Expectations for 5G network services continue to grow, with enterprises and consumer’s worldwide desiring access to gigabit speeds with stronger, more reliable connectivity. But to make this happen, 5G requires connections to dense, high-capacity fibre optic networks. In fact, the importance of fibre cannot be overstated.
What Fibre Means to 5G
Achieving the network densification required for 5G coverage and capacity heavily relies on the adoption of small cell networks. Small cells strategically place radios closer to end users and, thus, improve the overall quality of experience (QoE) for mobile users on 5G networks.
For the majority of service providers, fibre is the preferred technology for transport networks. This is because it’s scalable, secure and cost-effective, as well as easily understood by network engineers, which cuts time for installation, deployment and maintenance.
But fibre also is important to 5G fronthaul, particularly for small cell deployment, as it achieves the speed, latency and bandwidth requirements for proper operation. Furthermore, it enables operators to centralize baseband resources and connect clusters of radio units in centralized radio access network (C-RAN) architectures. Doing so simplifies deployments by decreasing equipment footprint and improving network efficiency through the centralized management of resources.
By using fibre in the fronthaul and access networks, operators reduce the cost of backhaul. This not only helps to generate higher revenues per site, but it also contributes to improved QoE.
5G Fibre Service Assurance
There are several factors that must be considered when testing and assuring fibre for 5G networks. To ensure proper operation, there are several tests that should be performed during the installation and commissioning phases of the network, including connector inspection and continuity tests, as well as characterization of fronthaul and backhaul fibre links.
Moreover, operators need to validate all components of the network throughout the deployment of the 5G network. System performance requires more than simply seeing a green light on a baseband unit or remote radio. Indeed, signal levels could be just marginal or on the threshold, incapable of surviving environmental impacts.
It’s important to note that 5G networks have less tolerance for overall light loss, making attenuation more of an issue than ever before. Dust, oils and water blocking gel are common forms of fibre connector end-face contamination. Simply placing dust caps on fibre connectors won’t work in a 5G deployment, since small particles can still migrate onto the surface, and contamination can occur during build or staging.
Physical damage, such as fibre breaks, strain, macrobends or elongation, not only causes signal loss or communication failure, but it can shorten the lifespan of the fibre cable as well. In fact, just one percent strain exceeds acceptable thresholds for cable performance. This issue is of particular concern with 5G networks, due to the increase in deployment of fibre to the antenna (FTTA) sites. Therefore, active monitoring of the network is critical for service assurance, enabling damaged or stressed areas of fibre to be identified and repaired, reducing mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and enhancing QoE.
As service providers plan their 5G fibre rollouts, it’s particularly important to consider the skillset needed to deploy the networks. Proficiency is required by fibre optic installers, contractors, project managers, technicians and engineers that need to understand, apply and correctly measure and record the performance of fibre infrastructures.
5G will create new revenue opportunities from outside the traditional telecommunications sphere, but only if operators commit to the service guarantees and experiences that these new vertical market customers require. Enterprise customers will demand 5G service performance levels that are backed by service level agreements (SLAs).
Because 5G networks are distributed across hybrid virtualised and physical infrastructure, test and assurance can be complex. Mastering those networks requires that operators have the ability to access empirical performance analysis data about how their networks are functioning. The ability to correlate and visualise that data is an essential aspect of assuring quality of experience.
Operators have a tremendous opportunity to create competitive differentiation throughout the Asian market by applying service performance monitoring and assurance metrics to fibre-based networks. There’s no question that business-critical 5G services will benefit from 5G technologies like edge cloud deployment.
However, the new architectural elements that define 5G bring complexity and technical challenges to the testing arena. In order to bring these profitable new business cases to life and command the 5G network, it’s vital for operators to implement accurate and proactive application, service and performance monitoring in their networks, with a keen focus on fibre health and resiliency.
About the Author
Craig Black serves as the Senior Director and General Manager of Fibre Optic Test for VIAVI Solutions. He has been working with VIAVI for more than 12 years.