Telecom Network Trends 2020: The Path to 5G and Smart Cities

Nabil Khalil, executive vice-president of R&M Middle East, Turkey and Africa looks at the top network trends for the year ahead
Trends, Network, 5G, Telecoms

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5G continues to drive the digital transformation

According to Gartner, worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenues will touch $4.2 billion this year, recording 89% year-over-year growth. The market is raring to go, but rollout is taking time. However, once fully rolled out, 5G networks will be capable of linking 100 billion devices simultaneously.

Across the Middle East, service providers are increasingly deploying 5G, even as they keep densifying 4G LTE. According to Deloitte, telcos are starting to target enterprises for 5G applications in areas such as education, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, transportation, and as an enabler for private networks. 5G’s vast bandwidth and latency performance potential can be realized by bringing FTTx networks closer to the wireless connection point. Radio links will be increasingly replaced by antennas integrated into fibre networks and connected to local or regional edge data centres.

This is the only way the expected data load can be transported and processed in real time. Depending on location, this will require one and a half to three times as many base stations and two to three times more optical fibre than available today. Applications will rely on 5G’s ability to enable edge computing, which will allow for greater reliability, better use if bandwidth, and lower latency. IDC predicts that in three years, 45% of all IoT-generated data will be stored, processed, analysed, and acted upon close to or at the edge of networks.

Wireless and wireline networks are converging

Wireless access for fixed and mobile loops is resulting in dense short haul fibre capacity to wireless nodes, connected to more local hubs. Operators are deploying fibre closer to end users to support both wired and wireless access. Major telecom service providers are combining FTTx and 5G rollouts to benefit from using a common architecture for wireless and wired access that supports both platforms. Performance associated with 5G, such as low latency, high capacity and extreme reliability depend on having sufficient fibre. Operator’s investment budgets will keep merging as they increasingly discover that it’s not about choosing between wireless and wire line investments, but instead investing in both.

A well-designed solution should accommodate all current and near-future requirements, offer a lower cost per connection than existing platforms, and provide a pay-as-you-grow approach and flexible upgrade path for many years to come, allowing additional connections to be installed with minimal disruption to existing services. Initial investment in cabling infrastructure can be minimized, with the possibility to upgrade to expand the Fibre/Access network when required. Where 4G and 5G network densification results in moving baseband technology to central hubs, this process needs to be partly reversed as 5G low latency services at a later stage as it requires embedded baseband technology to be deployed at the edge. R&M offers innovative cabling and connectivity required for both scenarios with customized Fibre to the Antenna (FTTA) assemblies as well as with micro data centre solutions. Thus, helping mobile communication suppliers to create their individual 5G infrastructures.

Wavelength-Division-Multiplexing (WDM) is one approach to increasing capacity without introducing huge amounts of new fibre. In spite of the upfront investment, the overall cost is lower than rolling out new fibre. WDM is generally regarded as a point-to-point solution, but add-drop multiplexer solutions make it possible to extract a small number of connections, for example in small cell deployment, whilst allowing the rest to travel on.

Smart Cities continue to evolve

The infrastructure supporting Smart City services consists of IoT-linked sensors connected by fibre extending deep into the network. This plays a crucial role as the backhaul network for connected and wireless networking. Infrastructures for smart cities require a well-thought-out, highly flexible approach to architecture and capacity for data traffic that will continue to develop dynamically for decades to come.

If there are bottlenecks between workstations, smartphones, cellular phone antennas, data centres, Cloud, IoT, WLAN, smart homes, or networked vehicles applications and services will not work as intended. According to research by Deloitte, carriers will be unable to support projected increases in mobile data traffic without additional fibre deployments that reach deeper into metropolitan centres.

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