Millimeter wave is key to Verizon’s FWA, DAS strategies – Fierce Network

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  • Verizon wants to serve more apartment buildings with fixed wireless access
  • mmWave spectrum will play an important role because it offers high bandwidth over short distances
  • mmWave is also a key part of Verizon’s DAS strategy

On a recent press tour in Austin, Texas, Verizon executives showed reporters a downtown apartment building served by fixed wireless access (FWA) using C-band spectrum.

Discrete rooftop radios deliver three sectors of 5G, and each sector can serve 15-20 families. Between the radios and the apartment building is an outdoor concert venue, and this is the primary target for the 5G site. The FWA subscribers are a bonus, but the site was built to deliver mobile broadband at high capacity. Verizon limits its FWA customers to ensure that when the field is filled with music fans, all the Verizon subscribers get a signal.

In the future, however, Verizon plans to deploy radios specifically for FWA service to multiple-dwelling units (MDUs) using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

During the carrier’s first quarter earnings call, CEO Hans Vestberg answered a question from analyst Peter Supino of Wolfe Research about the project. “On the millimeter wave MDU solution, that is progressing,” he said. “We have said it will come in the second half, latter part of this year, in commercial. But we’re piloting it right now and it’s performing really well.”

Millimeter wave spectrum is well-suited for FWA, especially for MDUs, because it offers more bandwidth than mid-band spectrum. Fixed wireless access subscribers typically consume more data than mobile broadband subscribers, and their data usage can spike simultaneously at certain times of the day.

Sanjay Dhawan, VP new business technology and operations at SBA Communications, commented on the FWA bandwidth demands recently at the Connect (X) conference in Atlanta. During a panel discussion with Fierce Network’s Monica Alleven, Dhawan said FWA subscribers can require up to 20 times the bandwidth a typical mobile broadband subscriber needs.

So high bandwidth spectrum could be key to helping operators further monetize FWA businesses. In a recent Opensignal report on FWA, analyst Robert Wyrzykowski called FWA the “secret sauce for 5G monetization.” The reasons, he said, are that “FWA benefits from lower prices compared to wireline competition, access to existing mobile retail channels and subscribers, and the ability to deliver a ‘good enough’ broadband service.”

FWA monetization 

During its Q1 2024 earnings call, Verizon talked about FWA monetization for the first time, reporting FWA revenue of $452 million for the quarter. That’s just 1.4% of the almost $33 billion in revenue Verizon reported overall for the quarter. The company noted that its FWA revenue was up nearly $200 million from the first quarter of 2023, but did not share cost or profit numbers for the business.

Verizon also reported FWA subscriber adds for Q1, as it has for the last several quarters. These came in at 354,000, down 5.6% from the fourth quarter of 2023. “We continue to be comfortable with this pace of growth, believing it provides the right combination of base growth, ARPU accretion, and the superior experience our customers expect on the Verizon network,” Vestberg told investors.

In the months ahead, better radio technology could enable Verizon and its competitors to add more FWA subscribers without sacrificing performance.

“FWA performance and total addressable market may grow far more than what the carriers are targeting today,” analyst Gregory Williams of TD Cowen wrote in recent note to investors.

According to Williams, the keys will be more efficient and precise radios at the tower sites, and more robust customer premise equipment in the homes of FWA subscribers. He projects that if these solutions turn out to be as affordable as network equipment makers say they will be, FWA subscriptions can surge.

mmWave indoors

Millimeter wave’s short range and high bandwidth make it ideal for indoor coverage. On the Austin press tour, Verizon showed off a distributed antenna system (DAS) at a downtown Hilton hotel, noting the important role played by mmWave. The operator has recently added C-band spectrum to the DAS and is using both its A-Block and B-Block spectrum. So far, no other carriers have joined the DAS.

The mmWave antennas we saw were actually bigger than the C-band antennas. The company said the C-band antennas needed to be small to insure adherence to EMF emission rules. Both the C-band and mmWave antennas we saw were made by Galtronics.

Verizon said it operates seven DAS in Austin, using equipment from all the major DAS vendors: SOLiD, CommScope, Corning, JMA Wireless and ADRF. The system we saw was a SOLiD DAS with Samsung radios.

A company spokesperson noted that the operator is in the process of virtualizing the radios. Commercial off-the-shelf hardware running Samsung software will replace the Samsung radios.

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