The market for fiber is growing rapidly, driven not just by rising consumer and business demands, but also by the complexity of connecting 5G cells and MEC resources. It’s a changed ecosystem, but one which presents massive opportunities – for those operators that are sufficiently agile to accelerate fiber rollout.
Fiber is rapidly becoming a critical element of network transformation and evolution. Not only is it being rolled out to deliver faster – and more reliable – connectivity to households and businesses, it’s also essential for connecting mobile infrastructure. Accelerating fiber rollout to keep pace with demands is a key operational goal – both for immediate service delivery as well as for network transformation. Accurate OSS network inventory management is fundamental to this goal.
The principal reason is that fiber is now required to support high-speed connectivity at almost every junction in the network. Let’s consider what this means. The network can, roughly, be divided into three key domains: the access, the backhaul, and the core. While additional terms, such as ‘metro’ are also often used, for our purposes, this break-down is sufficient to illustrate the point.
Fiber has long been used for fixed access connectivity and backhaul, but it’s now required in mobile access too. That’s because new 5G radio infrastructure needs fiber to support the capacity and downlink / uplink speeds that 5G can deliver. Previous generations of mobile networks have been able to use a mix of fiber and wireless backhaul techniques – such as microwave to provide connectivity to the network core.
However, 5G radio uses different frequencies in order to provide both capacity and speed, so in order to avoid bottlenecks at the edge of the network, sufficient capacity is required to connect back to the core – and only fiber can deliver this. This means that each and every 5G cell must be connected to fiber – which demands a massively expanded fiber network to ensure coverage obligations are met. While this new fiber network may track existing deployments, it will be required in numerous new locations.
That’s not all. When 5G standalone (5G SA) is available, it will enable a new class of services. That’s because 5G is designed to support several parallel kinds of service, in contrast to previous generations of technology, which were optimized for only a single service. In addition to offering new performance levels for mobile users (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), 5G SA will also support:
This will be enabled by a new, distributed core. But, low latency means that data cannot travel very far. To meet the requirements of the most stringent applications, processors and servers need to be moved closer to the source of the data. In other words, mobile edge computing (or MEC) is required. In turn, this means that yet more fiber is required – to connect RAN sites to remote MEC clusters that are sufficiently near to ensure that latency requirements can be met.
In addition, the 5G SA core is designed to be disaggregated. This means that, elements which used to be combined in the core, can now be moved to service functions at the edge of the network. So, not only do we need fiber to service MEC deployments, we also need fiber to connect RAN elements to newly distributed 5G SA functions. Finally, let’s not forget that 5G is not just for mobile – it’s a new, unified network architecture, to service all kinds of access.
So, instead of being confined to different domains in the network, fiber is now a near-ubiquitous requirement. As a result, operators are being challenged to accelerate fiber rollouts, not just for new customer connections but to support the transformed and distributed network.
In other words, they need to be able to connect lots of things to lots of other things, quickly, so that they can activate services. And, operators need to be able to do so with agility. That’s because new fiber demands will emerge, not just from traditional sources, but from remote sites in which 5G wireless is used for process automation – requiring MEC connectivity. Such demands may fall outside existing rollout plans.
Thus, when an enterprise demands connectivity to MEC resources, someone needs to be able to provide the fiber to support this. Not all of this fiber will be required at once – which means operators will need to move fast when, for example, an enterprise order for a local 5G network is received. In addition, they need to have systems in place to support such emerging business models. On-demand fiber rollout capabilities are now required.
That’s why accurate network inventory is even more essential than ever. To enable the agility and speed of deployment that’s required, operators need lots of information to be available, such as:
All of this information must be available, not only at a glance, but also in a way that can be made accessible to processes that require it. Systems that are involved in the service lifecycle – from order to activation and to in-service assurance must be aligned in a seamless workflow. If they are not, then operators or fiber providers cannot easily meet demands from customers or meet their own planned rollout schedules.
The key to ensuring that fiber rollout can extend to encompass all demands, with varying service and SLA requirements is the insight and overview that accurate network inventory offers. So, if you are trying to manage fiber rollout while adapting to new business models, a new, unified network inventory management solution is of paramount importance.