The underlying infrastructure to deliver 5G services will require massive amounts of fiber to be deployed as its foundation, Ron Fangio, Black & Veatch, told an audience at the AGL Local Summit in Kansas City last week.
“When you look at LTE 4G, we have principally six licensed bands, which means you need 12 fibers for backhaul. Many of the pundits say that 5G is going to be anywhere from 12-24 fibers at a given site, so we have more than a 2X jump in amount of fiber to going to 5G New Radios at each site.”
But the amount of fiber needed for 5G is not necessarily premised on spectrum allocation. The Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology needed for 5G will require more radios and antennas. Backhauling them is going to entail a lot more fiber going to the site.
The biggest demand for fiber, by far, will be proliferation of small cells to be rolled out as part of 5G. Today’s 4G small cells average a coverage area of about 1 mile in diameter. But to achieve the necessary upstream and downstream rates and millimeter wavelengths at 27 GHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz, spacing will go down to 200 to 1,000 feet, according to Fangio.
“If we are using 750 feet as a diameter for a small cell, which is actually fairly conservative, we go from one small cell in a square mile to 60 5G small cells,” he said. “With each small cell needing between 12 and 24 fibers a piece, it would require 8 miles of fiber in a square mile in order to support 5G densities. That’s a massive amount of infrastructure build.”
Fangio quoted a Deloitte Consulting analysis that estimated that the United States will require an investment of $130–$150 billion in fiber infrastructure over the next five to seven years to support “broadband competition, rural coverage and wireless densification.”
“That is a huge opportunity,” Fangio noted, “and a huge challenge.”
Deloitte was doubtful that all that money to fund the fiber would come from the usual sources. Non-traditional fiber investors and shared infrastructure models will come into play, assisted by communications service providers, financial investors, and public/private partnerships, the firm said.
“Unfortunately, the current wireline industry structure does not provide sufficient market incentives for fiber and broadband deployment,” according to Deloitte. “Wireless, wireline, and cable all require new ways to monetize ‘last mile’ access in order to provide market incentives for massive fiber deployment. Potential models include…synergies between deep fiber and adjacent services in an “unlimited” world, partnership between carriers and over-the-top players to fund deep fiber and deep fiber as a financial investment.”