Point-to-multipoint might not be as eye-catching as augmented reality or driverless cars, but it will probably be most consumers’ first taste of next-generation mobile tech.

When discussing 5G services, talk typically turns to futuristic examples like augmented reality, driverless cars, or remote surgery.

But for Cambridge Broadband Networks Ltd (CBNL), the humble fixed wireless broadband service represents the most compelling early 5G use case.

That isn’t surprising to hear, given CBNL supplies equipment for point-to-multipoint (PMP) networks running on millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum, but that doesn’t hide the fact that in the last 12-18 months, the company has built 25 pre-5G networks in the U.S. alone.

"What we hear again and again from our customers is that fixed-wireless represents an excellent business case for 5G," said John Naylon, CTO and co-founder of CBNL.

"By building area coverage…you have the potential to illuminate hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses or homes," he told Total Telecom this week. "That gives you a ready pool of subscribers who are very willing in most cases to switch from existing suppliers or who would otherwise be unable to access the kind of high data-rate services that we can offer."

Fibre ultimately offers higher capacity, but fixed wireless performance over mmWave "is comparable," Naylon said, pointing out that the return on investment on a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network can take as long as seven years, whereas the ROI on a PMP network is more like 12-13 months.

So why should an operator roll out fixed wireless 5G, rather than a mobile 5G service?

From a technical point of view, today it is easier to connect a static terminal using mmWave than a mobile terminal that moves between cells, or might be attached to a fast-moving vehicle, Naylon said, because of the propagation and attenuation characteristics of mmWave.

From a business case point of view, offering fixed wireless services over an mmWave PMP network can represent a whole new revenue stream for players that don’t already have a home broadband proposition, he said.

"Fixed wireless represents an opportunity for revenue growth," he said.

"Operators look at the transition from 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G and say ‘well, we spent billions and billions of dollars on those network upgrades and we didn’t see an increase in ARPU (average revenue per user) at all. That doesn’t look great; what can we do, as we move from 4G to 5G, to ensure that we see some revenue growth as well just spending a load of money on new infrastructure?’," Naylon said.

The importance of mmWave spectrum was thrown into sharp relief this week when AT&T agreed to acquire Straight Path in a deal worth $1.6 billion. Straight Path holds nationwide 28-GHz and 39-GHz spectrum.

"The straight path acquisition really underscores the value of the spectrum," Naylon said.

In October 2016, CBNL won a deal to supply network equipment running on Straight Path spectrum to Windstream, as part of the telco’s effort to expand its fixed wireless network.

"It’s exciting for us…that a company like AT&T would make such a significant investment," said Naylon. "We’re watching that with great interest."