Capacity Networks (VHCN) in less densely populated areas of the EU. He pointed out that while the EU’s ambition is to give all its inhabitants equal opportunities, people living in certain rural areas are being left behind due to the lack of proper digital connectivity, which is essential to reap the benefits of digitalisation of economic sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. “EIB supports FWA, as its economics are particularly well suited to that kind of sparsely populated environment and, thanks to the lower concentration of traffic in those areas, FWA could be a viable VHCN solution capacity and quality-wise,” he added.
Delegates examined FWA potential contribution to EU’s connectivity targets in both the short term and longer term. “While FTTH and 5G are the foundation for Europe’s digital infrastructure, a mix of technologies will be needed to achieve Europe’s ambitious Digital Decade targets on connectivity,” stated Maarit Palovirta, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs of ETNO. “Fixed-wireless access (FWA) enabled by 5G is expected to have the capability to provide gigabit speeds for specific use cases,” she noted.
In countries such as Norway, Bulgaria and Greece, average mobile network speed has, for the first time in history, surpassed that of fixed network. In the vast expanses of Northern Europe, Norway is taking advantage of FWA capabilities: “Nkom sees FWA as a means of providing high-speed internet to the whole country, especially where fibre roll-out is not possible. This will greatly increase the opportunities for running businesses from where people choose to live, and give everyone an equal digital opportunity,” said Bent André Støyva, Head of Section for Spectrum Planning, Norwegian Communications Authority (NKOM).
Industry representatives highlighted how FWA is a better, safer, and even greener choice for rural areas. “Now that we are in the Digital Decade, 5G and NB IoT are paving the way towards the Digital transformation of our entire society,” declared Patrick Robinson, Vice President – Europe, ATEL. “This will make our lives better, safer, and even greener – now with 5G in rural areas and the change in working culture post pandemic, FWA gives us a choice. Work in the city or work in the countryside. In this post pandemic era we can choose where we want to work”,.
Katri Perälä, Director of BB Business, DNA reported her company’s high rate of customer satisfaction: “The data usage of a 5G FWA customer is over four times higher than a 4G home broadband user and customers satisfaction is higher than in any other broadband. The data usage keeps on growing,” she reported, adding that quality is a key factor. “We wanted to ensure that the quality of our FWA solution is so excellent that it is a real alternative for fibre. FWA has offered us new opportunities to deliver high-quality high-speed connections to areas where high-speed connections have not been available before,” she added.