By the end of this year, the planet is estimated to be covered in more than 6.4 billion connected devices. Thatís slightly less than an average of one connection per human being. Over the next four years, that figure is expected to more than triple to 20.8 billion devices; in other words, roughly three connections per person across the globe.
Let that sink in for a second: three times as many connected devices as there are people to use those devices. Suffice it to say, thatís going to be an enormous volume of data trafficked around, and an equally enormous amount of bandwidth needed to support that data.
So it should come as no surprise that providers and customers alike are eagerly moving toward 5G as the solution. As the culmination of the licensed spectrum -- going from 2G to 3G to 4G -- 5G will open up new layers of bandwidth to support this exponential influx of new users and devices.
The key to building that much-needed bandwidth comes through dark fiber.
A pivotal piece in the 5G puzzle
We talk about IoT and smart cities in a very abstract manner now, but they will be a reality before you know it -- and with them come thousands of new connections. For instance, smart cities will require ten times as many site connections than now. Establishing these connections means expanding bandwidth and leveraging more intelligent data centers to support this capacity.
Dark fiber can do that, providing the high bandwidth and short latency between sites that will become essential to forming connections capable of sustaining exponentially higher mobile traffic. This is an important distinction from lit fiber, which is already actively used. With dark fiber, providers can light it with their own equipment, allowing them greater control over their own networks compared to buying already-lit fiber.
Yet 5G isnít just about connecting people, as previous spectrum speeds have done. It's about connecting people and things -- in other words, thousands of new apps and new sites. In other words, 5G is about making networking smarter and more agile, and dark fiber can provide the capacity for that.
The local touch
The challenge in deploying dark fiber for 5G, though, is the specificity that goes into each city, each market and each siteís 5G connectivity needs.
Dark fiber isnít a blanket solution to establishing higher-bandwidth connectivity; it has to be tailored to each specific location. Because no one location is the same, no one city or site will be equal to others. Some might require greater time or cost investments than others for 5G deployment.
The Street Guide to Smart Cities
No smart city's infrastructure will mirror any other, creating varying degrees of customization.
There are always some locations that will be more complex than others. For instance, you might have one site where 5% to 10% of dark fiber deployment contributes to about half of the total cost!
That doesn't mean dark fiber isnít the way to 5G -- just the opposite; it's still the best way to lay the foundation for 5G. But if providers want to get serious about 5G, that means they must get serious about dark fiber, and more specifically, get serious about providing on-the-ground, local support to the sites and cities that require unique specificity in their fiber deployment.
How providers benefit from dark fiber
So, why, then, should providers gravitate to dark fiber? Why spend the time and costs on managing specific deployments in specific, local markets to ensure that users at a given site are 5G enabled?
Because, frankly, dark fiber is still the best way to achieve widespread 5G use. Not only is it better for customers, but itís better for providers, too. Dark fiber gives providers more control over what they can build for users; it provides them with better capacity and better services.
When moving to the next generation of mobile infrastructure, providers need dark fiber to offer a better-quality user experience for customers.
The backhaul bottleneck
One key consideration for the deployment of 5G bandwidth is backhaul. More bandwidth capacity means providers will incur more infrastructure costs for supporting that bandwidth.
But thatís exactly where dark fiber plays a key advantage.
Rather than purchasing third-party circuits and relying on those contracts for bandwidth scalability, providers can instead turn to dark fiber -- free from those third-party circuit deals -- and light it up with their own equipment. They then can scale bandwidth appropriately to the needs of their customers and users.
That level of flexibility not only creates what David Small, Verizon's EVP of wireless operations, calls "infinite scalability," it also cuts back significantly on those backhaul costs.
A 5G future through dark fiber
The future is just around the corner: a future of interconnected smart cities; a future of billions of previously offline devices, like refrigerators and laundry machines and thermostats, now connected through the IoT; a future of increasingly sophisticated and higher-resolution videos sent across countless numbers of mobile devices.
5G must be ready for that future with the higher bandwidth, shorter latency and greater capacity it brings to the table. To ensure 5G will be here to support a future of smart cities, IoT and billions of newly connected devices, providers need to roll out dark fiber and their plans for dark fiber deployment, now.
— Aaron Partouche, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Colt Technology Services. Follow him on Twitter @Colt_USA or @AaronPartouch, Special to The New IP Agency