5G mobile means more fiber in more places

13 May 2013 by Steve Blum
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Qualcomm graphic.

“Bringing the network closer to the user is key to 1000x,” said Prakash Sangam, director of tech marketing for Qualcomm, speaking to the Wireless Communications Alliance in Santa Clara, California last month. 1000x is Qualcomm’s shorthand way of saying that with mobile data traffic more or less doubling every year, we’ll need one thousand times the amount of available bandwidth in a few years.

“Reaching this 1000x is a matter of when and not if,” Sangam said.

More spectrum and improved technology will help, but not by 1000x. The answer is small – pico and femto – cells and WiFi offload. Either way, it depends on making wireless hops shorts, so frequencies can be re-used in tighter and tighter areas. To do that, wired back haul needs to be pushed closer to users.

Users will provide some of their own back haul, particularly when accessing mobile networks indoors. WiFi and femto cells will transfer traffic to home and office broadband connections.

Outside, though, small cells will either be wired directly, preferably by fiber, or link back to macro cells – AKA regular, old cellular sites and towers – that are connected to fat fiber pipes.

Jonathan Wells, with AJIS Consulting, predicted that within four or five years, only half of mobile data traffic will be carried on traditional macro cells, a quarter on small cells and a quarter off-loaded directly to WiFi.

Some back haul will be wireless, but at some point even that has to be aggregated and routed onto landlines. And it’s not something carriers want to do, believing that “wireless backhaul is an absolute last resort and a necessary evil,” according to David Witkowski, WCA president and senior product manager of the microwave measurement division at Anritsu.

You can bet on fiber middle mile networks continuing to creep closer and closer to the last mile. The odds are 1,000 to 1 in your favor.