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.

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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.

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5 thoughts on “Fiber Vs. Fixed 5G Report: Fiber More Economical in Rural Areas

  1. Has TeleCompetitor become The Onion? Saying fiber is cheaper than nearly anything in a rural area is laughable.

    1. While I actually love the Onion, we are not in that category. We're not making any assertion here. We're simply reporting and analyzing a whitepaper submitted by a third party. It is an interesting argument. But if you read the post fully, I think you'll see that Telecompetitor is not picking a side here — just offering analysis on an important question regarding the future of our industry. We've been following 5G closely. I invite you to check out our full coverage – https://www.telecompetitor.com/tag/5g/

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    2. Maybe you don't quite understand the technology. 5G travels much shorter distances thus requires fiber deeper into the network to begin with and may still be only able to serve one customer and it will still be much slower than a dedicated fiber cable would be.

      So would it be cheaper now even if you only serve 1 customer? Yes, but there are a couple things to consider.
      1. They are going to have to keep going back to move fiber closer to bring the speeds up to come anywhere near what fiber can provide today.
      2. We are speaking of rural areas, for the most part, thus there is not a lot of streets or easements to deal with. It is pretty quick and cheap to trench in the boonies compared to cities. I would even argue that to run 50 miles in a rural area cost less than 1 mile in a city.
      3. Wireless is nothing but a 2nd rate connection that is good for when you are on the go. As mentioned above it is a complement to a real wired connection.

      Lastly, if any home or business has utilities such as electric, phone, cable, sewer or water ran to it, then it can certainly have fiber ran to it. The telecom and cable companies have been provided more than enough "incentive" for us to require that.

      1. I've been engineering and deploying wireless for 12 years. I do understand that 5G at this point is largely hype. There's a bunch of people running around doing various, largely unrelated things. I understand that a lot of people are trying to cash in on buzzwords. The only commonality thus far in people talking about 5G is that it's using large amounts of spectrum to push lots of data. Many have active antenna designs, but not all. Many are in 28 GHz+ spectrum, but not all.

        If you're in a rural area, fixed wireless is the only technology worth considering. No, I'm not targeting 5G. Fixed wireless in general.

        Speeds fiber provides for residential end users isn't needed. The best approach we can take is exactly as you describe, taking the glass closer with each generation of deployment.

        Wireless is a perfectly fine fixed solution.

  2. Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) is less expensive than 5G wireless in a rural area. I go into more detail in the paper if you click on the link in the article above and flip to page 26 and following. Rural drops cost about $5/foot on average (materials and labor). A 500 foot fiber drop would be $2,500. That would be about the cost of the pole for a 5G solution. You would still need to purchase the 5G electronics, etc. In a rural environment like this, it would be common for last 500 feet (the drop) of the 5G solution to be more than 10x the cost of the fiber solution. The rest of the loop costs would be comparable, since the FTTP and the 5G cell are both fed by fiber. In addition to the initial CapEx, both the long-term CapEx and OpEx also favor a fiber network in this scenario.

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