Nokia breaks the mould with mmWave for FWA

Nokia breaks the mould with mmWave for FWA

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is an attractive play for many operators, and Nokia believes its potential can be further enhanced with the arrival of 5G FWA solutions using higher millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

5G mid-band FWA already supports a number of different deployment scenarios. Fixed broadband operators are using it to complement fiber deployments, plugging coverage gaps and quickly building out their footprint to increase market share. Mobile operators are taking advantage of its fast time-to-market and low start-up costs to compete with fixed-fiber services.

Like all technologies, FWA comes with its challenges. In a recent operator study, Nokia found that mid-band FWA deployments are leaving 19 per cent of subscribers with low signal levels, resulting in wasted network capacity. Around 29 per cent of capacity in such cases could have been restored to the operator just by having the CPE device correctly positioned, either indoors or using an outdoors device, for optimal performance. Using outdoor antennas rather than indoor CPE at the cell edge could achieve a 62 per cent gain in network capacity, says the company.

As FWA users consume around 20 times more data than mobile uses, managing capacity is a key consideration in FWA deployments, to ensure neither FWA nor mobile services are compromised, and to protect an operator’s valuable investment in spectrum. Conserving radio resources from the start is far more efficient than later investments to upgrade the network or change devices to regain that lost capacity.

Employing 5G mmWave FWA at and above 24 GHz, with its resulting benefits in capacity and performance, is becoming increasingly attractive for operators, says Nokia.  

mmWave has already been successful at delivering wireless capacity in hot zones and high-traffic urban environments where limited range and signal attenuation don’t present a significant problem. This signal attenuation has led to a long-standing belief that mmWave is only for urban areas and it can’t really be used in other scenarios.

Not so, says Nokia. By advocating the deployment of mmWave as a capacity overlay to mid-band spectrum, Nokia says it can add much needed capacity for FWA subscribers that are within mmWave range from the base station, while freeing up the mid-bands for mobile broadband and more distant FWA subscribers. The operator study mentioned earlier found that 50 per cent of suburban FWA subscribers would be able to connect to and benefit from a mmWave capacity overlay.

Nokia is busting the myths around FWA mmWave with their advances in antenna technology and device intelligence. These advances mean that mmWave FWA can be deployed in non-line-of-sight locations (NLOS) and over far greater distances, says Nokia. The company has announced a new outdoor mmWave device, the FastMile 5Gmm Receiver that does exactly this. A 27dBi gain antenna overcomes propagation loss and weak signals. It also scans the environment in 360 degrees, using advanced analytics to create a fingerprint of the radio environment, and directing itself to the best signal that it receives. This means it can connect to signals from any direction, whether they are direct or reflected.

So, if something comes along that blocks the signal, such as a tree growing, the antenna can find another signal path including reflections, and continue to connect. This dispels another myth, says Nokia: that mmWave FWA doesn’t work in non-LoS conditions.

However, when LoS isn't an issue, mmWave has another very attractive use case. In Australia, nbn is deploying Nokia’s mmWave technology in rural areas and achieving broadband speeds up to 1 Gb/s over a 7km range. Nokia has shown that its FastMile FWA technology can drive mmWave signals out over 12km. This makes FWA a compelling choice where the economics of deploying fiber broadband don’t make sense.

Ensuring a brilliant end-user experience is a key concern for Nokia. Network planning tools enable operators to look at radio capacity and cell site locations to know where to market their FWA services. The same data is then used at point of sales to validate the service levels for every new subscriber. An intelligent mobile application then guides the end-user or a technician to install their FWA CPE in the best position to maximize broadband performance and optimize capacity usage of the radio network.

Nokia FWA devices also enable operators to drive new revenues beyond connectivity. The Corteca software within Nokia devices uses application container technology so that enhanced features, such as cyber security or low-latency performance for gaming, can be downloaded to the FWA CPE and sold to subscribers as add-on services that increase ARPU.

When thinking about deploying FWA to connect homes and business, the mid-bands are still going to be the first choice for operators in most scenarios, says Nokia. But as FWA deployments continue to accelerate – industry experts expect 250 million FWA subscribers by 2028 – mmWave FWA is becoming a vital tool for preserving capacity and maintaining service levels. It will also prove valuable in helping operators meet their regulatory service coverage commitments and as a tactical deployment tool where fiber can’t be deployed, as nbn is demonstrating with its rural FWA service.

Nor will an mmWave FWA solution of the kind being deployed by nbn work for everyone, and it probably won’t be widely repeated. The need for a long-distance rural application meant that nbn had a specific network that they built for rural connectivity using 4G, and which was upgraded to mmWave. They had that total LoS environment, and in that kind of scenario it can be economic.

So even though deployment scenarios for mmWave over FWA may be very specific, Nokia is showing that this is a much more useful tool than everybody thinks.

Click here to know more about Nokia’s 5G mmWave FWA solution.

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