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California-based communications startup Common Networks has launched its $49-a-month, 300 Mbps consumer fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband home-internet service in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Fierce Wireless.
The service uses signals in the unlicensed 5 GHz and 60 GHz bands of spectrum and links services in existing customers’ homes to other homes to create a distributed broadband infrastructure, while only needing limited connections to fiber sources in a given area.
Common Networks is one of a number of companies — both startups and incumbents — that are trying to disrupt the home-internet market.
In the US, telecoms including T-Mobile and Verizon are offering home broadband service via their cellular networks. T-Mobile’s pilot service uses its 4G network, so data going to its home-internet customers is essentially the same as mobile broadband traffic to smartphones and other mobile devices. Verizon’s servicein parts of four cities including Sacramento employs a non-standardized variant of 5G, so it runs on a different network than mobile traffic, though the company could shift to standards-based 5G down the line.
In the UK, operators including Vodafone and Three have launched FWA services. Vodafone offers bundled plans through which consumers can get 5G-based phone services alongside 4G-based home internet. Three, meanwhile, is moving into FWA using its recently launched 5G network, putting it in competition with companies like Vodafone, BT, and Telefónica that have both wired-home and mobile-broadband networks.
Startups like Common Networks and Starry are attempting to break into the home-internet market with a different approach.These companies typically use high-band spectrum — generally unlicensed, though some such as Starry have also purchased spectrum licenses in some bands — to deliver internet service from network focal points to special hardware installed in homes, often on the roof. This entails a more complex setup process than working with a wireless carrier, but can mean faster scaling in densely populated areas, where companies can wire entire apartment buildings rather than just individual homes.
The bigger picture: As 5G and future network standards increase speeds and reduce latency even further, fixed wireless services will become the status quo in home-internet service.
Internet providers will eventually shift to FWA services to realize savings in two key areas:
Infrastructure savings: Unlike their wired competitors, companies providing FWA home internet service won’t need to run fiber-optic lines to each home to provide service. This will make for less work and expense to upgrade the speed and quality of service. When a new generation of connectivity technology arrives (think 6G in about a decade), operators can simply provide customers with a new modem to connect to upgraded towers and access the most up-to-date features instantly — and without having to replace any fiber lines running to homes.
Maintenance savings: The lack of physical lines will limit technicians’ roles in establishing a new connection to positioning and setting up a router in a customer’s home. And there will likely be less maintenance over the course of use, as there won’t be wires or lines to repair. Operators will, however, need to react quickly to any problems with 5G cellular tower sites. Customers will be relying on the wireless network for all internet needs, so any breaks in service would be hugely disruptive.
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