Girish Gupta, regional head, sales, India, STL

Digvijay Sharma, senior director, regional sales, Ciena

The advent of the 5G era calls for scaling up fibre deployments to support the various high-bandwidth applications of the technology. At a recent virtual conference on “OFC Networks in India”, Girish Gupta, regional head, sales, India, STL, and Digvijay Sharma, senior director, regional sales, Ciena, shared their views on the trends in the 5G space, the infrastructure requirements for 5G, and the need for scaling up fiberisation for faster roll-out of the technology. The key takeaways from the discussion…

Data growth – A key driver for 5G

Today, the world is experiencing exponential data growth. Between 2017 and 2022, the growth rate of mobile data is expected to be 46 per cent, while that of internet protocol traffic is expected to be 26 per cent. Around 80 per cent of the internet traffic will be generated from content-based video applications such as Netflix, Prime Video and Zoom. Further, the number of internet connections is projected to increase from 6 billion in 2017 to 15 billion in 2022.

This rise in internet consumption will result in numerous opportunities in the 5G and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) domains. In fact, 5G and FTTH will play a pivotal role in sustaining the increased speed and data consumption requirements in the future. As per industry reports, 12 per cent of the global mobile traffic will be on 5G by 2022, which will generate 21 GB of traffic per month per connection. Meanwhile, global fixed broadband speeds will reach 75.4 Mbps by 2022, up from 39 Mbps in 2017.

Infrastructure requirements

5G will be a fluid network, capable of adapting to deliver speed, reach or capacity as per the needs of the industry and the consumer. To establish robust 5G network infrastructure, service providers will need to enable densification and convergence of networks, and lay a strong backbone consisting of fibre-rich networks.

Network densification

In the 5G era, a network provider will be required to provide around 10 Gbps of capacity and deliver speeds of less than 1 millisecond. However, it will not be easy for one company to provide these services. Enhanced 5G capacity demands higher frequencies, and higher frequencies require cell densification. A massive amount of densification in access networks is also required for 5G. For instance, India currently has around 45 sites per 10 km, which is fairly low if one considers the requirements for 5G. So, we have a long journey ahead as a country and as an industry. Further, the number of small cells required for 5G would be around 10 times the number of macro sites that we have today. In terms of cell density, 3G networks require one small cell site per 100 square km, 4G networks require 25 sites per 100 square km, and 5G networks require 400 sites per 100 square km. This implies that 5G networks will require 16 times the cell density of 4G networks. Moreover, 16 times the amount of fibre will be required to roll out 5G and meet its bandwidth and latency requirements.

In fact, as a result of high cell densification, it would be an economical option to converge 5G and FTTH in dense areas.

Approaches for network densification

There are two possible approaches for network densification. The first is the capacity-driven approach, which has been adopted by global players such as Telefonica and Orange. Under this approach, telcos require moderate capex and opex, gain limited scalability and control, have moderate interoperability, and face high complexity. This approach is useful in cases where fibre availability is low. While it is good for meeting medium-term demand, it has poor agility. The other approach is the fibre-driven approach, which has been adopted by telcos such as Verizon, AT&T and China Mobile. Under this approach, telcos require moderate capex and low opex, gain high scalability, control and interoperability, and face low complexity. Through this approach, it is possible to offer differentiated services. Further, it allows a quick go-to-market time frame for any type of service. Countries with large areas and high population density seem to prefer the fibre-driven architecture approach.

5G readiness

Although readiness for 5G can be measured under several categories, the three broad ones are spectrum, network and fibre readiness. The first category covers the kind of spectrum range that each individual service provider would get, and whether the spectrum is harmonised or not, so that it can be most effectively utilised. This is because there have been instances where non-harmonised spectrum has been allocated, leading to inefficient usage of the spectrum. India still has a long way to go in this regard. Secondly, as 5G is not a technology that serves just a single usecase, but one that touches an entire ecosystem of use cases, network latency is an important criterion for its provisioning. Telcos have to start investing in scalable networks from today onwards. The other important aspect is that of network slicing, as 5G has different use cases with different needs from the network. For instance, in use cases such as gaming, remote monitoring, or live feeds, the quality of service and bandwidth matters. In such cases, a single network should have the capability to be sliced to meet two different kinds of requirements. The third important category for 5G readiness is fibre readiness. India needs to substantially scale up its fibre capacity for the advent of 5G.

Need for fibre

Most telecom service providers make infrastructure investments only for today, and do not take into account long-term requirements. This needs to change. If we want reliable speeds and high bandwidth, we need to scale up fibre deployments.

If we look at a population of 20,000 in a square km, which is a typical urban scenario for India, and suppose that every home needs to be fibre connected, and further assume that only 30 per cent of the network is shared by each operator and a house can afford only 75 per cent of the network, we would require a network with 864 strand fibres, considering the macro/small cells, enterprises and home spaces.

Key 5G use cases 

The key use cases of 5G technology that would drive its adoption in India include:

  • Fixed wireless access (FWA): FWA technology is a key use case. It helps in providing high speed connectivity with low latency over wireless till the last mile. Another key advantage of the technology is that it is faster to deploy at a low cost.
  • Mobile broadband: Provision of high speed mobile broadband to support high-bandwidth applications such as videos and games is another use case. Currently, video-based apps account for the highest share of data traffic, and online games are probably the next premium traffic source.
  • Backup via 5G: 5G networks can act as an alternative to unstable fibre-based networks. Enterprises as well as institutions need high bandwidth availability, which can be fulfilled by 5G networks.
  • Industry 4.0: 5G can enable the use of private 5G networks and machine-to-machine communications, internet of things, automated manufacturing, etc. under Industry 4.0. Further, it can enable critical communication and provide reliable connectivity with ultra-low latency.

However, these are early-bird use cases. As the technology evolves, we will witness many more use cases.

As far as India is concerned, it is likely to have a three-step approach towards 5G. First, the country will focus on building larger coverage. Second, the automation and industrial sectors, that is, establishing smart factories, smart warehouses, smart ports, smart mining, etc. will be another focus area. We would want to focus on enabling efficiencies in this domain. Third, there will be focus on machine communication styles such as mixed reality. However, this phase is about five years in the future.

Deployment timeline

The deployment of 5G in India is about two to three years away, even for basic use cases. Since service providers have recently invested in 4G spectrum, they will need some time before reinvesting in 5G spectrum. Unless a spectrum auction happens and the basic necessity of 5G spectrum is met, the deployment of 5G will remain far away.