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5G and fiber: friends with benefits

Last year at #BBWF we launched our 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) solution, where 5G helps operators accelerate Gigabit fiber deployments by ensuring every customer can be reached.

Now fiber is returning the favor and helping operators with their 5G deployments.

We know that 5G networks will be far more dense than previous generations, with tens of thousands of small cells needed to serve a city. These small cells will need to be connected. Typically, that’d be done with a dedicated fiber/microwave network. But there’s an alternative network already in place, one that covers all these small cell locations. That’s the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

Using an existing FTTH network for 5G transport obviously saves costs, to the tune of up 50% of TCO. So we’ve developed the Nokia Lightspan MF-2 access node, built around our Quillion chipset, and designed with 5G transport in mind. Its non-blocking capacity, low-latency optimizations, and facility for Multi-PON for going to 10G and beyond make it perfect for carrying 5G traffic (and many other things besides). Backhaul and midhaul (3GPP F1 interface) are supported already. Fronthaul will be possible as standards evolve to higher PON speeds (25G and beyond) and specify the Cooperative Transport interface.

Fiber can do even more for 5G when combined with what’s on the end of nearly every FTTH connection: Wi-Fi.

Operators are already used to Wi-Fi offloading. Today, 50-70% of cellular traffic is offloaded and this will only increase. Consumers, though, will expect their 5G experience everywhere. Luckily, Wi-Fi technology development has kept pace with 5G, and the arrival of Wi-Fi 6 allows operators to deliver a 5G experience in the home.

Wi-Fi 6 is based on some of the same technologies as 5G, which brings higher speeds with lower latency. When connected to FTTH the overall latency performance lets operators seamlessly offload 5G traffic, helping manage RAN costs, free up 5G capacity for critical applications, and still provide an exceptional customer experience.

As its name suggests, our new Nokia WiFi Beacon 6 supports Wi-Fi 6, as well as EasyMesh™, to deliver this capability. But, as usual, we’ve gone further. Wi-Fi is the weakest link in end-to-end latency, and we’ve fixed it with the world’s first implementation of L4S in a Wi-Fi router. We’ve enhanced the L4S (low loss low latency, scalable throughput) protocol with a Nokia Bell Labs innovation, called PI2,  for active queue management. It creates a low-latency path throughout the network, with specially-marked traffic enjoying latencies as low as 1ms on a Wi-Fi link. That means operators can safely offload 5G to in-home Wi-Fi without compromising performance. Plus, it’s a dream for anyone using latency-sensitive apps like online gaming.

Of course, a full suite of FTTx technologies is still essential to connect more people sooner, and operators will continue to select the best tool to complete each Gigabit deployment. But where 5G and fiber do combine, they truly bring better broadband to more people, more quickly, than either can alone. Long may this mutually beneficial friendship continue!

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #fiber #FWA

Stefaan Vanhastel

About Stefaan Vanhastel

Stefaan Vanhastel heads the CTO function for Nokia Fixed Network and continues to lead global marketing for fixed access products and solutions. With a PhD in Electrical Engineering and over 20 years of experience in the IT/telecommunications industry, he keeps it simple: “I’m a technology marketeer by day, a wildlife/nature photographer at heart, and cat caregiver at home”. Connect with Stefaan on LinkedIn.

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