At its annual general meeting last week, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani announced Jio AirFiber, which will be a fixed wireless access (FWA) offering in India.
AirFiber can be connected to Reliance Jio’s 5G network via a device that will acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for use in the home or office, providing fiber-like speeds.
Reliance Jio is aiming to ultimately connect 100 million locations with its FWA — which would be transformational in a country that historically has not had a strong fixed broadband offering with high-speed internet connectivity for homes and businesses.
New Street Research analyst Chris Hoare wrote that it is rare for a single company to be able to change the direction of an industry globally, but the 100-million-subscriber target for 5G FWA is a game changer.
“For context, we believe there are currently around 2-3 million [5G] FWA subscribers globally. Jio’s announcement on its own therefore turbocharges the entire FWA industry globally we think,” wrote Hoare.
The U.S. operators T-Mobile and Verizon have been leading the charge on FWA. T-Mobile has about 1.5 million customers already, and it just launched a little over a year ago. The carrier expects to serve 7-8 million FWA customers by 2025.
Similarly, Verizon’s Home Internet service is new, and Verizon expects to win 4-5 million fixed wireless access subscribers by the end of 2025.
The American carriers are able to offer this service using fallow capacity on their 5G networks. But they’re being careful to not diminish the quality of experience of their lucrative mobile subscribers in densely-populated areas.
Kaley Gagnon, VP of marketing at T-Mobile recently told Fierce, “We only offer our unlimited home internet service where we know there’s enough capacity to deliver a great home broadband experience.”
Jio’s FWA sounds very different
In a short LinkedIn conversation with Fierce Wireless, Jio Senior Vice President Aayush Bhatnagar made it sound as if Jio’s technology for FWA is very different than that being used by Verizon and T-Mobile.
Bhatnagar said, “FWA actually has higher gain and improves the cell throughput and performance.” He said there are “no issues of capacity in HetNets.”
He said for Jio’s network the FWA device will be installed on the windows of homes and businesses. “FWA is an outdoor device, so it leads to better uplink gain, due to 4 receive chains, leading to better cell throughput as less PRBs [physical resource blocks] are used.”
His reference to HetNets makes it sound as if Jio’s AirFiber will act similar to a distributed wireless network that actually supplements the macro network, easing its capacity constraints. It sounds similar to what FreedomFi is doing with its CBRS-offload network. But Bhatnagar did not confirm that speculation.
New Street’s Hoare said Jio has not said how much its AirFiber “wireless access point” device will cost. But cost of customer premise equipment (CPE) for FWA has been a factor that’s limited the deployment of FWA in emerging markets.
“Broadband penetration is 2-20% in most emerging countries, and growing steadily, as fiber takes time to deploy, while FWA is prohibitively expensive in EM, largely because of the cost of the CPE, currently around $200/unit, and therefore out of reach for most EM consumers,” wrote Hoare.
He said Jio’s entrance into FWA and the innovation and massive volumes it’s aiming for will impact other emerging markets that want to offer the service.
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