5G vs fiber optic | Will 5G replace fiber or exist together

This page compares 5G vs fiber optic and mentions difference between 5G and fiber. It describes whether 5G will replace fiber or both 5G and fiber optic exist together in future.

As we know 5G stands for fifth generation cellular wireless technology designed to support fixed and mobile connections at high throughput. The main purpose is to provide data transfer at high speed. The other previous cellular technologies are 2G (GSM), 3G (CDMA) and 4G (LTE). These wireless technologies need backhaul connectivity in order to carry voice and data traffic in huge bandwidth.

The above backhaul connectivity need of cellular technologies are fulfilled by three major mediums which include copper, fiber and microwave. Copper lines are costlier and have limited capacity. Microwave is used in about 50% of total backhaul network deployments across the world. Microwave link helps to connect two sites which are in LOS (Line of Sight) to each other and where laying cable is impossible or difficult. Optical fiber lines are replacing copper lines due to its high bandwidth and interference immune charateristics in wired connections.

Fiber Optic System

It is widely used as wired line connectivity due to cheap material costs and higher data carrying capacity (Bandwidth of about 11THz). Simple fiber communication system will composed of transmitter (LED or laser) and receiver (photo diode). Refer fiber optic communication system tutorial. Examples of fiber based systems are CWDM and DWDM.

Following are the benefits of fiber optic system.
➨The fiber can carry large amount of data due to larger bandwidth capacity. Data can be transmitted at very high speed usually 1.6 TB/sec in the field. Due to this fact, next generation internet will be based on light. It is known as LiFi (i.e. Light Fidelity).
➨Fiber incur low loss to the signal usually 0.3 dB/Km. Hence optical repeaters are not needed for long distances.
➨Though the initial installation cost is higher. It benefits for long run due to more benefits compare to earlier coaxial based systems.
➨The fiber optic system is immune against EM interference and hence can be laid near the high frequency towers and places where electro-magnetic radiation is a concern. Moreover it does not radiate any EM waves as it operates on light and hence will not affect any nearby EM signal based systems such cellular, microwave, satellite etc.
➨It has higher electrical resistance and gence can operate safely near to high voltage lines and equipments.
➨It is light in weight and hence easy to install.
➨The optical fiber transmission power is very less. Moreover light carried by cables do not leak other than beginning and end of the system. Hence it does not have any crosstalk effect between the optical cables.
➨It does not generate any spark. Due to this fact it finds applications in automobile industry also.
➨Unlike RF based systems which can be tapped and intruded by the intruder, fiber based communication can not be tapped as light is transported within the cable itself. This enhances security for individuals as well as business enterprises.

Following are the drawbacks of fiber optic system.
➨Cost: The initial installation cost is higher due to expensive optical transmitter and receiver. Moreover it requires specific tools for maintenance and repair.
➨It is difficult to splice compare to wires usually at the starting and end joints. Moreover interfacing tools and connectors are costly.
➨When the light comes in contact with imperfection during travel and optical power is higher, it leads to destruction of fiber cable. This can be prevented using fiber fuse devices, which breaks the circuit to prevent further damage.
➨Fiber optic system can not carry electrical power which is often requirement at terminal equipments/devices.

5G and fiber network architecure
Image Courtesy: arxiv.org

5G Wirelss technology

The specifications of 5G are specified in 3GPP Rel. 15 and beyond. 5G technology supercedes 4G LTE standard. The 5G NR (New Radio) initial specifications have been finalized by 3GPP in december 2017.

5G will be deployed in two phases viz. non-standalone and standalone. In non-standalone phase, control mechanism is leveraged using existing 4G LTE network and data transfer takes place using 5G network infrastructure. In standalone phase, control and data mechanism both are carried out using 5G network elements.

Following are the main features of 5G technology.
• Bandwidth: Supports 1Gbps or higher
• Frequency bands: Sub-1 GHz, 1 to 6 GHz, > 6 GHz in mm bands (28 GHz, 40 GHz)
• Peak data rate: Approx. 1 to 10 Gbps
• Cell Edge Data rate: 100 Mbps
• End to End delay : 1 to 5 ms
• Refer 5G tutorial and 5G index of resources.

Following are the benefits of 5G cellular system.
➨Data rates of about 10 Gbps or higher can be achieved.
➨Latency of conenction establishment/release is very less about 1 ms. Hence traffic load is decreased on 5G base stations.
➨Antenna size is smaller at higher frequecies. This leads to use of massive MIMO concept to achieve higher data rates.
➨Dynamic beamforming is employed to overcome pathloss at higher frequencies.
➨Due to improved 5G network architecture handoff is smooth and hence it does not have any effect on data transfer when mobile user changes cells.
➨Typically 5G offers 10x throughput, 10x decrease in latency, 10x connection density, 3x spectrum efficiency, 100x traffic capacity and 100x network efficiency.

Following are the drawbacks of 5G cellular system.
➨It requires skilled engineers to install and maintain 5G network. Moreover 5G equipments are costly. This increases cost of 5G deployment and maintenance phases.
➨5G smartphones are costly. Hence it will take some time for the common man to make use of 5G technology.
➨The technology is still under development and will take time before it is fully operational without any issues.
➨Coverage distance of upto 2 meters (in indoor) and 300 meters (in outdoor) can be achieved due to higher losses at high frequencies (such as millimeter waves). 5G mmwave suffers from many such losses (penetration loss, attenuation due to rain, foliage loss etc.)
➨It will take time for security and privacy issues to be resolved fully in 5G network.

Abbreviations of terms used in the 5G-fiber network architecture are as follows.
CO:Central Office, C-RAN: Cloud Radio Access Network, OLT: Optical Line Terminal, ONU: Optical Network Unit, FTTx: Fiber to the-x, W-BS : Wired Base Station such as 5G gNB or 5G BS, U-BS : Unwired Base Station, UE: User Equipment, P2P : Point to Point, WDM : Wavelength Division Multiplexing

Difference between 5G and fiber optic

Following table mentions the difference between 5G and fiber optic on various parameters which help us to compare 5G vs fiber.

Specifications 5G Fiber optic
Wireless support Yes No
Capacity or bandwidth in Gb/sec Unlimited
Deployment time Fast It increases with distance and vary linearly
Feasibility to provide service in terrain Easier by installaing 5G cell tower or replacing 2G/3G/4G equipments with 5G equipments at existing cell tower locations Difficult
Re-use Cellular equipments can be removed and reused in other cell tower locations if needed Fiber once deployed can not be re-located in most of the cases
Climate effect 5G cellular uses EM waves and hence links are influenced by fading channel conditions Normally fiber is not influenced except in the flood conditions

Conclusion: From the above comparison between 5G vs fiber optic on various parameters, The question of 5G replacing fiber does not arise. We can conclude that both 5G and fiber optic technologies exist together. 5G takes care of providing wireless connectivity to mobile phone users at rest or in motion. At the same time, fiber optic carries huge bandwidth data of the 5G cellular system in the backhaul connections between multiple cell tower sites or between one region to the other region. Hence, both 5G and fiber optic technologies need each other to co-exist and provide services to the human beings.

Fiber optic resources

SONET versus SDH    What is PDMA?   What is WDM?   SONET SDH tutorial   Optical Isolator   Optical Circulator   Optical Amplifier   Optical Filter   Optical Coupler   Optical MUX DEMUX   Optical Equalizer   Optical Switch   Wavelength converter  

5G cellular resources

5G basic tutorial   5G Frequency Bands   5G millimeter wave tutorial   5G mm wave frame    5G millimeter wave channel sounding    Difference between 4G and 5G   5G testing and test equipments   5G network architecture   5G NR Physical layer    5G NR MAC layer    5G NR RLC layer    5G NR PDCP layer   

What is Difference between

5G vs 6G    LTE vs 5G TF vs 5G NR    4G vs 5G   

RF and Wireless Terminologies