Why can’t we be friends? How wireless complements Fiber networks

Why does there seem to be a rivalry between fixed wireless access and fiber networks? Our opinion is that fixed wireless access and fiber networks are complementary technologies that should be used together for better, faster, stronger, and more complete internet access.

However, many in the telecommunications industry seem to believe that these technologies are competitors.

The two are often pitted against each other. And there’s usually one winner when that happens: fiber optic cables.

Is Fiber the Be All End All of Internet Access?

Fiber optic cable networks are often held up as being the best in internet connectivity technology.

However, it still has its drawbacks.

Installing underground fiber optic cables can be exorbitantly expensive – as are any future repairs. It’s a long slow process where progress is often determined by the terrain – and not the installer’s would-be schedule. Plus, anything can go wrong when excavating.

It isn’t always economically or physically feasible to bring fiber optic cables directly to every single house, particularly in dense urban or difficult rural environments.

This is why fiber optic networks can benefit from being used in conjunction with fixed wireless access. 

Fixed wireless access costs less and is easier to deploy. You don’t have to contend with the difficulties of digging and laying underground cables.

Fixed wireless makes the perfect last mile complement to fiber optic infrastructure.

And yet, many service providers prefer to focus purely on fiber networks which can result in delayed service plans or no service at all.

Case Study: Google Discovers the Drawbacks of Fiber Alone by Learning the Hard Way

Over a decade ago, Google had the bright idea of providing ultra-high-speed fiber optic broadband internet to between 50,000 and 500,000 people.

It sounds nice in theory. They wanted to improve the American public’s internet access by giving them ultra-fast internet service that was 100 times better than what most had.  

The plan was to do this by bringing fiber optic cables directly to the customer. After all, fiber-to-the-home is seen as the best you can get, and Google wasn’t going for second-rate service.

Google’s management and the Google Fiber team were convinced they could pull this off – and within a year. But it flopped.

That wasn’t surprising to telecommunications insiders. Digging, running, and deploying fiber optic networks requires intensive planning, bureaucratic approval, labor investments, time, and at least $27,000 per mile.

Over 10 years later, Google Fiber has only succeeded in delivering fiber optic connections in municipalities where those networks already existed. Its fiber-to-the-home ideals have failed in regions where it couldn’t use existing fiber infrastructure to jumpstart its plans.

So, what did Google resort to? Wireless for last-mile connections. Google Fiber acquired a small wireless service provider to facilitate last-mile rapid deployment of high-speed connections.

Fiber alone is tough to pull off even for an organization with Google’s resources. The Fiber team had to throw their arms up and incorporate fixed wireless to achieve their objectives. This hybrid fiber-wireless approach was the most cost-effective and practical way to extend high-speed internet connectivity.

The fixed wireless advantage is a simple matter of good economics and great performance. It’s the most financially viable way to enable last-mile connectivity. It can be used to back up, replace, or complement fiber optics.

This isn’t a secret. Scott Cleland, industry thought leader and former ICT policy advisor to the Bush, Bush, and Obama administrations, called Google’s fiber-alone approach, a “dead business model walking.”

Yet, many service providers are still reluctant to make full use of it. These attitudes are likely to be based on outdated perceptions of what fixed wireless access is capable of.

Is Fixed Wireless Access a Second-Rate Technology?

Many telecommunications providers treat fixed wireless access as a subpar technology that doesn’t offer customers the best internet access.

AT&T is one of those. CEO Jeff McElfresh doesn’t see wireless technologies as a last-mile solution to fiber networks. McElfresh shared his opinion in an interview with Marketplace. He said, “the demand is increasing at a pace that really only fiber itself can satisfy. And in the next five years, we’re going to see a five [times] increase in the demand placed on broadband networks.”

McElfresh’s stance seems to be due to concerns around internet quality. He went on to say, “let me offer this point of view that a wireless network is a shared asset. It’s a shared network. And so, when you deploy wireless to solve for fiber-like services in a dense environment, you don’t have the capacity.”

Is this the right way to go? AT&T seems to prioritize giving its customers the best internet access possible.

In that case, this approach seems admirable. However, AT&T’s fiber-focused approach has left 70% of its customers without high-speed internet access. A mere 28% of its customer base had fiber-to-the-home internet when the company switched to a fiber-only approach.

Its poorer and rural customers were left underserviced. Is that really better than shoring things up with fixed wireless access?

That seems to come down to whether or not fixed wireless can provide reliable, high-speed internet.

We’ll admit it, fixed wireless access has deserved its reputation of being slow and unreliable. Even 4G and 5G technologies haven’t necessarily remedied the issue, as these improvements often come at costs that don’t always make sense for household use.

That was then. Recent technological advancements have turned everything on its head.

The Fixed Wireless Access Technological Breakthrough

We’re finally seeing breakthrough technologies thanks to Next-Generation Fixed Wireless Access (ngFWA).

Next-generation fixed wireless access isn’t a minor update or upgrade. It’s a revolutionary new way of providing fixed wireless connectivity using advanced new hardware and software.

The system uses a custom silicon chip, new algorithms, precise digital beamforming, and teraflop processing.

This facilitates a distributed massive MIMO design that balances real-time digital signal processing without interference from obstructions or other networks. It has all the deployment ease of older FWA technologies while delivering fiber-class throughput with low latency.

That’s massive. It means that fixed wireless technology can finally provide reliable, high-speed internet. 

The Business Case for Including Fixed Wireless Access

Let’s recap. Fixed wireless is cost-effective and easy to implement – relatively speaking, of course. Thanks to technological developments, FWA is now capable of offering reliable, high-speed internet.

The business case is clear: next-generation fixed wireless access is an economical way to provide high-speed internet connectivity.

The first ngFWA products became available in 2021. That year alone, over 200 service providers began deploying these networks. Millions of customers worldwide are accessing broadband internet through ngFWA service.

Fixed wireless was already on the rise before ngFWA’s technological leap. Back in 2021, Deloitte Global noted the strong growth in FWA connections. Deloitte noted that FWA was becoming competitive with wired fiber internet networks due to improvements in data rate performance and economics.

At that time, Deloitte’s analysts predicted that FWA connections would grow from 60 million in 2020 to around 88 million in 2022. They also estimated an FWA connection CAGR of 19% from 2020 to 2026.

5G was the most advanced technology included in their calculations and represented 7% of the connections. Even with high installation costs, 5G FWA connections were estimated to grow at a CAGR of 88% from 2020 to 2026.

This growth can generally be attributed to broad government support for broadband internet services that sees wireless internet connections as a legitimate option for internet connectivity. There are initiatives, subsidies, and funding packages powering its growth. The political push is paralleled by the public’s awareness and acceptance of fixed wireless internet service.

The consumer market is primed for alternatives that can fill in where fiber networks are unavailable. AT&T might prefer to leave their customers with slow, lagging access rather than deploy other options but most providers don’t feel the same.

Service providers around the world are moving to augment fiber optic networks with 5G infrastructure and next-generation fixed wireless access.

With good economics and ease of deployment, ngFWA is expected to accelerate the shift towards augmenting fiber with fixed wireless services.

How Fixed Wireless and Fiber Complement Each Other

Internet connectivity is moving into a hybrid fiber and wireless era. Fixed wireless is agile, low-cost, resilient, and easily deployed. It can be used wherever fiber networks can’t go.

The two have already been used together in last-mile connectivity models that deploy lower-performance FWA in areas where fiber is too expensive or difficult to install.

But we’re not talking about subpar services here. Hybrid models using next-generation FWA offer rural and lower-income urban customers the same quality of internet access as the middle-class suburbs.

Unlike older FWA technology that’s best for densely populated areas, next-generation fixed wireless access works well in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

These networks have higher digital signal processing capacities with improved signal distribution between stations. Next-gen FWA is more resistant to obstructions, moving objects, and other blockages. The architecture is resistant to interference from other networks to further improve wireless performance. These open outdoor deployments provide a clean, seamless connectivity experience.

These advancements decisively move fixed wireless access away from being a last resort or subpar solution for lower-income communities. Telecommunications providers can opt for ngFWA with full confidence that all their customers will benefit from reliable, high-speed internet access.

Where We Stand

Our stance is that fiber optic networks and fixed wireless access are best used together.

One technology isn’t inherently superior to the other. Each has different advantages and ideal use cases. The ideal approach is to have these technologies complement each other with a hybrid implementation. 

When used together, these technologies complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s limitations.

If you’d like to find out more about cutting-edge ways to extend connectivity, explore our solutions page or contact us directly.

More Like This
Stay in the loop
Subscribe for updates.

Contact Us

PCS Technologies is trained and certified to sell, install and service multiple product lines, saving your money and time while ensuring continuity and performance.

If you are an existing customer in need of assistance, please visit our support page.

or call