Next-generation wireless technology: The very fibre of 5G success

By: |
December 22, 2020 5:30 AM

In the 5G ecosystem, the differential aspect of service-quality will gain ground. By kick-starting deep-fibre rollout plans now, telcos will be better placed to maximise their returns on investments

In reality, many of the frequencies that 5G can use, especially the millimetre waves, suffer from various limitations.In reality, many of the frequencies that 5G can use, especially the millimetre waves, suffer from various limitations.

The next-generation wireless technology, 5G, has 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 fibre.

The 5G promise
Driven by faster speeds, improved performance, and more reliable connectivity, 5G will accelerate the 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 wholly new network architecture. The existing network architecture, which is designed around macrocells, 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 fibre 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-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 fiberisation to achieve its true potential.

While India has about 600,000 telecom towers, just about 15% of them are connected through the optical fibre. In contrast, in countries such as the US, China, and Japan, about 65% to 80% of telecom towers are connected through the optical fibre. 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 fibre.

In reality, many of the frequencies that 5G can use, especially the millimetre 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 fibre based Wi-Fi offload and other supplementary elements, even inside buildings.

With fibre, 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 fibre 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 fibre.

The fibre infrastructure should be able to withstand all conditions for years without fail. This requires the fibre to be of highly dependable quality and standard. It should be resilient enough to minimise 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 fibre types such as bend-insensitive fibres and partnering with specialised 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 realisation of fibre’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 fibre rollouts can gain maximum market share. In the 5G ecosystem, the differential aspect of the quality of service will gain ground. By kick-starting deep-fibre rollout plans now, telcos will be better placed to maximise their returns on investments.

The writer is CEO, Connectivity Solutions
Views are personal

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