Wholesale network operators are a mainstay of the American telecommunications landscape, serving a host of other carriers and service providers, including mobile operators. The idea, then, of last mile networks and wholesale mobile backhaul is nothing new. What is new, however, is the surging volume of consumer and enterprise data that is being facilitated by new cellular technologies like 5G. In effect, 5G will completely reshape the telecommunications landscape, putting pressure on existing network infrastructure and providing new business opportunities for wholesale operators. In this blog, we examine how this will happen and the role fiber-based network services can play in helping the wholesale community adjust.
The Effect of 5G on Legacy Networks
As you are likely already aware, 5G promises significant upgrades in terms of data speeds, bandwidth and low latency connections. Compared to current wireless standards like 4G, 5G is arguably a necessity for bringing the world of the Internet of Things (IoT) into its golden era. As the telecommunications industry begins to witness the roll out of preliminary 5G networks, it is worth understanding that the shift to ubiquitous, worldwide 5G coverage is really a two-step process.
The first step in the transition to 5G is achieving what is known as non-standalone coverage. This is basically a response to the realization that, although 4G networks have come a long way being supported by fiber-based backhaul, 5G will require a never-before-seen level of densification of existing networks. This is, of course, due to the higher frequencies that 5G networks use. Compared to the lower frequencies of 4G and its predecessors, these higher ones travel much shorter distances. As a result, in order to avoid signal dissipation and poor service quality, carriers and other operators will have to place cell-sites and antennas much closer together.
Whether we are talking about macro sites, small cells or remote relays, one thing is clear here – the future of 5G depends on fiber-based network solutions. While backhaul immediately comes to mind, the opportunities for wholesale carriers are quite diverse and extensive. After all, every part of the network that connects to the 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) will need up be upgraded to support the surge in traffic that will result from greater 5G rollouts in the coming years.
The Role of Wholesale Fiber Optic Network Solutions in Enabling 5G
As RCR Wireless recently wrote about a Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) convention here in the Eastern US, “5G was all the rage, but…talk of fiber optics was noticeably lacking.” This trend needs to shift because, although RAN and core are important, “none of that works without the fiber.” The bottom line is that 5G architectures will not only require densification but will also demand a greater selection of fiber-based assets to support a variety of use cases including fronthaul, backhaul, network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).
Fiber is critical in enabling 5G and not just for capacity reasons. In order to meet the availability and coverage goals of 5G deployments, operators working with everything from Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to Fiber-to-the-X (FTTx) will need to transform their access networks. As Light Reading has implied, 5G is more than just a technology. It is a shift to a whole new way of deploying network infrastructures.
Wholesale carriers thus face a clear opportunity. Instead of concentrating just on traditional backhaul between a remote tower and a centralized headend, now wholesale operators can offer fronthaul to a multitude of small-cell sites. These include installations like light posts, for example. Also, as existing carriers and cable companies turn to decentralized software-controlled distributed access architectures (DAA), the wholesale community can also benefit from offering Ethernet services and SDN capabilities. This can help solve capital expenditure issues for carriers and service providers who might find investing in dark fiber uneconomical. From fronthaul to backhaul and transport, the role of fiber in supporting 5G is critical.
In short, wholesale operators and fiber providers like DQE Communications are going to be critical pillars of support for 5G in the US. As Ciena notes, “it’s rather ironic that the projected performance goals of 5G wireless will depend on the availability of wireline fiber.” Here at DQE, whether you’re looking for backhaul, CRAN or small cell solutions, we know what it takes to build a reliable network to grow with the demands of the wireless industry.