Beyond Walls: Broadband Forum Pioneers 5G Fixed Wireless Access in MDUs

By Greg Tavarez July 11, 2023

High-speed internet connectivity has become a necessity for millions of households across the U.S. With over 120 million households having broadband internet access, according to Statista, it's clear that the demand for fast and reliable internet is present. The increasing prevalence of smart devices and the popularity of bandwidth-intensive applications like video streaming and online gaming only emphasize the need for high-speed internet connectivity.

While many households have access to high-speed internet, there are still those stuck in the past, particularly in multi-dwelling units such as apartment complexes and hotels. The demand for high-speed internet is equally prominent in these settings, making 5G Fixed Wireless Access, FWA, a vital solution. Recognizing this need, the Broadband Forum (News - Alert), an industry consortium comprising service providers, equipment manufacturers and software companies, has taken the initiative to address the issue through its "Fixed Wireless Access Extension" project under the Wireless Wireline Convergence (News - Alert) Work Area.

The Broadband Forum, with a history dating back to 1994, has played a pivotal role in driving innovation and standardization within the broadband industry. It has helped shape the broadband landscape, facilitating the development of technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line and Gigabit Passive Optical Networks.

The significance of the "Fixed Wireless Access Extension" project lies in its ability to maximize the utilization of existing property infrastructure cabling, such as twisted pair or coaxial cabling, for extending FWA connections. By leveraging this infrastructure, the project offers several advantages for telco operators, including enhanced scalability, reduced deployment times, faster revenue generation, and cost savings in operational and capital expenditures.

However, the project is not without its challenges. One primary hurdle encountered when deploying 5G mmWave technology within MDUs is the difficulty of transmitting signals through walls. Due to the use of high-frequency mmWave frequencies ranging from 24GHz to 100GHz, signal strength is attenuated, leading to uncertain and often impractical indoor coverage.

Another challenge arises when deploying FWA modems on the rooftops of MDUs, which necessitates expensive Ethernet cabling to connect each apartment. Typically, a single FWA modem is deployed for each subscriber on the rooftop. However, in larger MDUs, this approach may require deploying more than a hundred modems, posing constraints in terms of available rooftop space, RF separation requirements, and potential co-site interference issues.

To address these challenges, the project relies on the expertise of the Broadband Forum and its collaborative industry partners. By leveraging existing property infrastructure cabling, such as telephone wiring or coaxial cabling, the project aims to extend 5G FWA to each apartment within hotel blocks or apartment complexes, according to Christele Bouchat, Nokia (News - Alert) and Wireless Wireline Convergence Work Area co-director at Broadband Forum. This innovative approach and the proposed solutions to overcome signal attenuation and deployment complexities have the potential to revolutionize connectivity in MDUs.

With the collaborative efforts of industry experts and the Broadband Forum's dedication to advancing connectivity, this initiative holds the potential to transform the way MDUs access high-speed internet and unlock new possibilities for residents and businesses alike.

Edited by Alex Passett
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