5G wireless needs lots of fibre

5G, the next generation wireless technology, promises speedier seamless connectivity of more and inventive devices and represents a significant evolution of today’s 4G LTE networks. It has been designed to meet the demands of the large growth in data and the realisation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and future innovations and a truly connected world. 

5G with its low latency and increased connectivity will enable a new generation of applications, services, and business opportunities only imagined before. Virtual and augmented realities will be within the reach of everyone with the new and emerging technologies providing connected experiences that were not possible earlier.

While 5G wireless architecture would seemingly eliminate the need for fibre cables, the opposite is the case. The future success of 5G substantially depends on fibre and to be fully functional, 5G needs it as the best future-proof choice capable of transmitting data over a long distance and high bandwidth. Hence, fibre is significant in increasing the speed and performance of 5G.

The overall Quality of Experience (QoE) and Quality of Service (QoS) of mobile users, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will be improved by adopting small cells, or strategically placed radios closer to users. The small cells are backhauled over copper, air (millimetre waves or mmWaves), or fibre. While all three options are used to differing degrees, the choice is based on economic, environmental, and geographic location and application. Because fibre is scalable, secure, and often the most cost-effective, it is the preferred option. On a worldwide basis, fibre-optic backhaul is expected to grow to 40.2% of microcell sites by 2025.

As with other wireless connections, 5G operates on a radio spectrum, but with low-band, mid-band, or high-band spectrum options. High-band spectrum (mmWave) delivers the highest performance for 5G and can offer peak speeds up to 10Gbps with extremely low latency. However, that it has a low coverage area and building penetration is poor meaning that to create an effective high-band network, lots of cells are needed. 

Fibre will thus remain the data-transport backbone of the network, embedded in submarine and terrestrial cables, data centres, and transmission lines running to wireless transmitters and to buildings. Fibre will also be preferred for what is known as ‘fronthaul’ or connecting the dense mesh of 5G small cells. Increased speeds with lower attenuation, immunity to electromagnetic interference, small size, and virtually unlimited bandwidth potential are among the many reasons why fibre is the right choice. 

4G vs 5G Speeds

5G networks will work in conjunction with 4G networks by using a range of macro cells, small cells and dedicated in-building systems. Small cells are mini base stations intended for localised coverage of 10 metres to a few hundred metres linked to a larger macro network since mmWave frequencies generated by the small cells have a very short connection range. A typical modern macrocell is served by a 1GbE packet-based optical Mobile Backhaul (MBH) – the process of connecting cell site air interfaces to wireline networks. 

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Although the typical traffic over this 1GbE wireline is about 200Mbps to 300Mbps, the total aggregate bandwidth consumed by all of the concurrent mobile users to a typical macrocell is roughly equivalent to the maximum theoretical download speed of a single LTE-Advanced (Release 8) user connection. Although current MBH networks may suffice for 4G today, the promised access speeds of 5G is likely going to overload existing MBH networks quickly.

5G for Fixed Broadband

In traditional Internet setups, a cable is connected to a router in a household which a user can connect wirelessly to devices. With fixed wireless, there are no cables required and a ‘fixed’ antenna is installed on the house, like a DSTV satellite dish. This antenna creates a wireless connection with a nearby wireless tower. 

When the fixed antenna receives the signal, it transfers data through a short cable and into the house, where it can link up to a router or other device as needed. True fixed wireless 5G will have speeds that are comparable to current average Internet speeds of approximately 30Mbps to 300Mbps depending on the location and service being offered.

Need for Fibre

To achieve the promised diversity, availability, and coverage by wider deployment of smaller cell sites/distributed antenna systems (DAS), more fibre will be needed worldwide because copper or air options will not be sustainable. Consequently, 5G wireless and fibre will go hand in hand and its implementation will depend on the availability of fibre infrastructure. 

5G will be an evolution of current networks and its impact will be significant. The possibilities are virtually unlimited, but a smart, fibre-deep infrastructure will be paramount to making the vision real. 5G’s characteristic higher data speeds, throughputs and formidable network performance goals are heavily predicated on a massive availability of fibre connectivity.

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