5G is one of the most anticipated mobile network improvements in the world of telecommunications. As a revolutionary next-generation solution, 5G promises to augment mobile internet connectivity with faster speeds and increased bandwidth, as well as act as a key enabler of other exciting innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT). However, before 5G can support the other critical applications of our future, it first must be adequately supported with robust infrastructure – and that is where the telecom sphere is currently facing challenges.
Network densification has been key to supporting demand for small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS)—both important in the quest for 5G due to their roles in enabling critical connectivity infrastructure. Unfortunately, this densification process has recently become a bottleneck for deployment. The truth is, there just isn’t enough fiber to support these systems as demand increases exponentially.
Sitetracker, a software platform designed to help power the successful deployment of critical infrastructure, recently released a report on this issue, highlighting the fact that the industry’s ability to reach effective 5G depends on laying enough fronthaul fiber (the fiber that connects businesses, homes and small cell sites). In the report, titled “2019: Telecom’s Tipping Point,” Sitetracker sat down with industry experts and telecommunications leaders to discuss how this setback can be successfully overcome. One of those experts was Ray LaChance, Co-Founder and CEO of ZenFi Networks, New York’s premier provider of dedicated dark fiber networks for fronthaul, backhaul and wavelength connectivity.
As an industry leader in the realm of fiber with a focus on mobile densification, ZenFi Networks is an authority on all things fronthaul. When asked about 5G’s fiber conundrum, LaChance notes that most of the legacy fiber in place today is tied up in backhaul, which was architected to solve a different problem — sparse connectivity for enterprises and data centers. Of course, this infrastructure is at the opposite end of the spectrum from what 5G requires: density. Fronthaul needs to be built to complement existing backhaul capabilities, supporting a highly accessible and high capacity network, that successfully interconnects antennas with data centers.
When it comes to actually cultivating this network of accessibility, LaChance recommends an iterative process. Networks will take time to densify, but the industry can start by implementing the hard infrastructure. He explains, “right now, there are sites every 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the New York Metro area. All of those sites are going to be retrofitted with 5G equipment.” He continues, noting that fronthaul will enable small cell deployments every 500 feet, then 250 feet, in a continuous fashion. In the end, it all comes down to fiber being ahead of the industry curve, paving the way.
Of course, there is more to the equation than simply building out fiber infrastructure. As 5G and its fiber backbone gains momentum, carrier demand, network sharing, capital budgeting and municipal resources also become larger parts of the equation. However, it all begins and ends with fiber. Ensuring the availability of 5G’s fundamental fronthaul building block remains the key to unlocking our interconnected future.