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22 Jul 2019, 14:00

Is the 5G wireless revolution dependent on the evolution of wired fibre?

5G wireless and mobile communications are set to change the world, with new applications and the user experience about to enter the world of real (or near <1ms) time interaction, our 5G connected world will bring about a fundamental change to humanity. If summed up in one quote “the impact of 5G will be as, if not more significant than electricity”, Derek McManus at the 5G Extended Reality Showcase 12th June 2019.

The structure/infrastructure of what we currently see with 4G will also need to change, there is a need for more cell towers to be installed to transmit 5G, however, these are much smaller and cheaper than the existing cell towers currently in use for 4G. The reason behind this is that 5G uses the higher frequency millimetre waves, ideal for near-zero latency and higher bandwidths but with a smaller operating range, they are good for about 250ft coverage as opposed to the greater distances with 4G towers.

On the plus side, 5G masts could potentially be fitted to existing infrastructure within densely populated urban areas such as existing masts, buildings and posts. But not so great for rural areas, however for the UK to meet its’s ambition of being a leading 5G Country, continuous coverage is needed countrywide.

In a phased approach, more masts will need to be erected (ultimately those densely populated areas will take priority). This will require co-operation from landowners and the network operators in allowing access to existing masts and or the erection of new 5G masts. Currently, in the UK the new Electronic Communications Code took effect during December 2017, under the Communications Act 2003. This essentially makes it easier for network operators to install and maintain equipment on public and private land.

Although this sounds harmonious there is potential for a strained and drawn-out implementation, due in part to the compensation offered to landowners being somewhat lower than that of previous mast structures. The appetite for engagement from landowners is low, and with negotiations stalling, we may find that the case for tribunal will become more common. Lengthy delays could be inevitable, only time will tell.

With all the attention focusing on “wireless” we could be overlooking the fact that 5G will be truly dependant on a wired system for delivery of this high speed, high bandwidth, highly connected utopia. In fact, what we will see will be a union of both wired and wireless. Wireless giving us mobility, and wired through high-speed fibre optic networks, providing the main arterial structure to deliver 5G. Essentially the 5G masts are moving the user closer to the base.

So, will we require a rapid program of fibre optic deployment? Not necessarily, there will be demand for new routes and route linking, but much of what we need is already there.

Dark fibre is the term given to the fibre that is not connected. Ultimately as we moved away from cable and on to fibre, there was the foresight to bury quite a lot of additional fibre for future use. With the advent of cloud services and voice over IP, data is the resource that major corporations and individuals view as essential for daily business, and this is set to increase and increase quite significantly. If you follow Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth, a user’s bandwidth grows by 50% each year, with 5G the technology should be able to track Nielsen’s Law.

Many of the UK network operators and service providers have expressed the need to be given access to the UK’s current Dark Fibre Network. This in their eyes allows for a more rapid 5G delivery, the counter-argument is that this could discourage investment in new fibre optic networks. Read more on this here.

So in all respects, access to an efficient wired infrastructure is going to play an important part in the delivery of wireless connectivity. Dark fibre can also be leased to individuals or companies who would like to have their own fibre optic connections established. Many businesses are considering investment for dark fibre networks, essentially this will ensure that only their own business traffic is present on the network, giving them all the benefits, plus a highly secure service.

What remains to be seen, as with the 5G masts, is whether a harmonious approach for access to the current fibre optic network is delivered.

Before looking at the potential of 5G, how did we get here? As to Ind 4.0 is the 4th industrial revolution, 5G is the 5th Generation of mobile communication technology. With 1G we got mobile phones, 2G the facility to text, 3G internet browsing and with 4G video and gaming.

So, what will 5G deliver that 4G doesn’t?

How about downloading the full boxset of Harry Potter films in 29 seconds, (3.6 sec per movie) so, there or thereabouts. Or a latency of 1ms, near real-time, in comparison a blink of the eye is 100ms, or how about 1000 times more bandwidth and 10Gbps, hence all the Harry Potter films in under 30 seconds. With the number of connected devices set to soar, 5G allows for a massive increase. The IMT2020 standard states a requirement of 1 million connected devices per 1km2  by comparison, the 4G LPWA standard tops out at 60,680 devices.

Development of driverless cars and autonomous vehicles is set to increase significantly. Just imagine that a driverless car will be more prepared to deal with any issues presented to it on route to a destination than you will ever be. Remember <1ms latency is almost real-time, the current F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton has a reaction time of 200ms, the best an average human can do is between 0.7 and 3sec, given most of us will be nearer to 3sec on average, that’s 3000 times slower.

Not only will cars be safer, but they will be fitted with an array to sensors which can monitor and share information seamlessly. For example, you are sitting in a traffic queue wondering why there is a hold-up, in real-time your car could be accessing the camera of the cars in front to give a real-time video of the situation up ahead. Or that your wheel sensor has indicated that there is excessive vibration and your bearings or suspension has an issue that needs to be looked at.

From car to the cloud is a term that is being used frequently, so what does mean? Well, main autoroutes are now becoming smart and they can detect excessive traffic levels or a rise in harmful pollutants in the air near urban areas. To compensate your car will automatically be re-routed to ease congestion or slowed to burn less fuel and decrease emission levels, all this controlled over 5G. Now, remember that vibration picked up by the wheel sensor, your car is under warranty and an appointment is waiting for you to confirm it with the local repair shop, simply confirm the status on the interface within your smart car, accept or decline appointment?

2019 was the year that 5G was to become prevalent, in reality, most of us will probably see more influence coming in 2020 -2021.

New advancements in technology are set to bring on multibillion-dollar industries such as extended reality (XR). This will cut across the leisure industry, manufacturing and medical, with 5G having the potential to free up to 1 million GP hours.

The attractive thing about 5G is not the technology but the applications it will provide. Customers will ultimately purchase experiences and solutions, 5G will be the delivery mechanism. It’s just that delivery of the mechanism needs to relay on the collaboration of Government, Network Operators, Manufactures and Asset Holders.

Following future technology developments, gadgets, music and Rugby.

22 Jul 2019, 14:00