Microwave Journal
Brent Dietz

The Wired World of Wireless

March 31, 2017

When it comes to networking, wireless and mobile broadband get all the credit. RF is the delivery method of choice for devices at the point of use. After all, you never have to worry about the construction crew digging up your RF line, and wireless network speeds are now stretching to 1 Gbps.

Hear that?

That’s the sound of wired networks saying, “That’s so 2001!”

While we’re excited about the speed enhancements in RF, the wired world of wireless achieved these theoretical speeds over a decade ago. The real speed is in the heart of the network and travels on wires, whether on cable or fiber optic lines.

Perhaps Cat Stevens said it best in his 1970 hit lyrics, “Oh baby, baby, it’s a wired world.”

Okay, maybe he didn’t say wired … but it sure sounded like it!

If you don’t believe me, take any device off the wired networks and voila:

  • A smartphone becomes a camera
  • A laptop becomes a word processor and electronic file drawer
  • A Wi-Fi router becomes a paper weight
  • A TV … lacks entertainment value.

Wired Networking

The promise of 5G, the IoT and many other connected technologies begins with networks, not mobile devices. Wired networks include:

Cellular networks that connect us in the car, at a sporting event or on the go are largely dependent on wired systems like base stations and small cells. Only after increasing the capacity, speed, efficiency and flexibility of the 4G cellular backbone can we make 5G a reality for mobile device manufacturers and consumers.

Wi-Fi networks are similarly wire dependent, with additional technology considerations. Because Wi-Fi network equipment, like routers, must last a long time and power multiple devices, improving thermal management and extending range and data throughput are critical. Integration of Wi-Fi components into smaller form factors is also important, since no consumer wants a printer-sized router — also so 2001.

Cable networks, also called wired broadband networks, support cable TV (CATV) systems. Unlike the typical rigmarole with the cable rep, who estimates the precise time of his visit to be sometime between Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., wired broadband solutions must be efficient and highly integrated to reduce power consumption and cost, while improving reliability. They should also support the DOCSIS 3.1 cable standard, which allows cable operators to maximize bandwidth for applications like video streaming.

Optical networks, also called fiber optic networks, are the connective fibers — pun intended — between data centers and optical network terminals, where light signals are converted to copper/electric signals. As the industry approaches 5G, telecom and datacom providers will face a data ramp-up along these pathways. Optical solutions must support extremely high data rates, from 40G to 400G, while offering low power dissipation to enhance optical network efficiency and reliability.

There’s no beating the speed of light. Optical networks are still the fastest networking option … at least until we perfect teleportation.

Brent Dietz directs corporate communications at Qorvo. Follow him on Twitter @QorvoInc.