A recent report indicates that major telecommunications companies are likely to adopt fixed wireless access (FWA) technology as their initial entry point into Indian households, with the intention of upgrading to fiber connectivity once it becomes available.
FWA could play a significant role in monetizing 5G services, as it provides an easy means for telcos to enter homes, allowing them to upsell additional services such as content, Internet of Things (IoT), and more, thereby boosting their revenue, according to the report by Emkay Global.
The report suggests that Reliance Jio may have an advantage in deploying FWA, though Bharti Airtel is expected to catch up.
The report highlights Reliance Jio’s substantial commitment to 5G, with an investment of $25 billion, including $11 billion allocated for spectrum acquisition. A significant portion of this investment, approximately $5-6 billion, is dedicated to FWA, underscoring Reliance Jio’s commitment to this emerging technology.
In terms of FWA deployment preparedness, Reliance Jio is currently ahead of its competitors due to its extensive 5G coverage, access to superior spectrum bands, well-established fiber infrastructure for backhaul, and in-house technology acquired through the Mimosa acquisition. Additionally, Reliance Jio has a larger workforce dedicated to acquiring homes once FWA services are launched.
Both Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel possess spectrums in the 3300MHz and 26GHz bands that can be utilized for FWA services. However, Reliance Jio holds the expensive 700MHz band, which it plans to use for its 5G launch and can also be utilized for FWA. This gives Reliance Jio an advantage in terms of wider coverage, better signal penetration, and extended range compared to its peers.
Reliance Jio has already rolled out 5G services in over 5,400 cities and towns, surpassing Bharti Airtel’s coverage of 3,500 cities and towns.
The introduction of FWA using 5G technology can provide telcos with access to homes that were previously not covered by wired broadband.
In March, Jio Platforms finalized a definitive agreement worth $60 million to acquire Mimosa Networks, a communications equipment manufacturer. Mimosa offers point-to-multi-point products based on WiFi-5 and the newer WiFi 6E technologies, as well as related accessories. This acquisition enables Reliance Jio to provide cost-effective FWA solutions and products.
Reliance Jio holds a stronger position for both 5G and FWA deployments due to its robust fiber network infrastructure for backhaul, in contrast to Airtel’s relatively smaller fiber footprint. The report highlights that a significant portion of Reliance Jio’s network, including the metro core, aggregate, and long-distance networks, relies on fiber-optic cables for backhaul, giving it the capacity to handle the 5G load, including FWA. In comparison, Airtel plans to strengthen its 5G backhaul by deploying e-band microwaves on towers handling 5G traffic.
Bharti Airtel has formed partnerships with local cable operators (LCOs) to accelerate the addition of new homes to its network. However, Reliance Jio’s larger workforce enables it to acquire homes at a faster pace than its competitors, with an addition of 0.25 million homes each month compared to Bharti Airtel’s monthly addition of 0.14 million homes in H2FY23.