The Convergence Trinity

Opinion by Raf Meersman

Why are there so little Real 5G networks so far? Comsof CEO Raf Meersman gives his analysis and provides his personal ideas on how to save OPEX and CAPEX to eliminate some barriers. “To my opinion, a key element is convergence, in three ways.”

fiber 5G convergence

5G is here. Or, rather, it should be here. Any telecom operator or broadband provider who wants to stick around for the coming decades is going to – or at least planning to – deploy this next generation wireless network and its indispensable fiber network backhaul.

This investment is nothing less than an absolute necessity. Data traffic has already, and will continue to, explode in the coming years, caused by data-devouring applications such as TV streaming and online gaming. This evolution tests the limits of any data network infrastructure. FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) and 5G are the only future-proof technologies capable of coping with this data tsunami.

The 5G Experts

Everyone claims to be a 5G expert nowadays. Just Google ‘5G’ and you will get over 796 million hits. I challenge you to find actual large scale 5G projects. Spoiler alert, apart from investments in Southeast Asia, and some small-scale projects in airports and urban areas in the West, the results are less than thrilling. And no, we do not consider “4.5G”-type networks a realistic alternative.

“Just Google ‘5G’ and you will get over 796 million hits. I challenge you to find actual large scale 5G projects.”

Don’t look too far to find the answer, as it will inevitably lead you to the same conclusion.

A 5G network has more speed, lower latency, and can be used in a much broader spectrum than its predecessor. However, these benefits come at a great cost for the provider. 5G is dependent on a dense cell site network and these cell sites need to be fed by a fiber optic backhaul. This requires extensive civil work, additional equipment, and upkeep of maintenance. This investment will cost billions of dollars.

The Unsustainable Cocktail

Unsurprisingly, many telecom providers are reluctant to roll out this brand-new infrastructure, as they are in an extremely unfavorable position. On the one hand, huge commitments of both time and money are needed in order to upgrade or replace existing copper or 4G networks. On the other hand, revenue streams are flatlining since customers are not willing to pay extra for this state-of-the-art network.

The true winners of these investments are companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix, who, backed by higher speeds and lower latency, can extend their services.

Three Strategic Paths

The telecom industry needs to find a solution to this unsustainable situation. I see three strategic paths which can lead to significantly lower CAPEX and OPEX while still offering optimal service. The magic word is convergence.

  • Plan a complete network

Data traffic will grow exponentially in the coming decades with 5G being its key carrier. So think ahead and anticipate when you plan your fiber network. Deploying a converged FTTH/5G network minimizes expenses in the long run as both networks share a significant percentage of the same infrastructure.

  • Set your differences aside, build one network

Telecom providers are in a rat race to get to the customer first; all deploying their own infrastructure. But does this ‘traditional’ model of single physical network ownership still make sense today? The answer is no. Deploying a shared network will cut costs and open up the budget to increase the network’s capacity.

“Does the ‘traditional’ model of single physical network ownership still make sense today? The answer is no.”

  • Build a bridge to other utilities

Today, internet access is a basic utility; we rely on internet access as much as we do on electricity. Consequently, electricity companies are obvious allies as they already have an extensive infrastructure in place. Join together to build or upgrade your network to a fiber-5G-electricity network. This win-win situation is obvious. Electricity providers and telco’s share the investment burden and telco’s can use the existing infrastructure to get to places that otherwise would not be profitable for them to go.

If the telecom industry can turn these three strategies into a reality, operators and providers will face a much more positive future, with a network that will last for decades.

This piece was published in Fibre Systems Magazine