One of my favorite
industry expressions is “there are a lot of wires in wireless.” I recall first
hearing this expression around 10 years ago at a presentation given by a wireless
operator in South East Asia, and those of you that have heard me talk at conferences
would know that this is a term that I continue use on a regular basis.
The explosive and
seemingly insatiable growth in mobile data traffic has made fiber the backhaul connectivity
of choice to serve not only today’s requirements, but also to meet the
following expectations that 5G promises:
- Up to 10Gbps per subscriber
- Up to 100 x connected devices
- 1000 x more bandwidth
- 5 x location density
- Ultra low latency less than 5 milliseconds
CLICK TO TWEET: CommScope's Wes Oxlee explains that the road to 5G is paved with fiber.
In order to reduce
power usage and optimize space utilization at the tower, many operators are now
transitioning to centralized RAN (C-RAN) architecture—and here, too, fiber is playing
a key role by providing the fronthaul connectivity between the centralized broadband
base unit (BBU) and the remote radio head (RRH) located at multiple cell sites
many miles away.
C-RAN offers an
effective way to increase the capacity, reliability and flexibility of the
network while lowering operational costs. It is also a necessary step along the
path to cloud RAN, where the BBU functionality will become “virtualized”—allowing
for greater elasticity and scalability for future network requirements.
Network operators that have
invested in fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks over the past 20 odd years have
unwittingly being laying the foundation for 5G. Most FTTH networks today are using just two
or three wavelengths – one for gigabit passive optical network (GPON)
downstream, one for GPON upstream, and one for video overlay The vast spectrum of Coarse /Dense Wavelength Division
Multiplexing (C/DWDM) wavelengths remain unused, and hence can
be utilized for wireless applications.
operators can use the same fiber strand but keep cell site traffic and
residential GPON traffic on different wavelengths. Passive C/DWDM modules are
put at both ends of the fiber to combine/separate the different wavelengths.
Alternatively, you can keep traffic on separate fiber strands and design the
connectivity at the hubs and closures to appropriately route the traffic.
An additional driver
for more fiber will be 5G fixed wireless access, which is being utilized by
some operators as another option for delivering broadband to consumers in their
homes and small business. Whilst fixed 5G broadband access will be quicker and
simpler to deploy than FTTH, the rate that bandwidth can be turned up is
accelerated, which will exacerbate bandwidth pressures on all parts of the network.
This means that more and more fiber will be required in order to handle this.
metro, long haul, and trans continental networks today are fiber-based, and
they have proven that they can scale to meet the growth in bandwidth by
utilizing the latest generation of optical transmission technologies. The
access network though still has a significant amount of copper, wireless and
microwave technology deployed. Areas targeted for 5G coverage require lots of
fiber to be successful, and not just for capacity reasons. It must also meet
other rather formidable 5G performance goals related to network diversity,
availability, and coverage since all three of these goals are achieved through
a greater number of interconnected paths of fiber.
In order to
achieve the performance goals promised by 5G, the adage “lots of wires in wireless”
is stronger every day -- and those wires are fiber.
If you want to learn more about this subject, then download our Understanding the RF Path eBook today.