Why 5G Networks are So Dependent Upon Fiber – and What This Means for Mobile Network Operators
By Karin Williams, Director – Transport Engineering Solutions, TEOCO

As the saying goes, what goes up, must come down.  This is just as true for mobile network architecture as it was for Newton’s apple. While wireless signals and calls travel through the air (up), they quickly proceed (down) to the base of the cell tower to finish their call journey in the wireline world.  It is here in the wireline world that you will find a massive transport network of mostly fiber-based connections that keep the information moving from the cell tower to its final destination, whether that’s across town or on the other side of the world. And when it comes to 5G – things get even more fiber-dependent. That’s because 5G is fundamentally different than previous generations of “Gs.”

5G promises significantly faster data speeds, lower latency and packet loss, and the ability to connect more simultaneous wireless devices in real-time, opening the door to numerous innovations in wearables, connected vehicles, healthcare and education. These advances come with a new and improved transport architecture which includes fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul transport, collectively known as “xHaul”. Fiber remains the gold standard for mobile xHaul due to its reliability, scalability, and nearly unlimited capacity.

So, what’s driving the demand for all this fiber?  Below are three reasons why wireless networks are becoming more ‘wired’ than ever before:

  1. New Services. New 5G services like video streaming, augmented reality and critical IoT applications in industries like medicine, manufacturing, and automotive, are driving the need for higher bandwidth, lower latency connections. Without fiber xHaul services in place, the promise of 5G falls short. For most mobile operators, this means existing transport networks must be upgraded to meet the demand, and new connections must be added where none exist. Fiber-based xHaul provides the value operators need to support these services.
  2. Changing Work Patterns. One measurement found that in only a few weeks, the Covid pandemic drove almost a year’s worth of broadband traffic growth, and things may never go back to the way they were in pre-pandemic days. That’s because 74% of businesses plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. Now that more people are working from home, they have the freedom to move to more rural (or tropical) areas – which means mobile networks need fiber in more distant locations to support changing user demands.
  3. Evolving Network Architecture. 5G networks are designed differently than previous generations. Data centers and their locations play a significant role in the design of transport architecture, and cell densification means more small cells are being deployed in dense urban areas in order to optimize signal coverage. Many times, the ideal location for these small cells may not align with fiber locations, so operators will need to be involved in more simultaneous fiber construction projects than ever before.

With all this change and heightened demand comes complexity.

Because most mobile operators don’t own their extensive transport networks, they rely on leasing circuits from wholesale interconnect partners to meet their xHaul requirements. Transport network planning and provisioning requires a tremendous amount of coordination and data management to ensure these services are delivered on-time. Many operators simply don’t have the tools, resources or time to effectively manage this internally on a large scale.  But with so much at stake – from billions of dollars in 5G investments, to heightened customer and shareholder expectations – it’s more important than ever to get things right the first time – and every time.

At TEOCO, we specialize in transport engineering solutions to help operators design and implement their 5G transport networks. Our industry experts can help you design, provision, and install your transport network with our professionally managed projects. Our TraK™ project management platform provides visibility into each step of the process, with cloud-based access to your network asset data. TraK™ supports collaboration across multiple teams with real-time business analytics to facilitate rapid transport network implementation activities.

Remember – what goes up, must come down. For 5G, the transport network is just as critical as the radio network, and an entirely new approach towards the deployment of leased circuits will be needed to keep up with new services, tighter margins, changing technology and higher customer expectations.

To learn more about how we help mobile operators manage and optimize their transport networks, contact us today.