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Steve Roberts takes a look at the continued importance of fibre-based networks to enterprise in a 5G world

The network is the fundamental enabler of digital business and running cloud applications. Network performance has never been more critical to enterprise competitiveness. Wireline-based fibre-optic connectivity provides superior network performance compared to all wireless technologies available today, including 5G.

Previous generations of wireless technology, or at least the service offerings from the mobile network operators, have been inadequate in delivering business-grade service levels. Until 5G, networks deliver commercial service offerings that include SLAs guaranteeing service availability, throughput and performance, 5G will never be a viable alternative to a fibre-based service for the vast majority of business users.

The expected variability of in-building coverage due to the millimetre wave frequencies used by 5G means that wireless technology alone will never provide a replacement for fibre-based services without the use of an external antenna solution. These increase cost and complexity in many building environments.

Cell mate

5G is not just an upgrade to 4G. It requires new and different equipment and cells. The cells have a more limited range than 4G networks, so you need more cell sites to generate equivalent coverage - sometimes three or five times as many. This increases the cost, making it less commercially viable to deploy 5G where there is an established fixed line alternative. However, there are use cases where there is need for strong indoor wireless networks, such as a healthcare facility with many connected devices. For these scenarios, 5G could make sense but would likely still rely on fixed line backhaul to the closest data processing point.

Despite the shortcomings of 5G technology, it can complement MPLS and SD-WAN services as a backup technology when a suitable outdoor signal is available. We also find use cases for 5G as a primary WAN service for certain IoT applications where guaranteed uptime and throughput are not required.

A robust fibre network will be crucial in delivering a seamless 5G service. With the ability to collect and deliver data at every hour of the day, demands on the network will increase. Black spots and slower speeds will be unacceptable.  

The plethora of new applications stimulated by 5G deployments will continue to rely heavily on the performance capabilities of a fibre-based internet backbone and high-speed, secure access to the cloud. Ultimately, fibre networks offer lower latency and higher bandwidth capabilities which are crucial to running mission critical enterprise applications.

Rising demand

The increase in upload/download speeds enabled by 5G will drive huge increases in the raw bandwidth required in service provider backbones. We provide services to many of the world’s largest mobile networks, OTTs and content providers. We are seeing increased demand for all of our carrier products including dark fibre, 100G wavelength services and IP Transit. We are uniquely placed to serve this growth.

We already provide fibre-based cell-site backhaul for a number of mobile networks. The increase in bandwidth requirements and denser ‘small-cell’ networks will drive increased demand for connections to our extensive fibre assets across Europe.

The challenges around in-building coverage from millimetre wave spectrum used by 5G is driving the adoption of ‘small-cell’ technology within enterprise sites, which increases demand for multi-gigabit, fibre-based connectivity to corporate and multi-tenanted locations. GTT will benefit from this increase in bandwidth demand and we are exploring propositions tailored to seize this market opportunity.

Steve Roberts is VP, product management at GTT

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