Why 5G Wireless Technology Will Place a Greater Demand on Cables
Jean-Jacques Sage, Products and Solutions Manager for Telecom Networks at Nexans
The 5G revolution promises astonishing gigabit-per-second data rates and near-instantaneous connectivity. It is projected to have a mass impact across many industries and change the lives of billions of both consumers and suppliers worldwide. Like every generation of new wireless technology, 5G will dramatically increase the speed and volume of data transfer, but this will have more profound consequences than ever before.
WHY 5G IS DIFFERENT
5G is about much more than just mobile phones. It will be the crucial foundation for the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR) applications across a variety of industries. The new generation of telecom networks must support massive amounts of data traffic while ensuring ultra-low communication latency for a smooth user experience.
While the higher-frequency spectrum used for 5G offers significant new capacity and data speeds, it also means shorter propagation distances. In high traffic areas such as cities, town centers and business districts, operators are going to need large numbers of smaller cells with low power base stations that will provide the desired coverage and capacity. Furthermore, to achieve the high user data rates, multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) systems featuring dozens of antennas will be necessary to boost the signal when required.
For an idea of the challenge associated with implementing 5G, a typical 4G macro cell will cover an area of around 25 square kilometers. In contrast, 5G could require 20 or more cells to cover just one square kilometer.
Furthermore, statistics show that 80 percent of mobile traffic takes place indoors. Considering the diversified nature of 5G services, it is anticipated that this figure will increase to 85 percent. Therefore, indoor network quality will be the competitive edge for mobile operators in 5G in the future.
The result of this is that, even though 5G is a wireless technology, its deployment will involve a lot more fiber and copper cable to connect equipment, both within the radio access network domain and back to the routing and core network infrastructure. Furthermore, 5G will require many more antennas than 4G ever did. That’s why this continuous demand for faster and more efficient connectivity across the world calls for state-of-the-art cable infrastructure to make 5G possible and to break down these barriers.
THE CABLING INFRASTRUCTURE IS PARAMOUNT
When telecom carriers needs to connect a microwave antenna to the indoor unit, they have one of three cable options to choose from: these include coaxial cable, a fiber-optic cable or a twisted-pair high frequency cable, all of which come with benefits and drawbacks.
Twisted high frequency cables have seen a rise in popularity in line with the rollout of 5G trials. The benefit of using twisted high frequency cables to connect the microwave antenna to the indoor unit is that you can combine both the data and power in one cable. This means that, for the carriers, there is a big cost and materials saving — you effectively cut the cost by half as you only require the installation of one cable, whereas with other cable types, you will need separate power and data cables. Connecting the increased number of antennas for 5G with fiber-optic cables could be extremely expensive. Therefore, high frequency cables have seen an increase in popularity over the past few years, and we predict that this will only increase as they are not just cost-efficient but also much easier to install than other cable types. Twisted high frequency cables are much more robust, resistant to the environment and they can be easily terminated on site by the installer.
Fiber-ptic cables, on the other hand, are more sensitive to the conditions such as humidity and dust levels. Most of the time the fiber-optic cable is pre-terminated, meaning that the installer just has to plug in both ends. However, the fiber-optic cable only carries data. Power must be provided by a separate cable, which generally has to be cut to length, stripped and terminated.
However, twisted high frequency cables are not the answer for every installation. Their performance tends to drop off over long distances. This means that the carrier will be obliged to use another type of cable if the antenna is too far from the indoor unit or the antenna will need to be placed in a closer, possibly less convenient, position. To help mobile carriers tackle the many challenges of 5G, companies like Nexans have developed a 5G ultra-dense infrastructure network with innovative fiber-optic cables and components and a new high frequency twisted pair especially designed for the needs of new microwave networks.
5G will certainly represent a major evolution in modern network communications, but beyond being evolutionary, 5G is potentially revolutionary, as well. The possibilities for it are virtually endless, but a smarter, denser infrastructure is key to making the vision a reality. It is only just around the corner, with the initial impact expected to be seen throughout the United States and Europe by 2020. Far from spelling the end of hard-wired cables, 5G is going to place an unprecedented demand on cable technology to ensure that the dream of near instantaneous high speed connectivity is realized.