Why fiber is best for 5G transport

As 5G investment accelerates, what will it mean for the wired infrastructure carrying 5G traffic to data centers, the cloud and the edge? Here’s what operators need to consider to ensure they have the transport architecture in place to seize the opportunities of 5G.
Arthur Cole
Traffic streaks

True 5G mobile service is rapidly approaching, and this is causing mobile carriers, telecom providers and enterprises to shore up their edge infrastructure to take full advantage of the countless new opportunities this technology enables.

While 5G services are already up and running in major cities around the globe, most of these are being carried on 4G LTE infrastructure, which is good but not as good as a fully 5G network. The problem with 5G, however, is that while it provides greater bandwidth and faster throughput, it is distance-limited to about 1,000 feet, which means the world will require a much denser array of 5G cells than it currently employs for 4G.

Ready to launch

According to Stratistics Market Research, the global 5G infrastructure market is set to pop from about USD 770 million today to more than USD 46 billion by 2027, a compound annual growth rate of about 67%. Only part of this spend will represent the mobile portion of the 5G network, however. Equally important is the wired infrastructure that will carry 5G data to numerous processing and storage centers in the data center, the cloud and the edge.

In part, this network will foster the movement of core processing and storage capabilities to edge devices. While this transition is already underway as part of the overall internet of things initiative, it’s expected to kick into high gear as 5G begins to incorporate critical real-time services like autonomous vehicles and telemedicine. 

Two key attributes to this new layer of network infrastructure are scalability and agility. The 5G universe is expected to generate copious amounts of free-flowing data designed to accommodate mobile users on the go. To that end, edge devices will need to exhibit a number of innovative design options, including:

  • A merged fronthaul/backhaul design with high sync and timing capabilities
  • Streamlined footprints for unobtrusive placement in populated areas
  • Rugged housing to withstand extreme weather conditions
  • Ultra-low latency on the order of sub-10ms performance
  • Future-proof technology that can be serviced and upgraded remotely

Much of the heavy lifting to implement this infrastructure will fall to the mobile network operator (MNO). The fundamental question is how best to design the transport network, with the three leading technologies being fiber, microwave and millimeter wave.


Any solution must be future-proof and capable of delivering optimal service with minimal changes to the physical footprint.


Fiber transport

While it may seem like the quickest way to deploy transport architecture is through microwave, providers should give serious consideration to fiber for a number of reasons. First, fiber can provide a unified solution for small cell, macro cell and massive MIMO architectures for both 4G and 5G services. At the same time, it supports Carrier Ethernet with 1, 10, 25 and 100Gbit/s interfaces, along with full aggregation, service OAM, synchronization and robust security features.

In addition, fiber can support rapid fronthaul through the use of Ethernet NIDs with an underlying open line system (OLS), all of which enables the rapid introduction of new and advanced services without adding latency to the overall framework. And finally, unlike enterprise-level switches, CE can deliver full line rate services, withstand industrial temperature ranges and support tunable wavelengths and end-to-end monitoring.

As with any project of this magnitude, it always helps to side with a trusted expert with a proven track record of successful outcomes. At the same time, any solution must be future-proof and capable of delivering optimal service with minimal changes to the physical footprint.

As the 5G environment unfolds, users that are already accustomed to on-demand service will have even less patience for lost signals, slow or choppy performance or, worst of all, loss of data. Organizations that implement the right network infrastructure today will find themselves well-positioned to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity that 5G represents heading into the future.

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