The global 5G race is rapidly heating up, with countries leading in technology battling to roll out their own 5G networks. Already we have seen South Korea announce the world’s first 5G network in April and also the world’s first commercialized set of 5G networks, beating the US by a margin of just two days, as Verizon’s own 5G launch followed suit soon after. The success of South Korea correlates to new findings from A10 Networks that Asia Pacific (APAC) is leading in implementing plans to roll out 5G networks. The region is set to become the world’s largest 5G region by 2025, and according to a GSMA report, mobile operators in Asia will invest almost 200 billion over the next few years to upgrade their 4G networks and launch new 5G networks.
The superfast 5G, or “fifth generation” of mobile internet connectivity, promises up to a 1000 times more bandwidth and up to 10 Gbps per subscriber, as well as an impressive ultra-low latency of less than five milliseconds. One of the areas where 5G technology has the potential to enable accelerated development is the Internet of Things (IoT), the system of interconnected digital devices which is increasingly common in almost all commercial and consumer use cases today; as any connected device that transmits over a network, from a smartphone to the GPS, utilises IoT. 5G technology is expected to provide a network for such connected devices.
5G and IoT demands fiber infrastructure
Before 5G and IoT become ubiquitous technologies in our daily lives, modernization of the current network infrastructure is necessary so that organizations are well-equipped to handle a hyperconnected future, and network operators have a critical role in driving the next generation network.
Areas slated for 5G coverage require large amounts of fiber to be successful, and not just for capacity reasons. It must also meet other lofty 5G performance goals related to network diversity, availability, and coverage; and all these goals are achieved through increasing the number of interconnected paths of fiber.
In a bid to reduce power usage and optimize space utilization, many operators are now transitioning to centralized RAN (C-RAN) architecture where fiber is also playing a key role by providing 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 vital step on the path to cloud RAN, where the BBU functionality will become “virtualized”, allowing for greater elasticity and scalability for future network requirements.
An additional driver for more fiber will be 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), which is now a viable alternative for delivering broadband to consumers. FWA is among the first 5G applications to be deployed and enables wireless carriers to compete for a larger share in the residential broadband market. 5G speeds are fast enough that FWA can be used for streaming home internet traffic, including over-the-top video. Whilst fixed 5G broadband access will be quicker and simpler to deploy than fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), the rate that bandwidth can be turned up is accelerated, which will place greater bandwidth pressures on the network. This means that more and more fiber will be required to handle the demand. Incidentally, network operators who have invested in FTTH networks over the past 10 years have been inadvertently laying the foundation for 5G.
Winning the 5G race
We are at a critical crossroad in the evolution of wireless networks. The release of 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands for 5G has put operators on the fast track to a next generation definition of connectivity, and it is imperative that network operators have the right connectivity strategy that will position their networks for what is to come.
All told, 5G and IoT deployments will require new and extensive fiber networks to meet the high bandwidth and low latency performance requirements. While a few nations may already gain a head start in the 5G race, it is still too soon to proclaim a winner. As the promises of a 5G future for everyday life continues to shine brightly ahead, ensuring the right kind of fiber infrastructure will be crucial in determining which economies will unlock 5G’s limitless potential for its citizens.