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5G FWA is a game-changer for broadband services in Italy

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by Andrey Popov (author) and Giulio Sinibaldi (technical data)

 

In this report, Opensignal delves into the current state of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology in Italy, with emphasis on the promising emergence of 5G FWA as a solution to close the digital divide and meet the country's connectivity goals. 

 

Key takeaways:

  • Our data shows that the transition from LTE-based FWA to 5G FWA has significantly improved speed and service quality for FWA users. 
  • 5G FWA and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) provide statistically equivalent levels of service quality, both substantially higher than other solutions in the market.
  • Unlike other technologies, 5G FWA maintains its service quality throughout the day, including peak evening hours. This suggests that the current infrastructure is built to accommodate substantially more users before degradation in experience is observed.
  • There is a strong market dynamic towards 5G FWA emerging as an alternative to traditional broadband technologies in Italy. It is particularly effective at reaching "white areas" or regions with low population density that have been traditionally underserved by existing broadband infrastructure.

 

 

5G FWA rivals FTTH in Consistent Quality

In this analysis, we have analyzed Opensignal data measured from real-world readings taken by our users across Italy. We looked at how the measured experience differed while the users were connected to different access technologies: Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), 5G Fixed Wireless Access (5G FWA), and Fiber-to-the-Cabinet / xDSL (FTTC/xDSL) broadband lines.

 

Within each of the separate access technology segments, we have included all broadband providers offering the listed access technology in the market. Specifically, for 5G FWA the included providers are EOLO, Linkem (inc. Tiscali), Vodafone, Fastweb, and WindTre. Within 5G FWA we have identified that the segment is split into providers that are operating 5G networks that are shared with mobile customers (Vodafone, Fastweb, WindTre), and those operating 5G networks used purely to deliver 5G FWA services (EOLO, Linkem). Using the Q1 2024 figures published by the regulator AGCOM – the total number of FWA subscribers for Vodafone, WindTre, and Fastweb stand at 213k, 76k, and 70k, respectively. These figures account for 0.7%, 0.3% and 1.9% of total SIM cards in the mobile market of these operators, respectively.

 

 

Although the speeds with 5G FWA don’t match those seen by our users on FTTH lines, our data highlights a more compelling aspect for 5G FWA: how consistently our users receive high-quality service. This is quantified by the Consistent Quality metric, which is represented as the percentage of tests where the experience passed our defined quality thresholds. Our users on 5G FWA achieve statistically equivalent Consistent Quality with FTTH in the range of 79.9-80.3%, which is substantially higher than the 73.7% measured on FTTC/xDSL. Our users on 5G FWA also have measurably faster experience than those seen on FTTC/xDSL connections. Download speeds on 5G FWA are 3% faster, averaging 56.3Mbps, compared to 54.4Mbps on FTTC/xDSL, while upload speeds are 20% faster, reaching 24.3Mbps versus 20.2Mbps. 

 

 

Furthermore, 5G FWA users experience no significant change in service quality throughout the day, maintaining a share of around 79.3-80.9% of user tests that pass our quality thresholds. In contrast, FTTH and FTTC/xDSL technologies show a decline in service quality among our users on average during the evening hours (18:00 – 23:59). Specifically, FTTH drops by nearly 7% and FTTC/xDSL decreases by nearly 5%. This highlights the strength of 5G FWA networks in keeping the user experience consistent during busy hours, unlike the compared broadband networks that struggle with increased evening traffic. The capacity of 5G FWA to manage heavy traffic indicates that it can handle an inflow of new customers, which is expected as the technology is rapidly gaining adoption. Still, as the market continues to develop it will require continual investment to ensure the 5G networks grow in capacity and continue to offer consistent quality of experience.

 

 

While LTE-based forms of wireless broadband access have been a vital source of connectivity in rural Italy, and still represent a large share of the FWA market, the emergence of 5G FWA now offers a completely different level of experience compared to the legacy service. 5G FWA offers download speeds which are more than double those seen on FWA in Italy as a whole, and upload speeds nearly three times faster. The significant uplift is also evident in Consistent Quality — with a share of our user’s tests recording sufficient experience in 80.3% of cases on 5G FWA, compared to the 65% for FWA as a whole. 

 

5G FWA is now a key part of the broadband mix in Italy

Italy is currently pursuing ambitious goals of offering download speeds of up to 1Gbps and upload speeds of up to 200Mbps to 8.5 million out of 26 million households by 2026. These aggressive targets are supported by significant grants from the government as well as the European Commission, including those directed to 5G networks specifically .

 

At the end of last year, 4.2 million residential lines in Italy were still served with marketed broadband speeds of under 100Mbps – according to the Q1 2024 figures published by the regulator AGCOM – a segment of consumers that can greatly benefit from new connectivity options. The importance of 5G FWA has already been well emphasized by the largest broadband providers' efforts to use the technology to target areas of lower population density, so called “white areas” of the country. 

 

 

FWA accounted for over 11% of Italy's broadband market last year, representing more than 2.1 million connections. The sector has also shown substantial YoY growth of nearly 8%. Currently, the FWA market in Italy is gaining further momentum, with several strategic initiatives underway to leverage millimeter wave (mmWave) technology.

 

One of those, is the AGCOM’s approval of a deal which allowed Open Fiber, a wholesale provider, to lease 5G frequencies in the 26GHz band from Iliad. This initiative primarily aims to target rural areas, deliberately excluding provincial capitals from the arrangement.

 

In one of the most recent developments, Fastweb and EOLO established a strategic partnership to begin using Fastweb’s mmWave assets in the 26GHz band, that the company acquired in 2018 but which had stayed dormant since then. The potential network speeds are marketed as being able to reach 1Gbps by both companies. Since 2018, Fastweb has been using the 3.5GHz spectrum band to deliver its 5G FWA services, while EOLO has historically used WiMAX technology before switching to proprietary ‘EOLOwave’ that operates in a license-free spectrum band. EOLO has the largest FWA reach in the country, with around 650k connections, as reported by AGCOM.

 

Concluding outlook

5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is becoming a preferred broadband choice for households for reasons that extend beyond quality of network experience. Such reasons include quicker service delivery, better contract terms, superior equipment quality and competitive pricing, according to a recent Ericsson report published in 2024. In the same report, Ericsson cites findings from its 2023/2024 survey of 19 markets that states that over two thirds (69%) of respondents who subscribe to 5G FWA now use it their main source of broadband, a rapid increase from a year prior where the same figure stood at just around half of the respondents (53%). 

 

Opensignal has deep insight into the real-world fixed broadband experience, which can be used to inform commercial decision-making and better compare how ISPs compare against each other. For more information on how Opensignal can aid both your network and marketing operations, please contact us.