Q&A: Fiber must go deeper to handle future network demands

fiber FTTH
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FTTx deployments have been ongoing for quite a long time now, but there are still plenty of gaps where fiber ideally ought to be, particularly at the edge. Operators have found plenty of workarounds, but as data usage escalates and 5G lurks on the horizon, sooner or later that won’t cut it – they’re going to have to future-proof their networks with deep fiber, with the aim of deploying all-fiber networks.

In this Q&A, Wataru Katsurashima, president of FTTH Council Asia Pacific, explains to Disruptive.Asia editor in chief John C Tanner why deep fiber has become a key issue for operators, the challenges operators face, and how 5G’s fiber requirements are creating additional challenges.

Wataru Katsurashima, president of FTTH Council Asia Pacific
Wataru Katsurashima, president of FTTH Council Asia Pacific

Disruptive.Asia: Why has deep fiber and all-fiber networks become such an important issue for the FTTH Council?

Wataru Katsurashima: Until recently, the most important reason to encourage the use of optical fiber was the capacity. But recently the importance of all-fiber networks has been increasing compared to before because of the need for lower latency. If you put an E/O converter in the middle, it could result in the loss of several milliseconds of latency, which is fatal to the real-time operation of things such as self-driving cars or connected cars. It’s not just the fiber backhaul that’s important, but it’s increasingly also about the fronthaul and edge regions.

Some operators have found it challenging to go too deep with fiber – is that still the case?

There are three aspects which makes the investment in fiber networks challenging. One is the construction itself. In some countries, they do not have enough skilled operators for mass deployment yet. Most operators needed to modify or customize the wiring method a couple of times before they reached the latest standard.

The second challenge is right-of-way. And third is the money. Operators want effective investments that lead to profit in a short time. However, I want to point out that several mobile operators put too much effort on prolonging the life cycle of 3G – with technologies like HSPA+, etc –  and eventually spent more money than they needed to before they started to introduce 4G. The same thing could happen in the fixed network.

For the operators that can only go so deep, what sort of strategy options do they have?

Recently, people have been discussing the possibility of new optical fiber network configurations and mobile/fixed converged networks. Mobile networks, subscriber access line and monitoring fibers networks do not exist separately anymore. In the past, operators were not positive in sharing their network with other operators, but the time will come when operators will collaborate with several partners to share their networks in order to make more money from the infrastructure. Technically we are still only halfway there. Some operators have started trialing NG-PON2, for example, but some say that the converged network costs much more than running separate networks.

What impact is 5G having on the deep-fiber discussion as we start getting into heavy cell/access point densification and the need to support fiber backhaul and fronthaul in such environments?

I am afraid that nobody can tell exactly what the best fiber configuration is for 5G. Three major pillars of 5G are ‘higher bandwidth’, ‘simultaneous multiple connections’ and ‘low latency’ which will enable ultra-high density video, IoT and self-driving cars, for example. Some say we need to deploy small cells with 50-meter intervals in dense areas, like the electric poles you see along the street. But it is not practical to deploy them nationwide in a short time. While we will have the 5G international standards in common, I believe that 5G technology and related applications may evolve differently according to the different needs in each nation or area. So eventually the method of fiber deployment to serve those networks could vary.

This topic and many others will be discussed in-depth at FTTH Council Asia Pacific’s upcoming 13th FTTH APAC conference in Manila from May 8-10. Disruptive.Asia is an official media partner of the conference. All the details you need are right here.

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