Qualcomm powers FastWeb’s 5G fixed wireless CPE in Italy

Italian telecom operator FastWeb is geared up to commercially launch its 5G fixed wireless access service in 50 cities in Italy by year’s end, with customer premises equipment using Qualcomm’s X55 platform.

The companies have been working together over the last two years to prep FastWeb’s mmWave 5G FWA service. An initial rollout in the first three localities happened earlier this week, and plans call for expansion into 500 cities in 2021.

By 2024 FastWeb expects to deliver 5G mmWave broadband to 12 million homes, or 45% of Italy’s population, with speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

The 5G CPE device using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 Modem-RF System is mounted to the roof or side of houses to connect to nearby cell towers and deliver in-home service.

“With the launch of our Ultra FWA connections we bring connectivity up to 1 Giga even in those areas that until now were not covered by ultrabroadband connections,” said Andrea Lasagna, CTO at FastWeb, in a statement.  

RELATED: TIM, Ericsson, Qualcomm achieve 1 Gbps on 5G mmWave fixed wireless access

FastWeb provides landline, broadband internet and IPTV service and has been focused on fiber-to-the-home (FTT deployments). Thirty cities are already covered with FastWeb’s 2.5 Gbps FTTH service, but the FWA roll out marks the first commercial 5G mmWave deployment in the region. 

FastWeb was the first to start trialing 5G FWA in Italy, kicking off a five-month trial in Milan nearly two years ago with partner Samsung. The companies were working to demonstrate how the technology could serve as a cost effective and faster alternative to FTTH for gigabit home broadband.  

In 2018 the operator scooped up 26 GHz mmWave at Italy’s 5G spectrum auction. Along with 5G FWA, mobile 5G service is expected to be available starting December 27. That includes the cities of Milan, Bologna, Rome, and Naples. Coverage targets aim for 90% of the country’s population by 2025.

5G FWA gains traction

Fixed wireless access itself isn’t new, but the technology has gained renewed attention and interest. That’s been seen at a time when home broadband needs intensified, and the issue of the digital divide became even more pressing this year amid the pandemic.  

Still, a recent presentation by Shiv Putcha, founder and principal analyst at Mandala Insights noted that most operators are still focused on suburban and urban locations rather than rural. The firm projected 5G FWA users to reach nearly 500 million by 2030. 

RELATED: Marek’s Take: Is fixed wireless the answer to bridging the digital divide?

According to GSA, there are already 38 regional and national providers in the U.S. offering LTE-based fixed wireless service.

In the U.S. Verizon offers a mmWave 5G fixed wireless service in about a dozen markets, markets, as well as FWA based on 4G LTE.  T-Mobile too has rolled out an expanded 4G LTE fixed wireless home broadband pilot, with a focused on more rural locations, with plans to offer 5G-based FWA in 2021.

Major vendors are also showing their support. Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia this month joined the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GS) 4G-5G Fixed Wireless Access Forum to advocate for development and uptake of the technology.

RELATED: AT&T’s Igal Elbaz is optimistic about O-RAN, lukewarm about FWA

And while mmWave 5G is usually considered only suited for short-range or dense urban areas, tests involving Qualcomm, alongside operators and vendor partners including Ericsson, have shown how new 5G mmWave CPE can extend the range of high-band mmWave signals.

Earlier this month, for example, Italy’s TIM hit 1 Gbps with Qualcomm and Ericsson using 5G FWA on 26 GHz – at a distance of 6.5 kilometers between device and base station. UScellular, meanwhile, demonstrated viability of mmWave for rural areas, completing an extended range data call over roughly 3 miles at speeds above 100 Mbps.