As the immediate buzz from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) dies down and the telecom and tech worlds prepare for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, conversations continue to center on 5G and the next-generation Internet of Things (IoT) applications it will enable. Self-driving cars. 8K TVs. VR glasses. Wearables we haven't even yet invented.
There is ample reason for this excitement: 5G will provide gigabit speeds, sub-one-millisecond latency and the capacity to connect an astonishing 2.5 million devices per square mile.
So yes, 5G is exciting, but it's not quite here yet and it is, unfortunately, causing a lot of confusion about our future networks. Some people seem to believe 5G will replace the need for fiber broadband. Far from it. I've said it once and I'll say it again: 5G needs fiber.
Much of the 5G conversation centers on 5G spectrum, but the airwaves will only play a part in the 5G puzzle. As Wired reported, 5G involves not only spectrum, but also "lowly cable." That is in part because 5G will use higher-spectrum frequencies than 4G. These millimeter-wave frequencies are able to transmit much more data, but they have short ranges and can have difficulty penetrating certain materials. Because of this, small cell transmitters must be installed close together -- as close as 200 feet apart. Fiber will connect these small cells to each other. In fact, to provide multi-gigabit wireless service to many users, IoT devices and apps we must deploy hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of miles of new fiber optic cable. Our wireless infrastructure requires that we extend fiber deep into the network to make 5G work.
Densifying the Network With Fiber
5G requires fiber for densification -- many, many miles of fiber.
(Source: Fiber Broadband Association)
For 5G in particular, the connection between small cells and macrocells will ideally be made with fiber. Copper provides insufficient bandwidth. Microwave can help in areas where the geography or other factors prohibit laying fiber, but ultimately it is not a scalable solution to meet the vast scope of 5G. Fiber, therefore, is the best choice for serving the increased number of wireless serving points that small cells will create at the needed bandwidth.
The industry agrees. From in-building wireless experts to FCC leadership to DAS systems providers to city and state officials, everyone concurs that fiber is the underlying critical infrastructure to make this all work. In September, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said the company must build 1,400 miles of fiber each month over the next couple of years to build out the network it needs for nationwide 5G. Stated Vestberg: "The fiber deployment for us was extremely important" in 5G preparation and deployment."
I've said it once and I'lll say it again: We can't have wireless without wires and we can't have 5G without fiber.
— Lisa R. Youngers is President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), the only all-fiber trade association in the Americas. Follow them on Twitter @fiberbroadband.