Fixed Wireless Broadband Nearing the Tipping Point in 5G NR Era

April 12, 2019 Majeed Ahmad

The 5G wireless has been promising new communication venues all along and here is one of them: a multi-gigabit wireless environment connecting homes and enterprises to 5G New Radio (NR) infrastructure via fixed wireless access broadband.

It’s ironic that fixed wireless access (FWA) networks end up as one of the early and major use cases in the 5G bandwagon. The fact that 5G NR has become an important ultra-broadband tool for fixed wireless applications is apparent from Ovum’s recent study that forecasts 5G to capture 16 percent of all fixed wireless access deployments by 2022.

Figure 1: We are likely to see the 5G NR-based gateways and routers in home and enterprise environments earlier than 5G mobile handsets. (Image: Qualcomm)

The key design building blocks for broadband fixed wireless access are getting ready earlier than 5G mobile use cases, and as Ovum points out, it’s partly because the fixed wireless access applications in home and enterprise environments don’t mandate expensive truck rolls and service calls.

Another factor favoring fixed wireless access in the 5G realm is that new technologies like millimeter wave (mmWave) communications are easier to implement in stationary settings like smart home gateway placed on a table. Moreover, at mmWave frequencies, fixed wireless broadband has significantly lower power constraints than 5G cellular applications.

Here is a design diary of what’s been happening in 5G-based fixed wireless broadband applications and how this networking technology is nearing a tipping point in the 5G era.

5G Home Gateway Design

Early this year, Nokia announced that Australian communication operator Optus is trialing its FastMile 5G Gateway to stream 4K video services to select residential customers. Nokia claims that its 5G home gateway has attained the antenna gain of 11dBi and that it offers three times the downlink capacity and five times the uplink capacity compared to traditional home gateways.

Also, early this year, Qualcomm unveiled a reference design for customer premises equipment (CPE) that uses 5G backhaul to rival passive-optical networking (PON), cable, and DSL broadband alternatives. Qualcomm’s home gateway design provides fiber-like speeds of up to 7 Gbps and supports both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) network deployments.

The home gateway design is built around a 5G modem-to-antenna solution, and it supports both sub-6 GHz and mmWave bands. The reference designs include Qualcomm Snapdragon™ X55 5G modem and Qualcomm RF front-end components and modules for sub-6 GHz and mmWave deployments.

Figure 2: The X55 modem chip is designed to support a broad range of use cases including fixed wireless access point. (Image: Qualcomm)

It’s worth noting that unlike the first-generation X50 modem chips, which are highly focused on mobile designs, the second generation X55 modem chips are considered more suitable for embedded devices such as home and enterprise gateways. Snapdragon X55 is a 7 nm modem chip that can be paired with Qualcomm’s 14 nm RF transceiver as well as with RF front-end and antenna modules.

The designs like home gateways enable a new wireless service model by employing the 5G NR technology to deliver broadband internet services such as ultra-high-definition video streaming, cloud gaming and virtual reality in areas where laying new cables or fiber is not practical.

Below are two more design examples that demonstrate the 5G-enabled fixed wireless network’s ability to create and establish new broadband sites at stadiums, airports, and other urban centers.

Enterprise Gateways and Routers

Qualcomm’s X55 modem chip is at the center of two multi-gigabit fixed wireless access designs. First, Qualcomm has joined hands with Aquantia, the supplier of Gigabit Ethernet controllers, to pair its 5G NR modem with high-speed Wi-Fi environments.

The Silicon Valley-based Aquantia has made available a reference design for a CPE platform that is based on Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem alongside the company’s AQC107 and AQC111C multi-gigabit Ethernet controllers.

The AQtion AQC107 is a PCI Express (PCIe)–to–Multi-Gig Ethernet controller that integrates PCIe, MAC, and PHY to handle up to 10 Gbps line-rate performance. On the other hand, the AQtion AQC111C Ethernet controller offers 5 and 2.5 GbE speeds and comes in a compact 9 x 9 mm package. It’s a low-cost networking solution designed for embedded systems.

Another X55 5G modem-based solution comes in the form of a data card that enables enterprise network appliances like branch and remote office routers to provide fixed wireless broadband access for bandwidth-intensive applications. These data cards integrate modem, RF transceiver, RF front-end, and antenna module and they support a broad range of enterprise applications.

Telit is among the early suppliers of 5G NR data cards; the company is targeting these 5G design solutions at enterprise routers, gateways, and CPE devices. The data cards support 4K video camera and will evolve toward support for the next-generation 8K video applications.

Figure 3: The 5G data cards are targeted at a wide variety of industrial, commercial and public safety applications. (Image: Telit)

Telit’s data cards are going to be available in two variants (Figure 3). The first version supports 5G and LTE in bands below 6 GHz in time division duplex (TDD) and frequency division duplex (FDD) mode. The second version offering support for 5G in mmWave bands will be initially available in the United States according to carrier rollout plans.

Telit plans to make samples of these broadband data cards available in the second quarter of 2019.

Surpassing Mobile Deployments

The 5G NR-based fixed wireless access complements high-density Wi-Fi environments as a broadband backhaul, and this combination is starting to transform the otherwise slow-moving fixed wireless access technology.

This combination brings gigabit speeds to homes and enterprises, which in turn, creates new service models and business opportunities. More importantly, the design challenges for 5G fixed wireless seem within grasp, meaning we will most likely see them bypassing 5G mobile applications in terms of deployment timelines.

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