rural broadbandFixed 5G wireless is not a substitute for wireline broadband, argues telecom engineering and consulting firm Vantage Point Solutions in a technical paper filed with the FCC by NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association. Broadband delivery methods based on fiber to the premises (FTTP) generally are more economical in rural areas, according to the fiber vs. fixed 5G report.

“[E]ven in a fixed context, wireless technologies should be viewed as a complement – a tool in a toolkit – rather than a viable widespread substitute for wireline broadband networks,” the report argues.

The report comes at a time when major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, have been making plans to deploy fixed 5G wireless to boost broadband speeds in areas where the carriers consider FTTP deployments to be uneconomical.

Fiber Vs. Fixed 5G
One of the reasons that Vantage Point Solutions and the major carriers see fixed 5G differently may be related to the broadband speeds they expect to support. Citing dramatic increases in bandwidth demand, the Vantage Point report forecasts a median broadband speed of 1 Gbps by 2028.

Companies like AT&T and Verizon, on the other hand, may be more focused on meeting the 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream and 25/3 Mbps speed targets set by the FCC for the Connect America Fund (CAF) program.

AT&T accepted considerable CAF funding to bring broadband to parts of its territory where it isn’t currently available, and that network must be able to meet or beat the CAF speed target. Verizon declined CAF funding, but could still win CAF money through an auction, and the company appears to be more interested in that possibility now that it has begun to explore 5G fixed wireless.

It’s worth noting, though, that neither AT&T nor Verizon has talked about using fixed 5G in their most sparsely populated areas. The range of 5G wireless is considerably less than for earlier generation networks, which means that in remote areas, a single 5G cellsite might only be able to serve a single customer, Vantage Point notes.

Bearish on Video
Vantage Point’s findings also are somewhat at odds with those of research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics, specifically with regard to offering video service over 5G.

Strategy Analytics researchers argued recently that fixed 5G is well suited to delivering video because, unlike with FTTP, 5G packet wireless can provide virtually dedicated bandwidth to support applications such as video without having to nail up fixed ports and wavelengths. Instead, individual 5G streams can be switched very quickly between different parts of the frequency band. 

Vantage Point cautions, though, that 5G wireless networks can become congested if multiple users stream video at the same time.

“Networks that dedicate capacity to each customer, as is the case with most landline technologies, are better suited to deliver [constant bit rate applications such as video] than networks that share capacity among many users,” the report argues.