Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) for Business Internet
In this blog, we'll describe what Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is, delve into various FWA plan options, and discuss pros and cons of FWA vs. wired connectivity.
What Is Fixed Wireless Access?
WTF is FWA? It’s actually no different from wired internet – apart from the last mile which is the part of the network that connects to the customer’s location (here’s a breakdown from a recent article, if you’re a little fuzzy on the whole “last mile/middle mile/first mile” thing).
FWA abandons hardwired, physical connections completely, and connects you to your provider’s backbone network using Point-to-Point microwave transmission (a way of sending your data wirelessly over the air). When properly deployed, FWA can provide enterprise-standard performance that’s comparable with fiber. However, there are several considerations to think through when purchasing a fixed wireless connection of utilization as your business’s primary or backup internet connection.
What Kind of Plans Are Available with Fixed Wireless Access?
There are several options, but you can divide them into two camps – best effort, with volume-based usage plans, or speed-based plans, which at times are dedicated internet (DIA) connections.
Best Effort FWA Plans
The lack of a guaranteed minimum internet speed and throughput makes “best-effort” fixed wireless services an affordable option (ideal for businesses looking for secondary circuits on their SD-WAN topology, or a backup failover connection for emergencies).
These plans are structured similarly to cellular data plans that connect to LTE/5G modems or cell phones as hotspots. The plans tend to come with a data cap – once you exceed the cap, you get charged for your additional usage (usually calculated at a set rate per gigabyte).It’s important to set your cap right because the savings from the more affordable best-effort plan can quickly be canceled out by the punitive charges incurred when you exceed your limit.
Performance on best effort plans will depend on a number of factors. Your proximity to the service provider’s dish, weather events (rain, for one), and any foliage between you and the service provider can impact your network’s performance. Done right, FWA performance can be impressive, with users commonly reporting 25-40 Mbps download speeds, and 5-10 Mbps on the upload. Some customers have it even better than that – if they’re close enough to the service provider’s dish.
Dedicated / Speed-Based FWA Plans
For businesses looking to use FWA, a speed-based or dedicated FWA plan can provide a viable option for primary circuits. Speed-based plans are more popular, due to their predictability and reliability. Certain providers of speed-based FWA plans will offer SLA-backed dedicated internet (DIA) options that are constructed to ensure uptime and should mimic the reliability of a proper dedicated fiber connection.
Plans in this category tend to be structured similarly to DIA or coax-based last-mile plans. They are based around unlimited usage (although there are often some “guardrails” – basically a super-high usage cap, to prevent unscrupulous types from taking advantage and abusing the service).
During the procurement process, the service provider will investigate the level of performance they can provide at the customer’s location. As we’ve said, location relative to the provider’s tower and dish are critical, so the provider needs to ensure they can come back to you with a solid assessment of what speeds they can realistically provide. When constructing dedicated FWA, a provider may seek to build multiple wireless points of contact with the customer site to ensure uptime.
Once they’ve done their homework, they’ll come back with a choice of internet-speed options. Depending on your location, it’s not uncommon for these options to include throughput speeds of 500 Mbps, with symmetrical upload and download speeds. Pricing will be heavily dependent on the cost to create the fixed wireless network of choice: the more difficult it is to build a reliable connection, the more you’ll have to pay unfortunately.
Fixed Wireless Access – Pros and Cons
Availability. FWA solutions, even dedicated ones, are typically available where fiber is not. This allows enterprises to get an SLA-backed, primary circuit option when fiber is unavailable or too costly.
Fast deployment. A FWA last-mile solution can typically be installed and functioning much faster than a fiber or coax option. FWA can be up and running in 2-3 weeks, sometimes faster, while dedicated fiber can take 90-120 days, or longer.
More cost-effective. Without the need to physically connect your location to the service provider’s backbone network, the bulk of your costs will be for customer premise equipment (CPE). When fiber is really costly to construct and a FWA vendor can deliver connectivity from a central location where backhaul is readily available, FWA should be cheaper than dedicated fiber options.
Relatively low latency. Using microwave transmissions over short distances provides a less latency-prone connectivity experience than other wireless network types (satellite, LTE). That said, latency is still worse than that of fiber.
Line of sight required. To send and receive data effectively, your dish and the provider’s dish must be facing each other, without physical obstruction – or it won’t work.
Distance is limited. There is a range limitation with this service – you’ll need to be within 10 miles of the provider’s dish to experience business-standard connectivity.
Weather conditions can still be an issue. Most of the time it’s unnoticeable, and the technology continues to improve. Nevertheless, heavy rain or fog can affect performance, and some service degradation or “rain fade” is to be expected.
Latency is worse than fiber or coax.
How Widely Adopted is FWA?
With over 100 million service provider connections globally at the end of 2022, FWA is clearly a popular option. Adoption is set to increase, too – it’s predicted the number of connections will triple by 2028, reaching over 300 million. This expansion will see the market value of FWA rise to $150bn in roughly the same amount of time – a growth rate of 135%.
So, how do we account for this surging popularity? It’s the need for speed. Modern societies run on high-speed internet connectivity – for business, healthcare, education, and many other purposes. Unfortunately, many parts of the US don’t have ready access to affordable wired connectivity options.
If you’re in New York, it’s not a problem – just pick a service provider and get tapped into their fiber backbone network. However, out in the sticks, it’s cheaper and quicker to find a FWA service provider to give you the connectivity you need.
Thinking about how Fixed Wireless Access could solve your connectivity issues? Lightyear’s automated telecom procurement platform can help you source the best connectivity options for you, whether wireless or wired. And if you need further assistance, or you just want to talk it through with someone, our expert team of telecom professionals are at the ready.
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