In this debut of a monthly column by Fiber Broadband Association executives and members, President and CEO Heather Burnett Gold shares the tangible value fiber plays to cities as they prepare for 5G.
This month, the Federal Communications Commission's Brendan Carr has been laser-focused on making communities 5G ready, because, according to the Commissioner, advancing 5G deployments in the US could add 3 million new jobs, $275 billion in private sector network investment and add $500 billion to the GDP.
Also this month, we have additional evidence for a key contributor to our 5G future: fiber infrastructure. Research firm RVA just released a study showing that smart city applications and small cell activity are ramping up in cities -- especially in midsized and large cities -- where fiber-to-the-premise rollouts are either completed or underway. This new research underscores what the Fiber Broadband Association has been saying for some time: fiber is key to 5G and communities and operators with fiber assets may be well ahead of the 5G curve.
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"Where there is no existing fiber, only 33% of communities reported small cell activity, versus 60% in cities with fiber to the residence," writes Heather Burnett Gold, president and CEO of Fiber Broadband Association.
The researchers behind "Status of U.S. Small Cell/ 5G and Smart City Applications From The Community Perspective" interviewed 176 community leaders including elected officials, local and state telecommunications officers and local and regional planning professionals. The communities surveyed -- of various sizes across the United States -- had above average fiber deployment rates compared with similarly situated communities. And these communities had a higher level of community involvement in those deployments compared with the national average. For example, 72% of cities surveyed had fiber to city assets completed or in progress -- of which nearly 60% of assets were deployed by the city itself. Fiber to the business assets had been deployed in 61% of cities, and 43% had fiber directly to residential consumers, of which 18% were deployed by the city. That 18% is well above average: nationally, only 3% of cities with 1,000 people or more deploy fiber to residents themselves.
The promise of 5G wireless is great -- and, indeed, it is essential to widespread adoption of smart city technologies -- but so are the challenges to network deployment. For 5G to work well, and to provide multi-gigabit service to many users and applications, these small cells must be connected to hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of miles of new fiber optic cable. To put it in perspective, we’ll need 265,448 more miles of fiber cable to provide full 5G service to the top 25 urban areas in the United States alone. Areas targeted for 5G coverage will also require lots of fiber to be successful; not just for capacity reasons, but also to meet other performance goals related to network diversity, availability, and coverage, since all three goals are achieved through a greater number of interconnected paths of fiber.
We've guessed that communities with fiber would be 5G-ready earlier than others, and this newest research shows that to be the case. Over one-third of surveyed communities reported small cell activity -- installation is taking place in 44% of communities and under consideration in another 26% -- and fiber deployment is highly correlated with this activity. The results are stark: where there is no existing fiber, only 33% of communities reported small cell activity, versus 60% in cities with fiber to the residence.
The research found that this correlation also holds true for smart city applications. The larger your city's population size and the more fiber your city has, the more smart city applications you will have, too. In small communities, you can see the impact of fiber: while just 5% of communities without fiber pursued smart city applications, 47% of cities with residential fiber and a population under 49,999 people were involved in smart city applications.
Fiber is a key step in getting cities ready for 5G, a step many cities are already taking. Cities like Detroit are incorporating fiber investments into broader efforts to revitalize their communities and local economies. In fact, smart city pioneers gather in Detroit in just a few weeks, to discuss how fiber fits into their smart cities insights during the Fiber Broadband Association regional conference on April 17 and 18.
Only time will tell how American cities will continue to use their fiber-fed 5G headstart.
— Heather Burnett Gold, President & CEO, Fiber Broadband Association