Fixed wireless continues to climb US broadband charts - Parks

  • FWA adoption in the U.S. reached 7.8M households in Q1
  • Parks Associates Research Director Kristen Hanich said FWA and satellite internet are the "fastest growing" segments in broadband
  • MVNO adoption is also on the rise, as cable mobile offerings are typically cheaper than postpaid mobile plans

Naysayers of fixed wireless access (FWA) be warned – the technology’s usage continues to climb.

According to Parks Associates’ newly launched Broadband Market Tracker, FWA adoption through a mobile network operator hit 7.8 million U.S. residential home internet connections in Q1.

For context, the firm reported 106.3 million U.S. households had home internet service at the end of 2023.

Kristen Hanich, director of research at Parks Associates, told Fierce Network FWA and satellite internet are the “fastest growing” segments of the broadband market, “attracting consumers who were previously unserved or underserved by traditional providers.”

She noted for the past several years, the FWA base has grown by 700,000 to 900,000 subscribers per quarter while cable connections have declined.

Interestingly, two of the largest players in the FWA space – T-Mobile and Verizon – both reported slower growth rates in FWA net adds for the first quarter. In T-Mobile’s case though, the drop from 500,000 to 400,000 net adds per quarter was expected.

Still, T-Mobile in Q1 passed the 5 million mark for FWA subscribers and Verizon reported a total FWA tally of 3.4 million subscribers. These figures include both residential and business FWA customers.

As for fiber, Hanich said the technology is also on an upswing and Parks is seeing “excellent growth in the markets where it is available and high customer satisfaction with the customers who have it.”

“But the numbers are not quite as dramatic as what’s been going on with T-Mobile, Verizon and Starlink,” she said, noting the “growing convergence” of satellite and mobile networks is something else to keep an eye on.

MVNOs rise up

Parks found adoption of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services reached over 15 million residential customer mobile lines in the quarter. In an MVNO model, broadband operators lease spectrum capacity from a wireless network to stand up their own mobile offering.

Why might a consumer use an MVNO service, instead of just sticking to a phone plan separate from broadband?

“It’s largely cost and convenience,” Hanich said.

MVNO plans typically are cheaper than postpaid mobile plans from a major wireless carrier, she explained. For instance, Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile unlimited data plan is “about $15 per month less expensive than T-Mobile, and $20 cheaper than AT&T.”

“It’s also convenient for a customer to sign up for internet and mobile in one place, manage payments in one place, etc.,” she said.

But not all cable subscribers are easily swayed. A recent TD Cowen survey found the main reason cable internet subscribers don’t switch to the ISP’s mobile service is because they like their current wireless provider.

More low-income households now connected

Asked whether the demise of the Affordable Connectivity Program has had any impact on Parks’ findings, Hanich said, “we are concerned that the end of the program will result in households and families needing to disconnect from the internet for financial reasons.”

“For a good percentage of Americans, household budgets have been hit by rising inflation and lower-income families especially are having to cut back,” she said. “Thankfully we are seeing ISPs step up, try and transition people onto other plans and initiatives.”

Separately, NTIA published some findings from its latest Internet Use Survey. Unsurprisingly, internet usage in the U.S. has gone up, with 13 million more people using the internet in 2023 compared to 2021.

But a lot of that usage is coming from lower-income households. Specifically, internet adoption among households making less than $25,000 per year increased from 69% in 2021 to 73% in 2023.

Will this level of adoption change now that ACP’s gone? We’ll be on the lookout.