Telecoms like AT&T and Verizon will deliver 5G to select cities in the U.S. this year using fixed wireless technology, giving consumers a taste of multi-gigabit internet speeds at home.
In perhaps the biggest effort, Verizon plans to bring 5G fixed wireless to 11 major cities by midyear. AT&T aims to deliver it to DirectTV subscribers in Austin, Texas. Each claims that its individual wireless tech can reach velocities several times faster than Google's high-speed Fiber network.
Empowering consumers with multi-gigabit speeds will let them stream video in 4K or download movies in just a few seconds. In the future, moreover, fixed wireless might bring high-speed internet access to the 34 million Americans in sparsely populated areas who still don't have broadband today, opening a new segment for marketers to reach. Those two possibilities alone could upend traditional internet providers and also give marketers an opportunity to try new, innovative ideas with consumers like social VR or interactive video.
Most residential areas have internet cable running around the neighborhood, wired to subscribers' homes in what's called "the last mile." Fixed wireless, however, would eliminate that last mile as providers simply beam the internet straight into a person's home. That means less digging to lay down fiber, which is what's necessary to reach gigabit speeds otherwise. It also allows operators to expand their coverage at a much more rapid pace, including to rural areas where they won't have to run physical lines as far.
Fixed-wireless prototypes are roughly two feet tall and come in shapes that range from dishes to cylinders. If deployed, they'd likely be mounted on streetlights or buildings, camouflaged much the way cellphone network towers are today. Consumers would also need a 5G-capable modem to receive a signal.
Although that sounds like a home-run, fixed wireless has limited range and struggles to penetrate thick walls. Each fixed wireless device has an estimated cost of about $20,000. And about 1,000 to 2,000 fixed wireless relays—maybe more—would be needed to cover an urban area, experts say.