5G has dominated headlines over the past year, with discussion ranging from performance benchmarks to all kinds of eyebrow-raising conspiracy theories. The hype is certainly warranted- 5G is a game changer, bringing unprecedented data rates to the market.
Newer and more advanced wireless and fiber optic technology have contributed immensely to the development of 5G. As data requirements continue to scale, greater investment in fiber connectivity will be needed to power the 5G backbone transport networks. With mainstream rollouts around the corner, let’s take a closer look at what makes 5G special and how fiber is indispensable for building a fast and reliable 5G network.
What is 5G? How does it compare to previous network standards?
5G represents the fifth generation of broadband cellular network technology, which has gradually evolved from basic analog-based voice services to the advanced data services of today’s world. The highly anticipated network standard introduces exponentially higher data rates with lower latency as well as higher capacity and bandwidth. 5G is so fast that its performance rivals even the fastest home Wi-Fi.
Given the exponential growth in data requirements, 5G could not have arrived at a better time. Average data rates for 5G are around 300Mbp/s, compared to 25Mbp/s for 4G. At peak performance rates, 5G offers up to 20x the speed of 4G LTE.
To put into perspective how fast 5G is, if it takes around 5 minutes to download an 8Gb video on 4G LTE, the same task will be completed in less than 30 seconds on 5G. With minimal latency and higher capacity, 5G has much greater synergy with IoT (Internet-of-Things) applications, which is highly essential given that IoT applications often have some of the most demanding data requirements.
How does 5G actually work?
When discussing 5G’s benefits, it helps to understand how cellular networks operate. In a cellular network, each “cell” is composed of a cellular tower which provides network coverage in a geographical zone spanning around half a mile to 5 miles wide, depending on the network. The cells are organized in hexagonal shapes to prevent any signal overlapping (interference) between adjacent networks, as shown below:
Subscriber devices within a network communicate with these cellular towers via radio waves at different frequencies of the radio frequency spectrum. The spectrum can be divided among three bands: Low-Band, Mid-Band and High-Band (mmWave).
Each cell network uses a specific set of frequencies to communicate with devices in the area. Carriers bid against other carriers to “acquire” frequencies in said spectrum. Up until 5G, only low-band and mid-band was used. Access to the high-band was not readily available due to limited technology. With a near ubiquitous smartphone user base as well as heavy competition, the amount of space available in the low and mid-bands was rather limited.
Utilizing newer technology, 5G has the ability to operate in the high-band spectrum. This is highly conducive for performance optimization in cellular networks. Higher frequencies offer substantially more bandwidth than lower frequencies, which greatly increases data rates because more data can be transferred at once. 5G also frees up a much larger slice of the spectrum for use, which increases the channel spacing and reduces interference between adjacent channels.
5G utilizes an assortment of technologies such as Massive MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) and Beamforming to bolster data transmission. Massive MIMO uses multiple antennas to simultaneously send out multiple bits of data separated by space (spatial multiplexing), in order to prevent signal interference. Beamforming is a technique used for calculating optimal data transmission routes.
What role does fiber play in 5G?
In a cellular network, data transfer between the cellular towers and its subscribers is wireless, but a wired transport infrastructure is utilized to move the data from the carrier’s core network to the cellular base stations. This transport network consists of three portions: the front-haul, mid-haul and back-haul.
To power a 5G network, the entire transport network must be optimized for the stringent data requirements. Fiber optic solutions are essential for 5G networks because they can deliver significantly faster data transfer, higher bandwidth and greater immunity to signal interference. With these characteristics, fiber optics serve as the driving force behind a more efficient transport network.
The backbone architectures of 5G networks will require a diverse assortment of fiber optic transceivers. Front-haul architectures will need to deploy 25G optical transceivers which can cover shorter ranges of 2-10 km. Mid-haul architectures have longer range requirements at 2-80 km and will need 40-100G optical transceivers that offer accelerated data transfer and expanded bandwidth. Back-haul architectures have the longest-range requirements at 80-100 km and will need long reach 100-200G transceivers with extended signal strength.
How does fiber densification address 5G concerns?
Although 5G has great potential, how this translates to actual performance in the current network ecosystem varies greatly based on carrier, location and the type of 5G:
Cellular signals are greatly affected by interference, which is the reduction of signal strength through interaction with obstacles or environmental factors. Low-frequency signals (low band) are less susceptible to interference, which is a huge reason why low-band coverage is more widespread, offering blanket coverage. Mid-band strikes a nice balance in coverage between low-band and high-band. The caveat is that both trade off stronger coverage with significantly slower data rates.
Although high-band has the highest potential with its astounding data rates, it is the most susceptible to interference. This limits high-band coverage to areas that are close in proximity to the cellular towers. To mitigate interference in the high-band, carriers will need to build smaller cells to minimize the range between cell towers and network subscribers. This will require densification of fiber networks, positioning a greater number of cell towers together in highly- populated geographical zones.
Deloitte reports that the U.S. will need an estimated $130-$150 billion of fiber infrastructure to adequately support broadband competition, rural coverage, and wireless densification(ref 1). Given that high-band is the gold standard for 5G, densification of fiber networks is critical for 5G to reach its potential.
How can Axiom make a difference?
Telecom companies have already invested a great deal into building 5G infrastructures. Gartner reports that 21.3% of spending on wireless infrastructures has been allocated to developing the new standard(ref 2). Given the exorbitant costs for building a multi-tiered 5G network, acquisition of OEM solutions may not be practical in terms of cost-performance. Third-party upgrades such as Axiom fiber solutions deliver equivalent or superior performance at a fraction of the costs.
Axiom fiber solutions are integral for the 5G transport network. Axiom’s transceiver lineup features SFP28/QSFP+/QSFP28/QSFP-DD optical transceivers with data rates ranging from 10Gb to 400Gb, which can be paired with our fiber cables to deliver the necessary data rates in your network. Our complete lineup of fiber optic solutions features the likes of:
Manufactured using premium components, all of our networking products are rigorously tested to ensure the best performance and reliability. Power your 5G networks today with Axiom’s cutting-edge network solutions.
Contact our team for more details on our lineup of fiber product upgrades or set up an appointment to discuss how to optimize connectivity in 5G networks.
1 “Deep deployment of fiber optics is a national imperative” Deloitte, accessed November 16th, 2020,
2 “Gartner Says Worldwide 5G Network Infrastructure Spending to Almost Double in 2020.” Gartner, accessed November 10th, 2020, https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases...