Is T-Mobile juicing its FWA play with external antennas? | Light Reading

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According to The Mobile Report, T-Mobile is preparing to sell a new fixed wireless access (FWA) receiver that includes support for external antennas.

If T-Mobile does release such a gadget, the move would represent a potentially significant development in the operator’s evolving FWA strategy. External antennas – particularly those that can be installed outdoors – promise to significantly improve the reliability and reach of FWA services.

Indeed, external receivers have long been a part of the wireless Internet service provider industry. But such gadgets can pose problems because in some cases they may be installed by a professional technician – a potentially costly endeavor. Or, if they’re to be installed by a customer, that might limit the number of customers willing to sign up for FWA services.

Thus, the details surrounding T-Mobile’s external antenna plans are important. Based on The Mobile Report, it appears T-Mobile may sell external antennas to FWA customers so that they can install the gadgets themselves in order to improve their reception. It’s unclear whether that kind of strategy will be successful.

T-Mobile officials didn’t immediately respond to questions on the topic from Light Reading.

Expansion path

T-Mobile has been loudly leading the FWA charge in the US. The company today counts around 3.7 million fixed wireless customers, and plans to increase that figure to 7-8 million by 2025.

The FWA efforts by T-Mobile and Verizon have been impressive: The two companies have been capturing virtually all of the growth in the US broadband market for more than a year now.

T-Mobile’s initial FWA strategy centered on shipping receivers to prospective customers, which they could then install inside their home or office. Such receivers communicate with nearby T-Mobile cell towers. However, those FWA signals must travel through the walls of that home or office, potentially degrading the signal.

T-Mobile sells FWA receivers that customers can install inside their home or office.
(Source: T-Mobile)

To address that situation, T-Mobile officials have long suggested that they may look to improve their FWA connections with the addition of an external antenna.

But T-Mobile’s interest in external antennas could also signal headaches in the operator’s FWA business. After all, external antennas presumably add additional costs and complexities to the company’s business model. If T-Mobile feels the need to embrace external receivers, that could indicate the company is already running up against the limits of its FWA reach.

Regardless, external antennas might well end up a target of anti-FWA advertisements by cable companies.

Joining the crowd

To be clear, T-Mobile isn’t the first FWA provider to eye external antennas. In fact, prior to the 5G-based FWA efforts from T-Mobile and Verizon, many FWA providers like Rise Broadband, Starry and Nextlink relied on external antennas.

Further, T-Mobile isn’t the only company to experiment with various external 5G receivers. For example, Verizon in 2017 tested an external FWA receiver that sat immediately outside a user’s window. And when Verizon first launched its FWA offering in 2018 using its millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, it in some cases had technicians install a receiver on the outside of customers’ homes.

The current FWA boom is mainly due to the combination of 5G technology and midband spectrum like 2.5GHz, C-band and 3.45GHz. 5G technology promises to efficiently transmit large amounts of data, and midband spectrum opens up enough bandwidth to support high-usage scenarios like home broadband connections.

Indeed, AT&T recently joined the FWA party in full shortly after the release of additional midband C-band spectrum.

This content was originally published here.

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