5G is just an optical network with radio access

We hear a lot about spectrum and 4G/5G/6G radio technologies. While that’s important, shifting your frame of reference can reveal the bigger picture of what’s really going on. As our CTO Christoph Glingener says, 5G is an optical network with lots of radio heads.
Prayson Pate

The internet is built on optical transport – and so is 5G

The public internet supports the transport of petabits of data every day. And that means high-capacity optical transport in the core and access networks. But how far does that optical network need to extend? For wireline business and residential users, the answer is to the premises. That’s the only way to provide the required high-bandwidth and low-latency connections. And those same requirements apply to wireless connections. That means we must focus on the optical network as much as the wireless technologies. But how much bandwidth is required?

10x higher bandwidth per cell – great!

We’re seeing tremendous growth in bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming video, multiplayer games and fixed wireless access. These have fueled the demand for wired and wireless bandwidth. Satisfying that demand is one of the main benefits of 5G. While the 4G LTE maxes out at about 1Gbit/s, 5G is expected to provide speeds of 10Gbit/s. That’s an increase of 10 times in bandwidth versus 4G. But the aggregate bandwidth demand is much higher than that.

1000x more cells – wow!

Wireless spectrum is a shared medium. If we increase the available bandwidth to each user, we need fewer users on each cell. That means a lot more cells. A typical estimate is that with 4G, we expect about 1000 cells/ km2. With 5G, that density increases to 1,000,000 cells/km2. Wow! 1000 times more cells. That’s a lot.

Increasing the available bandwidth to each user means we need fewer users on each cell.
10,000x more total bandwidth – yikes!

We see that 5G means an increase in bandwidth per cell, and an explosion in the number of cells. And all those cells need fiber connectivity to meet the bandwidth requirements. That’s a lot of fiber! How can we build out an optical network for 5G without breaking the bank? Here are some ideas:

  • Embrace a variety of optical technologies, including WDM, Carrier Ethernet and XGS-PON, to optimize bandwidth and cost
  • Use point-to-point fixed wireless to close the gap on hard-to-reach locations
  • Leverage ORAN and distributed compute to terminate connections farther out in the network, reduce latency and minimize backhaul traffic
  • Deploy efficient pre-aggregation to maximize the usage of expensive ports on gateway routers
  • Take advantage of active fiber monitoring to ensure rapid response to network issues

Fiber is our business

You may not think Adtran is a 5G player, but we know fiber. And fiber is the heart of a successful 5G deployment. Think of a 5G service as an optical network with lots of radio access. Call us, and let us help you achieve 5G success.

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