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Optical Fiber and 5G

May. 19, 2022

Fiber and 5G must go hand in hand for us to take full advantage of 5G technology. As devices evolve, the precise needs for fiber optic cable between cellular base stations and broadband end consumers will also evolve. What won't change is the desire for bandwidth in the post-COVID world, so fiber optic cable and 5G will continue to exist.


Why 5G and fiber optic cable are critical to moving forward

As the U.S. has struggled to achieve adequate broadband coverage in the COVID era, with Zoom sessions, gaming and streaming entertainment clogging up bandwidth and frustrating consumers, it's natural for everyone to look forward to moving wireless access forward to the 5G New Radio (5G NR ) standard - defined by the industry consortium defined by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

The 5G revolution will bring us the most reliable and fastest Internet services to date. This will require the most reliable fiber optic cables on the market. Consider, for example, how data-only transmission speed requirements will change as we enhance wireless access.


EraType of Access DataTransfer Speeds
1980’sAnalog Voice14.4 kilobits/sec
1990’sDigital VoiceBelow 0.5 megabits/sec
2000’sMobile Data5-15 megabits/sec
2010’sMobile Internet100 megabits-1 gigabit/sec
2020’s5G1-10 gigabits/sec

If all goes according to plan, 5G will take us to a fully connected society, whether for industrial success, commerce or the daily lives of citizens. 5G will be present everywhere, whether in smart buildings and cities, providing better healthcare through robotics and early diagnosis, or transforming traffic flow through self-driving cars and traffic/parking systems.

Key issues that need to be addressed

The key areas that need improvement in order to achieve everything envisioned by the 5G revolution are

● Continuing the drive for higher data transfer rates

● Driving lower latency

● Aiming for the highest levels of reliability

● Extend battery life, and

● Connect more devices as we migrate to IoE

With these areas covered, edge computing can continue to push the frontiers of possibility to their logical extremes.


Multi-fibers Armored Optical Fiber Cable(4~12 fibers)


Some limitations of 5G ...... and solutions

Looking at the data transfer speeds in the wireless access table above, it is important to remember that the download speeds listed here correspond to millimeter waves in the higher frequency band of 24-47 GHz, possibly as high as 54 GHz, compared to wired Internet.

5G can also achieve seconds in the low band (600-900 Mbit/s, slightly better than 4G, with download speeds of 30-250 Mbit/s) and in the medium band (2.3-4.7 GHz, with download speeds of 100-900 Mbit/s)). In many cases, the mid-band has been chosen for the U.S. region, with each base station providing several miles of coverage.

To obtain the more limited range millimeter waves in the higher bands, more small cells are needed to achieve their goals. This has several implications.

● The cost of high-band 5G is much higher than the mid-band option.

● The current thinking is that high-band 5G will be deployed primarily in high-density urban areas and in high-traffic venues such as convention centers and stadiums.

● A key issue to date is that 5G has proven to have limited ability to penetrate solid surfaces, be it walls, double glazing or leaves. This has caused problems, especially in densely populated urban areas.

The requirement for high-band 5G is similar to the last-mile problem of the thirst for fiber optic cable that has emerged with the expansion of broadband over the past two decades.


Having a fiber network is the key to 5G revolutionizing broadband

As the discussion above highlights, the only way to achieve the critical success factors (especially low latency, high download speeds and ultra-high reliability) is to support every base station and tower with fiber optic connections to build highly resilient broadband networks.

The truth is, it's not about 5G or fiber; the path to success lies in planting enough fiber optic cable underground to support the technological advances of 5G.


How to deploy fiber optic cable

4G macrocells have a coverage area of about 10 miles. By contrast, planners suggest that good 5G coverage requires as many as 60 cells in a square mile area!

For this level of density, fiber is the preferred choice for connecting a dense mesh network of 5G small cell sites. Fiber is also important on the back end - even existing wireless backhaul needs to be connected to fiber-based backhaul.

Fiber networks are small, increase speed with lower attenuation, are immune to electromagnetic interference, and finally, can do 5G justice by supporting a virtually unlimited amount of bandwidth.


How much fiber optic cable is needed?

The 5G and connectivity technologies deployed will determine how much fiber is needed to create the best broadband network with low latency and high reliability. There are several possibilities.

● Using a base case of 60 small cells per square mile, up to 8 miles of cable may be required.

● However, with the Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) protocol, radio heads are used on macro towers. CPRI requires a dedicated fiber for data transmission and a corresponding fiber for reception. If 24 to 36 fibers are installed at a base station, operators can easily support the growing capacity.

Operators can also use wave division multiplexed (WDM) systems to reduce the number of fibers.

Whether using point-to-point networks or WDM protocols, the demand for fiber optic cable will remain high for a long time.