Fiber Fuels It All —
The reality of a fully connected world is nearly upon us. People and companies are leveraging gigabit speeds to do more, accomplish more, and connect more fully with the world around them. Transforming the way businesses operate, kids learn, and how we entertain ourselves and our families. Quite simply, our lives are now shaped by the ability to connect.
From telemedicine to self-driving cars, 5G and the applications it enables will be transformative. It will deliver faster speeds, better performance, and more reliable services, redefining what we interpret as a seamless experience.
But in the midst of this wireless revolution, fiber networks running underground and along the poles are what will truly enable carriers to reliably and continuously support all the devices, and the increasingly complex and latency-sensitive types of data that will flow over the network to and from homes and businesses.
Currently, carriers are touting their plans for 5G rollouts at unprecedented rates. This will place a tremendous strain on existing wired infrastructure that will be crucial for supporting fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul services. To fully maximize this opportunity and to ensure networks are equipped for the dramatic increase in wireless coverage 5G will demand, wireless operators need to leverage advances in Small Cell deployments and distributed antenna systems (DAS) as a critical component of their arsenal.
Small Cells and DAS Requirements
Small cells help boost an area of weak coverage within a macro cell network by offloading traffic normally handled by the macro cell. They also help the carrier get closer to the customer to ensure the optimal customer experience.
Since the goal is to move the wireless signal onto a fiber as quickly as possible, this requires fiber be deployed deeper into the network. Only then can the carrier adhere to the strict latency and reliability requirements of 5G.
While fiber for backhaul is key in the 5G era, it will also play a critical role in fronthaul and midhaul as well. Fiber will be deployed to the top of the tower as a fronthaul connection in the radio area network (RAN).
As 5G networks advance, it is expected that carriers will look to move the location of the radio control closer to the core of the network (i.e., CRAN) instead of having it collocated at the base of the tower. When carriers look to make this type of transition, having fiber ready will be a necessity.
Overcoming the challenges of providing signal in large buildings, stadiums, and more, DAS will be vital for facilities looking to benefit from 5G. To facilitate this, single-mode fiber cabling will be required to replace traditional coax copper connections in DAS networks. This mirrors the same type of fiber management needed in the mass market PON environment.
For both small cells and DAS, the hand-off from transport to antenna locations is the last, and often the most challenging, section of the deployment as it often requires a technician to work near road traffic and other hazards. Allowing for quick and easy access to these wireless sites is important to ensure that the carrier gets fiber where it’s needed, including to cell towers, buildings, and wireless antenna sites. Ideally, carriers will look to deploy a solution that requires the least amount of technician time in the field so they can further reduce the time and money required for service turn up.
According to McKinsey & Company’s report, The Road to 5G: The Inevitable Growth of Infrastructure Cost, “When network upgrades are no longer sufficient to support the increased traffic, operators will need to build new macro sites or small cells. That point in time will vary by location, but simulations show that most operators will need to embark on significant new build-out between 2020 and 2025. That shift will be the primary driver behind network cost increases.”
The report states that without additional 5G spectrum and investment, some US carriers will run out of capacity to meet increased demand in at least 50% of sites by 2020.
Of course, these deployments take time and planning.
• In 2018, T-Mobile announced a partnership to deploy additional small cells within their existing footprint and to light up small cells in new markets, helping it to enhance and prepare for 5G network deployments.
• In the fall of 2019, Verizon announced it was planning to use 5G to power automation and quality assurance in what they have called the “factory of the future.” This test case looks at how the factory of the future can leverage “5G to dramatically speed data collection, allow machines to communicate with each other in near real time, and wirelessly track and inspect inventory using 5G-connected cameras. They will also test how 5G can improve the function of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) by helping them move more efficiently around the factory floor.” This use case will require fiber throughout the facility to connect all the devices for both fronthaul and backhaul of the data.
While these innovative services are delivered over the wireless network, they share a common need for fiber to support the bandwidth-intensive applications that these services will carry. A robust fiber infrastructure for backhaul, midhaul, and fronthaul, needs to be carefully planned and developed so that carriers can maximize the opportunity, minimize the risk, and realize the fastest possible return on investment as these services are launched.
Given that many of these services will initially target dense, urban environments, understanding the challenges with deploying smalls cells and DAS networks will greatly ease network rollouts. It is estimated that 5G will require up to a tenfold increase in the density of cellular antennas within the same geography compared to previous generations in order for carriers to realize the full revenue potential of 5G, which we see as the tipping point for fiber network densification.
Because small cells and DAS deployments should leverage single-mode fiber cabling, a sound fiber management strategy is needed for these applications. Clearfield and other manufacturers can offer network operators field-proven solutions designed to reduce the high labor costs associated with deploying, managing, protecting, and scaling, small cell and DAS deployments to support wide-spread 5G deployments.
To read, and to download, McKinsey & Company’s report, The Road to 5G: The Inevitable Growth of Infrastructure Cost, please visit https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/the-road-to-5g-the-inevitable-growth-of-infrastructure-cost.