Backhaul sharing holds the key to 5G success

In response to the latest news story ‘Etisalat and Ericsson test 5G,’ Joao Sousa, Partner at global TMD advisory & investment firm, Delta Partners, shares his thoughts on how UAE telecom operators are raising their bets to be ranked as one of the most connected economies worldwide.

The race for 5G’s global market debut is already taking shape – Apple just obtained FCC approval to test 5G communications – and Verizon has gradually started testing 5G networks nationwide since early 2017 across 11 cities. In addition, South Korea’s KT telecom operator is rolling its sleeves to set the stage for the first-ever official demonstration of 5G technology during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

In our region, Etisalat and Ericsson have taken the lead to trial 5G on high spectrum bands, which act as more experimental and simplified platforms to introduce the next generation of ultra-fast internet. This could reach speeds that will be 1000 times faster than the current 4G networks.

Looking at the current market pace, telecom operators are initially looking at adopting 5G (or 4.5G) to offer Fixed Wireless Broadband Access (FWBA) with traditional fiber connectivity experiences. The benefits of FWBA allows for cost reduction and faster time to market in low density urban areas.

Whereas the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH/B) networks are better suited for densely populated areas due to more favorable economics. In the UAE’s case, Etisalat and Du need to rely on fiber optic networks due to factors such as the highly-populated areas and the height of buildings, which all of course play a vital role in delivering high throughput broadband. These fiber networks are key for 5G backhaul. Therefore, Etisalat and Du must consider sharing dark fiber and/or optical transmission to deliver consistent 5G experience across their fixed footprints.

The next phase of 5G testing will likely include lower band services – more suitable for mobility use cases. This will be essential for the take-up of services like augmented reality, which is very much a focus of what digital and over-the-top content (OTT) players are eyeing nowadays.

For telecom operators looking to be at the forefront of 5G market deployment, they need to ensure that their communication infrastructure relies on fiber optical backhaul and that it integrates with cloud providers’ infrastructure – AWS, Google cloud, Microsoft cloud.

It is still important to keep in mind that 5G will only be an open option for developed markets that can house ubiquitous 4G network coverage. That means, cities in developed markets with a high population density and a widespread fiber infrastructure will be best suited to implement 5G – and the UAE is one of the first to jump on this innovation bandwagon.

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