Can Fixed Wireless Compete with Cable Modems?

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With all the talk of the 24GHz spectrum being released, we should expect to see some deployments for FWA very soon. We all know that Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile USA are planning to deploy FWA, Fixed Wireless Access.

What is FWA? It’s basically a point to multipoint system with extremely high throughput. Systems like this were big in the early 2000’s using the ISM band. I have deployed many of these systems back when WISPs would deliver broadband to underserved communities. You still needed backhaul. Back then it may have been DSL, maybe fiber, whatever the local telco could deliver to the hot spot. You may remember companies like Alvarion, WaveAccess, or Proxim. I don’t know if any of them provide PTMP solutions anymore, but they were PTMP equipment manufacturers early on.

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This was typical back when 1Mbps and 10Mbps access was sufficient. Guess what, now it’s not enough. In fact, we scoff at such a low throughput. That’s why the licensed spectrum is critical. We need it to provide reliable throughput at high speeds. We all like Wi-Fi unless it’s in a heavily loaded system because then it sucks. Licensed is the same but it’s a controlled environment. If you’ve ever been on a loaded cell site, then you have the same experience as crappy Wi-Fi. The idea here is that, hypothetically, the 24GHz spectrum will have enough spectrum to allow multiple users to have gigabit throughput simultaneously.Small Cell Cover 4

Imagine LTE or 5G NR formats pumping data at lightning speeds. This is a game changer. It should exceed what Wi-Fi can do, but we will still have Wi-Fi in our homes, but they will be fed with this spectrum through a FWA modem. That will compete with cable modems! High throughput with broadband spectrum.

What is the key?

The key to making this a success lies in several areas.

  • Easy installation. The installation has to be easy, very easy. Did you ever install a cable modem? It sounds so easy, plug and play. It is never that easy, and you always need help, and there is always some freaking cable issue. Once it works and is set up, it’s great. It’s just getting there, running the cable, trying to test it, and the cable guy wanting to put a hole in your house or apartment to get it to work. Why can’t they make it easier? If the wireless modem can be easy to install with minimal connections and wireless backhaul, then life is good. Easy is the key to mass deployment.official logo
  • Make it mobile. While the cable company says all you have to do it take your box with you, did you ever do that? I did. It’s never that easy, it won’t always work at the new home, and you usually need to go to the store or schedule a cable tech visit. I don’t see this getting any better with the carriers because coverage will be an issue early on. The only exception could be Sprint if they can mass deploy 5G on 2.5GHz spectrum. If only they could get out of their own way and deploy properly, then they might be able to pull something like this off. As for the other 3, they will have spotty coverage at best when they start to deploy 24GHz.
  • Bundling will be key. You already see Comcast doing this with their Wi-Fi and Verizon mobility package. They know that if they can lock you into a cable, internet, and mobile contract, it will be tough for you to leave. I believe Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T know this as well. They will do all that they can to provide you with package deals you can’t refuse.
  • Customer service will play a part. Comcast is learning this. Do you remember when they had the worst customer service? I do! They sucked, but they also turned it around. They knew that people were starting to loathe the company because nobody wants to talk to an asshole. They associate that one jerk with the entire company. While Verizon and AT&T think they have this figured out, I know that T-Mobile does. T-Mobile understands that people call only when they are already upset and frustrated. They know that a live customer service rep is valuable to the caller. They know that a quick resolution matters and they have been doing all that they can to provide the best service. That will be a game changer moving ahead.
  • Contracts will make a fundamental Do any of you have a cable contract that just sucks? I do. I am locked into Comcast for 2 years with a TV setup that I don’t care for because I have to buy some stupid bundle that I don’t really want. Why can’t I get the channels I want for the price I want to pay? Why do I have to commit to a timeline and see my price go up the day it’s done? Because Comcast is going to soak me until they have real competition. Listen, the TV doesn’t matter to me that much anymore, the internet does. So, the TV programming is losing value now that we have Netflix and Amazon Prime. Comcast knows this, but they want to soak me for as much as they can until they need to change. I get it. The almighty dollar matters more to them than making me happy. Oh, the customer service rep will say that these are the only packages available, and they are. So, it’s not their fault, is it? I blame Comcast and when I have a choice, which way do you think I will go. Payback is a bitch! I would be willing to bet I am not the only one.
  • Service of actual broadband. If the carriers can really provide 1Gbps to each household, then they will provide a viable alternative to the cable companies.

Millennial versus Baby Boomer

OK, technically, I am in the baby boomer generation while my wife is a Gen X and my kids are all millennials. Why does this matter? Because people my age still watch TV, although less and less of it. The Gen X group still watches TV, but the shift is happening. millennial watch internet TV, they just want internet access, and they could care little about the Cable packages. They don’t want cable, they just get it because the cable companies shove it down their throats. I know, my kids tell me that to get a cable modem, they need to get basic cable. That is one big reason why they will flock away from cable companies.

If you’re wondering why I brought this up, it’s because the millennial will be the death of the cable companies. You see, all they want is internet access. All that crap about the cable TV packages is going out the window. They want to pay for what they use when they use it. While we make fun of them for the “me now” generation, the reality is they will not pay for a 2-year package that sucks. Who proved this? T-Mobile USA! That’s right. If T-Mobile can roll this out with the same marketing and packages that the “un-carrier” did for its mobile packages, they will crush the competition. Competition here is not only Verizon and AT&T, but Comcast, Charter, and all the other cable companies.

T-Mobile’s John Leger has a great marketing platform for the millennials that resonates. He got them while they were young and built loyalty. He warned the cable companies that he was coming. Well, the time will be in about 6 months when he will make good on that promise. Hello T-Mobile, the new WISP in town.

Packages, we don’t need no stinking packages!

OK, I got that from Blazing Saddles, Packages are what’s killing the cable industry, and they know it. T-Mobile knows it, and they will do all that they can to make sure that the customer only pays for what they want, like internet access. Verizon and AT&T will ask them to pay for mobile and internet. T-Mobile will figure out a way to offer millennials what they want and nothing more. The cable companies may figure this out, but can they adapt in time? We’ll see. The key is that people are sick of committing to a package that they really don’t want, (I know I am). While Tower Safety for all your safety training!we all look for commitment in our lives, why does it have to be with the freaking cable company? What most people today want is freedom from the corporations! I live in the USA! I live in a culture built on freedom. How many people want to live in this culture? Billions! I believe this is the greatest country in the world, more today than ever. It’s about time we have internet packages that live up to that same belief! I think the carriers will attempt to bring that to us!

Who will win?

It’s too early to tell, but you can see, a lot of variables are at play. The contract matters, service matters, quality matters, throughput matters, and coverage matters. Cable companies have their customers. The customer won’t change unless they are unhappy or it’s a significant cost saving. Change is hard; cable companies know that customers will only leave if they want to change. They have been doing more to keep their customers happy. Is it too little and too late? We shall see. When Verizon and AT&T started their cable plays with FTTH, they got a lot of customers only because the cable companies treated their customers like crap. A lot has changed since then. Cable companies started to wise up.

If I had to pick a winner in the USA, at this time, I would say Verizon and AT&T, only because I think they will deploy quickly and have spectrum. If all things were equal, then I would say T-Mobile because they appeal to the right demographic to make this happen. I don’t know if they could deploy fast enough. T-Mobile has the right mentality to win. They have the right marketing and demographics. They could offer a very attractive package. Let’s face it; they would have the best strategy.

It’s a shame Google won’t enter this market. Google doesn’t have the stomach for a prolonged deployment. Remember Google Fiber, everyone loved it, except Google. They realized several things. FTTH is expensive and hard to deploy. It’s not something you can do overnight. Just like building a wireless network is hard for the same reasons. It takes time and money. You have overcome a lot of enemies. The enemies are your competition, the local municipalities with all the permitting and zoning, the contractors that say they can deliver but can’t, the local residents who don’t want cables or towers on their streets, and so on. It takes grit, patience, and money to build a network of this kind. It’s not like building an app where there are little up-front costs. There are substantial up-front costs. If you have to buy spectrum at an auction, then you spend billions before you deploy one thing. It’s not easy! It has a high cost of entry. It takes grit!


  • FTTH= Fiber to the Home
  • FWA = Fixed Wireless Access
  • ISP – Internet Service Provider
  • WISP – Wireless ISP
  • PTMP or P2MP – Point to Multipoint

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  • PTP – Point to Point


Thank you for your support and your time. And good job on learning all you can in the wireless industry, you are amazing! Now, go out and impress people!

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