Cable Players Betting on FWA’s Eventual Demise

Nov 16, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 2023 – In today’s broadband world, the growth king is Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). But some cable executives think FWA can’t scale much higher and will eventually lose its crown.

The leading FWA providers are T-Mobile and Verizon, and each one just turned in a sizzling third quarter. While wireline providers added about 50,000 new customers, T-Mobile and Verizon added 941,000 new subscribers combined to their 5G residential wireless broadband service.

A Verizon executive this week attributed FWA’s rapid growth to ease of use for consumers.

“It’s simple. It’s plug-in and go. And that resonates with customers,” Verizon EVP and CFO Tony Skiadas said at a Morgan Stanley investor conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Skiadas added that demand for Verizon’s Internet Home product remains strong and is running ahead of projections.

Although FWA is capturing the headlines, cable broadband executives argue that wireless broadband technology has insufficient capacity to meet the needs of the millions of end users streaming billions of hours of video.

According to the Motion Picture Association, Americans spend an average of 13 hours and 11 minutes a day using digital media, and 78% of all U.S. households subscribe to at least one streaming service.

Asked about the FWA threat in September – before third quarter results came out – Charter CEO Chris Winfrey said network capacity limitation would mean FWA “turns into really just another form of DSL, particularly when you take a look at the capabilities of our network today and where we're going with high-split DOCSIS 4.0."

Comcast two days ago announced a new DOCSIS 4.0 deployment that provides 300 Mbps, 500 Mbps, 1Gbps and 2Gbps upload and download speeds to select neighborhoods in Atlanta. T-Mobile’s FWA sevice offers download speeds in the range of 72 to 245 Mbps.

Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Broadband Corp. told CNBC last week that FWA would run into trouble seeing as Amazon Prime Video is taking up 25% of the bandwidth in the country when streaming NFL Thursday Night Football.

“As you see more of those kinds of events streamed, you are going to put more and more pressure on these networks and I don't think FWA will handle it,” Maffei said. “I don't think over the long term, that is as much of a threat as some perceive both because of capacity issues from some of the carriers, but also because of demands."

Maffei’s company owns broadband communications provider GCI in Alaska and 26% of Charter.

Verizon’s Skiadas dismissed talk about a FWA capacity shortage, saying the company’s engineering team is “in front of the demand curve.” 

Verizon has options in configuring the network to respond to higher demand.

“There are lots of ways to design a network,” he said. “If we have more demand for fixed wireless access, that is a good problem.”