Fibre-optic deployment is essential for 5G’s success

5G will transform the way we live and work and is predicted to become the technological driver of the 5th Industrial Revolution (4IR). 5G promises to offer unparalleled data capabilities and connectivity that will enable the automation of a wide range of industries including retail, agricultural, and automotive businesses. 

However, 5G will also permit disruptive technologies and thereby create new vulnerabilities in the collection, management, decipherment, and protection of data and cause new cybersecurity issues. 

5G and the near future

The performance goals of 5G are unequalled for wireless networks, but it will not be available extensively until the 2020s. Grounded in the false assumption that 5G will replace fibre optic, currently questions arise of which will be better. However, 5G wireless and fibre optic networks are counterparts and in tandem will offer a more unified Internet experience across fixed and mobile applications. Without 5G, fibre lacks mobility and without fibre, the ground-breaking goals of 5G would be difficult to achieve and a dense fibre network is needed. Thus, the vast expected growth in connectivity and data emplaces fibre as the backbone for 5G effectiveness.

Fibre optics and 5G wireless networks 

Compared to legacy copper systems, fibre optic consists of high-speed wireline networks that offer improved speed, security, and bandwidth. Fibre optic technology is used in long-haul networks since signals can travel as far as 65km without losing strength.

Fibre is increasingly used in urban areas and access networks rather than copper since copper can only transfer a gigabit signal for about 90 metres and a fibre-to-the premises (FTTP) configuration is necessary to avoid losing signal strength. 

5G will function as the mobile fronthaul of a networking system, but Internet traffic will travel mostly across fibre as its backbone and backhaul. The customer experience will be improved by better small cell wireless access points used in 5G, but its quality and reliability will depend on the wireline (fibre) network carrying traffic to and from the 5G small cells.

The evolution of wireless networks 

The new generation wireless technology was preceded by early 20th century devices developed in 1946 by Motorola and Bell System which used the Mobile Telephone Service to connect to calls. This was the first instance of a radio telephony network for commercial use and was referred to as Zero G or 0G. 0G was an analogue telecommunication which required the use of push-pull techniques to connect calls. 

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In 1981, Bell Laboratories introduced the first-generation telecommunication technology called advance mobile phone system (AMPS), a new deployment of first-generation wireless telecommunication. 1G devices used analogue technology with communication on certain frequency bands using Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA). Conversations were full duplex, meaning users could talk and listen at the same time. Devices were equipped with direct dialling and no operator was required to connect a call. 

The second generation (2G) cellular telecom networks were launched on the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja in 1991. After 2G was launched, the previous mobile telephone systems were retrospectively labelled 1G. Phone conversations on 2G networks were digitally encrypted and were significantly more efficient on the spectrum allowing for far greater mobile phone penetration levels, and introduced data services for mobile. 

3G was introduced by NTT DoCoMo in Japan, in 2001. Although initially limited in scope, 3G Technology provides higher data transfer rates and seamless global roaming which enable users to move across borders using the same number and handset. It also allows for previously unavailable services like video calls, video conferencing, online conference call, mobile TV, online gaming, etc.

As the successor of 3G, 4G offers more bandwidth and the Always Best Connected (ABC) character of 4G provides the service with the most suitable network to LTE-Advanced devices, the most prevalent 4G network often referred to as ‘true 4G’ or 4.5G.

The predicted performance goals of 5G wireless networks will outperform previous wireless network generations. 5G wireless networks will provide nearly 100% network availability, less than 1 millisecond latency, 1,000 times the bandwidth and 10 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) speeds. 5G wireless networks will use higher frequency millimetre waves with exponentially higher bandwidth and no latency.

Moving from macro cells to small cells 

4G macro cell towers rely on radio frequency spectrums but will not achieve the growing speed, latency and bandwidth that will be required to meet the demand in coming years. 5G telecoms companies will include modifications to change from large cell towers to low cost, low power small cell sites that will transmit and receive signals from devices within a small coverage area.   

This will bring the fibre backbone closer to the end-user, allowing for use of higher frequency waves and significantly improving the quality of experience when using wireless devices. Full-fibre networks will provide the solution to the challenges of implementing 5G technology.

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