The next-generation wireless technology, 5G, has an explosive growth potential, and the demand is brewing. Curiously, the technology has somehow been accompanied by a myth that it could do away with the need for wired networks, even in the backhauls. The reality is the other way round—5G simply cannot achieve its true potential in the absence of anything less than deep fiber.
The 5G promise
Driven by faster speeds, improved performance, and more reliable connectivity, 5G will accelerate adoption of new-age technologies such as augmented reality, smart homes, and machine-to-machine communication.
5G promises a massive uptake of home-delivery drones, remote health monitoring services, and even self-driving cars. A massive amount of real-time data will be collected and shared as 5G fosters and thrives off a deepening digital economy.
For 5G to drive accelerated adoption of new digital applications, it will require ultra-densification of small cells as part of a wholly new network architecture. The existing network architecture, which is designed around macro cells, is ill equipped to handle the bursting flow of mobile traffic that will be generated not just by millions of users but also by billions of IoT- devices.
Deep fiber equals to greater network efficiency
Driven by the potential of offering 10Gbps speed and under 1ms latency, 5G rollouts will result in a massive proliferation of devices. There will be new and exciting applications that will emerge post the 5G rollout, as discussed above.
Many of these applications demand ultra-low latency but ultra-high bandwidth to ensure the desired levels of service and user experience. In order to support these speed and latency requirements, 5G networks will need 10 times more small cells when compared with 4G and up to 250 times more cells when compared with 3G cellular networks, as per various industry sources. Consequently, backhaul networks will need to be significantly augmented to cater to these small cells, and as such 5G needs deep fiberization to achieve its true potential.
While India has about 600,000 telecom towers, just about 15% of them are connected through the optical fiber. In contrast, in countries such as the USA, China, and Japan, about 65% to 80% of telecom towers are connected through the optical fiber. India needs to close this gap to improve its capabilities during the 5G era.
It is often argued in this context that higher 5G frequency bands could very well serve the backhauling needs and thus obviate the need for using fiber.
In reality, many of the frequencies that 5G can use, especially the millimeter waves, suffer from various limitations. Typically, these waves can travel only short distances. Also, they cannot penetrate walls and other concrete structures effectively. As such, 5G users will need to be adequately supported by optical fiber based Wi-Fi offload and other supplementary elements, even inside buildings.
With fiber, telecom service providers can overcome these nagging issues for good.
Choosing the right infrastructure partner
For telecom service providers, 5G promises to initiate new revenue streams but also a host of service-related challenges. It is therefore important to ensure that the underlying fiber infrastructure is of high quality and can deliver uninterrupted performance in the most trying situations.
India is a country that sees wide variations in weather conditions, terrains, and demographic patterns. Moreover, the developing nature of the economy implies that roads are being constructed or augmented on an ongoing basis, while other utility providers like electricity and water-supply companies are also laying their infrastructures alongside the fiber.
The fiber infrastructure should be able to withstand all conditions for years without fail. This requires the fiber to be of highly dependable quality and standard. It should be resilient enough to minimize the need for repairs due to cuts and bends. Overall, it should be able to lower the total cost of ownership for telcos and also future proof their investments in the long run.
By choosing the right fiber types such as bend insensitive fibers and partnering with specialized system integrators and experts, telcos can ensure building dependable and high-speed communication networks with enough capacity for future expansion.
Looking ahead, the network investment in 5G will play a key role in transforming the overall telecom ecosystem. There is a growing realization of fiber’s capabilities to offer more reliable, cost-effective, and faster data transmission.
Globally, it has been observed that those service providers who have expanded their fiber rollouts can gain maximum market share. In the 5G ecosystem, the differential aspect of quality of service will gain ground. By kick starting deep-fiber rollout plans now, telcos will be better placed to maximize their returns on investments.