If an operator chooses to service a small cell site with one, two, or twelve fibers, how does it really impact the cost? One thing we know for sure in the deployment of networking infrastructure is that adding more physical capacity at the onset is far less expensive than coming back to add an overlay. The incremental increase in costs when the fiber count per cell increases isn't nearly as dramatic as you might expect. The cost increase to jump from one fiber to twelve fibers is under ten percent.
Operators are trending toward a converged approach in the outside plant where wireless networks overlay with wired deployments. We've seen it in the metro for years, and now fiber-to-the-home builds are being merged with wireless densification initiatives. Driven by the cycle of consumer demand, new applications, and bolstered infrastructure, fiber demand continues to spiral upward.
Taking it indoors
5G isn't just for the outdoors - its impact will be felt indoors as well. 5G will "break" a lot of distributed antenna system (DAS) networks, as the antenna placement will need to be closer than in 3G and 4G deployments.
Additionally, legacy copper-based infrastructures won't be able to keep up with 5G bandwidth. To keep up, smart buildings will undergo their own fiber-in-the-horizontal transformation.
Remember when you lost all signal as the elevator doors closed? With the majority of today's cellular traffic occurring indoors, many buildings have upgraded their cellular coverage so that those incidents are now few and far between. DAS and small cells have enhanced cellular in-building and large public venue coverage based on consumer demands for seamless connectivity. In fact, wireless is now often referred to in the industry as the fourth utility, as important to a building as water, electricity, or HVAC. This trend will only continue as the thirst for consumer connectivity continues.
That's not all. We only briefly touched on the IoT, but imagine again sensors and devices on nearly all the "things" making them smart: utilities and lighting, refrigerators, trash cans, security systems, parking garages, etc. Add in wearables and augmented reality and you can begin to see the possibilities both indoors and out.
5G will most certainly be an evolution of today's networks, but the impact will likely be even more significant. Beyond being evolutionary, 5G is potentially revolutionary. The possibilities are virtually unlimited, but a smart, fiber-deep infrastructure will be paramount to making the vision real.