Hard to Beat Fixed Wireless for Internet Access, Some Argue

It is next to impossible to argue that fiber-to-home deployments are more affordable than fixed wireless, especially fixed wireless using unlicensed spectrum. Where the fiber to home distribution network might cost $600 per passing, a fixed wireless approach using unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum might cost as little as $300 per passing.

A connected fixed wireless location might cost $800, where a connected fiber to premises connection might cost $1,800, according to Maravedis.

The same sort of economics apply for connecting multiple dwelling units, Maravedis argues.  

Construction costs account for much of the cost differential, especially when trenching is required to place new underground facilities. Maravedis argues that a fiber-to-premises approach costs between $26,500 to $300,000, assuming a distance to the building of half a mile from a trunking network optical node.

Covering the same distance to connect a building might cost $6,000 using fixed wireless and unlicensed spectrum, Maravedis argues.

There also appear to be advantages for using unlicensed spectrum and fixed wireless, rather than fiber-to-premises, for serving multi-unit dwellings.

So small and independent U.S.  internet service providers could benefit from the release of 14 GHz of unlicensed spectrum, in the 57 GHz to 71 GHz frequencies, for communications purposes. By way of comparison, all licensed mobile spectrum presently available in the U.S. mobile business amounts to about 600 MHz, while all Wi-Fi spectrum represents about the same amount of capacity.

It would not be unreasonable to assume that a vast increase in spectrum supply--much of it offered on a non-licensed basis--will put pressure on licensed spectrum prices, in addition to enabling new competitors. That will include both “for fee” providers who take market share, as well as removal of some amount of potential business as enterprises and other entities build their own infrastructure.

And lots of new spectrum is coming, in the millimeter wave bands, as well as with spectrum sharing, including the 150 MHz in the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, wants to release new spectrum in a number of millimeter wave bands.
How much impact new millimeter wave spectrum will have is unclear, as incumbents including AT&T, Verizon and others will be able to use fixed wireless, not just independent ISPs. What is clear is that the economics of gigabit internet access will fall.


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