Clearfield: RAN and core are obviously important but “none of that works without the fiber”

The role of fiber optics in 5G deployment is an often-overlooked part of the conversation, but according Clearfield Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Morgan, the role of physical network infrastructure is only going to grow as 5G rollouts continue. Morgan also believes that the forecast predicting more and more small cell connections will call for an enormous amount of fiber optics.

RCR Wireless News spoke to Morgan immediately following the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) convention in Providence, RI where 5G was all the rage, but where talk of fiber optics was noticeably lacking. 

“All the focus is on air interface — the core, the radio. It’s all great, but none of that works without the fiber,” Morgan said of the discussions around 5G deployment. “It is almost as if they take for granted the foundational fiber infrastructure.”

5G network designs dictate the use of more fiber because in order to improve network coverage, capacity, and overall quality, mobile operators are adopting small cells, which place radios closer to users. It is preferable to backhaul these small cells over fiber whenever possible because other options, like copper and wireless backhauling, cannot scale to the incredible amount of backhaul demand that will be generated by 5G.

“5G requires at least a 10-fold increase in the density of cellular antennas within the same geography,” Morgan said, illustrating the hockey stick that is network densification.

He also asserts that as 5G begins to flood the airwaves with higher-bandwidth signals in the coming years, the entire goal of wireless technologies will be to move the signal over an air interface and onto fiber as quickly as possible because that is the only way to achieve the strict latency and delay requirements of 5G. 

A lot of development in 5G is moving on the fronthaul space,” explained Morgan. Fiber optics is now the preferred medium to carry signals in fronthaul, as well. Morgan explained that in the 5G era, fiber optic lines must be deployed in the antenna at the top of the tower as a fronthaul connection in the RAN as well as at the base station for backhaul to the mobile core.

As the network topology of 5G extends the fronthaul concept, Morgan believes that the location of the radio control is likely to be brought back further into the core of the network at a centralized location, as opposed to be being collocated at the base of the tower, a transition made possible, he said, via a robust fiber network.


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