The 5G era has begun. In the last year, 5G networks have been popping up all over North America. Estimates say that by 2023, up to 32% of North American mobile connections will be on a 5G network. Worldwide 5G, meanwhile, is expected to roll out fully no earlier than 2025.

5G represents an improvement over 4G in many ways, including increases in bandwidth and in the number of connected devices, faster connection rates to mobile devices, and more. But 5G also presents a greater challenge than its predecessor. A massive number of small cells are needed to accommodate a full range of data-intensive applications. Together these applications, including gaming, 4K video streaming, and virtual reality, will generate data in massive amounts, far more than is seen today.

And while 5G transmits over radio waves, the huge number of wireless transmitters necessary to relay that data will still need fiber-optic cables and secure OSP enclosures to connect to the internet.

The 5G/fiber connection

5G’s performance goals are heavily predicated on the availability of fiber, and lots of it, to cell sites. The promised access speeds of 5G are likely to overload existing mobile backhaul (MBH) networks quickly. Hooked up to a 5G RAN, these networks will generate an immense amount of backhaul traffic. Copper and air-based options simply cannot accommodate this much information.

The limitations of the current system have become obvious during the pandemic. As recently reported, streaming services Amazon and Netflix “have had to throttle the quality of their video streams in order to manage demand.”

Only fiber is capable of handling the workload demanded by the 5G transmitters that will relay data to phones. And this will require endless miles of new fiber-optic cable.