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Fiber Requirements for 5G

The information and hype of 5G technology is hard to miss. The promise of speed, higher bandwidth capacity, low latency, and 24/7 data collection has just about every CSP (Communication Service Provider) planning their strategy for 5G rollout.

Businesses are poised to take advantage of the promise of IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence), Augmented / Virtual Reality, Gaming, Trading, and countless Industrial Applications. 5G is the promise of an always “ON” wireless world. On-demand all the time.

No more need for fiber right? It’s Wireless!

To the regular consumer that would seem to be the promise. For those of us in the industry, we understand we are about to see an explosion of Fiber Optic cable deployment we haven’t seen since before the Dotcom bubble.

Early deployments of cellular networks relied upon macro towers using a lower wavelength spectrum to cover wide physical areas. Small cells began to augment the coverage with 3G and 4G technology and the networks became more “dense”. 5G uses a different set of higher frequencies that can handle larger amounts of data, but that has a much shorter range. Many additional small cells that cover smaller areas will be required. 5G will make use of higher frequency millimeter waves which provides extremely higher bandwidth with basically no latency. Unfortunately, millimeter waves can only travel about 250 feet.

Today’s 4G networks can theoretically cover approximately 16 to 20 square km. Some plans for 5G have as many as 40 small cells per 1 square km. Do the math and you soon realize the sheer number of small cells required. Each one of these small cells will require power and “Fiber” to connect and integrate into the network. Ultimately the quality and reliability of the ‘Wireless’ network will depend on the ‘Wireline’ Fiber network carrying traffic to and from the 5G small cells.

According to Statista by 2025, the estimate is there will be 75.4 billion connected devices. This number includes both IoT devices and mobile phone where short-range IoT devices are expected to outnumber mobile phones by 2025.

With the densification of small cells growing, the deployment of optic fiber and connection points within the network will grow exponentially. The 5G small cell architecture will bring the fiber backbone closer to the end-user. The success of 5G networks will depend on the availability of a deep fiber backhaul.

An incredible infrastructure will be required to support the growth of these networks. I covered this topic in a two-part series “Let me introduce, Mr. Boring – The Utility Pole” and “The Utility Pole Mr. Boring, gets his Groove back!”

Fiber being the number one option for network backhauls, fiber is also preferred for the front haul portion of the network interconnecting the dense mesh of 5G small cells. Fiber is ideal for 5G’s increased speeds, lower latency, and is immune to electromagnetic interference with unlimited bandwidth.

5G will enable a wave of innovation. It is ironic that the future of 5G wireless will depend on the availability of wireline fiber.

But let’s face it, saying 5G Wireless is sexier!

Doug McCluskey

Network & Broadband Specialist

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