Not enough fibre as 5G starts rollout, ITW hears, but apps will be key

08 May 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Applications will be key to the success of 5G rollouts over the next few years, but better fibre networks will be needed, an ITW conference session heard today.

Leading executives from AT&T, Cloudflare, HGC Global Communications and Orange International Carriers said that the speed and better latency of 5G would generate growth, but the internet of things (IoT) will drive a lot of 5G rollout.

"5G is not just 4G plus 1," said Pierre-Louis de Guillebon of Orange. "It will be a place to develop new applications, such as in health care. There will be more companies developing new things."

"It will bring IoT to reality," said Tom Paseka of Cloudfare. Andrew Kwok of HGC agreed: "5G will drive a lot of IoT." The new mobile generation "is not just for downloading a movie", he added.

Several of the speakers, in a panel moderated by Capacity deputy editor James Pearce, said that substantial fibre investment will be needed for successful 5G. George Sloan of AT&T said that in the US there are macrocells for 4G, but 5G will need millimetre wave spectrum, which has shorter range, "and not all that much fibre exists".

Paseka said that in Europe "there isn’t enough fibre in the ground. The networks will need to be redesigned to handle content locally."

Kwok said that thought was needed on the topology of networks. "Do you put content at the edge or the centre?" Not at the edge at first, he suggested. "We can deploy fibre for the initial phase of 5G and it will be helpful for mobile operators to deploy their networks as quickly as possible."

Sloan said that 5G will put up demands on speed, from a typical 1Gbps for ports at the moment: "5G will need multiple 10G ports and that will mean a lot of new business for carriers." However, at first, he said, "the beauty of 5G is that we’re leveraging the 4G core".

Kwok agreed: "No one is going to deploy a totally separate fibre network." But decisions have to be made about topology: "Are you going to run a cloud RAN [radio access network], or not? This is fundamental. How quickly are [mobile operators] going to change the network topology?"

De Guillebon said that Orange will start to deploy 5G in France next year, with commercial services from 2020. "A lot of work needs to be done," he warned. He said that in Europe "we will need fixed lines". Orange has "an aggressive programme in France, Spain and other countries" to build fixed fibre networks.

Fixed wireless will be an important 5G starting point for AT&T, said Sloan. "But we’re mobile first. Absolutely mobile first."

Topics: ITW, 5G, Cloudflare, HGC, Orange, latency