The Road to 5G is Paved with Good (Fiber) Intentions

By: Johnny Hill

There is no doubt that the advent of 5G will soon be upon us and everyone from service providers to customers are excited about the potential of what 5G can bring to the table. For service providers in particular, it is the ability to meet the increasingly high bandwidth demands from their customers.

In a world that is dominated by the need to access high quality video and applications from anywhere at any time, service providers are grasping at any solution that might provide a wider pipeline for bandwidth and speed. That is where the potential of 5G comes into play and becomes an increasingly attractive option as leverage to meet customer demands. As with any transformative technology, however, comes the growing pains and the need to update how service providers create the infrastructure to support such radical change.  

According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, global mobile traffic data grew 74 percent in 2015, reaching 3.7 exabytes per month by the end of 2015—up from 2.1 exabytes per month for 2014. The Cisco VNI also predicts that, by 2020, mobile traffic data in North America alone will grow 6-fold, compounding at an annual growth rate of 42 percent. Additionally, American research and advisory firm, Gartner, Inc. predicts that 20.8 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, compared to the estimated 6.4 billion that are connected today. These are just a few of the stats and figures that are driving the market to push so aggressively for the implementation of 5G. The transition to this new form of wireless technology will not be an easy one though, and will require new innovations from the fiber community. 

Reaching the minimum 1Gbps speeds that 5G promises to achieve isn’t the only driving factor toward fully implementing 5G. Consider the amount of connected devices in a single home – from PCs, tablets and smartphones, to connected refrigerators, thermostats, lights, security systems, etc. All of these devices and services need dedicated bandwidth and high speeds to stay constantly connected. As more and more consumers add these devices to their homes and we begin to fully realize the Gartner prediction of 20.8 billion connected devices in the next three years, the bigger will be the expectation of what 5G can and should do. 

The point is, the technology needs to work, and it needs to be ready to tackle the immense challenges the consumer and service providers will require of it. The only way the 5G revolution can occur is if service providers embrace the role that fiber will play. Fiber will be the backbone that 5G will use to ensure that acceptable bandwidth is available to the consumer from both an upstream and downstream standpoint. According to the Cisco VNI report, mobile offload exceeded cellular traffic for the first time in 2015. Fixed networks were utilized to handle nearly 51 percent of the total mobile data traffic, which works out to about 3.9 exabytes of data being offloaded onto the fixed network each month. 5G will need a robust wireline infrastructure in place in order to meet the expected amount of offloaded data from wireless network users.

The “always-on consumer” will not accept a lack of access to the high speeds and bandwidth 5G promises because the legacy wired network cannot handle the amount of traffic being placed upon it. Service providers will require a fiber infrastructure that meets the needs of not only the customer, but also the wireless network itself, and provides that allocated bandwidth for offloading data within a short distance. The key will be the implementation of “small cell” configuration to help increase the network’s capacity and density, which will support backhaul from the sites themselves.


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