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The first phase of 3GPP 5G standards is targeted for release before the end of 2017 by 3GPP, and 5G should be fully defined by the end of 2019. The first implementations of 5G will utilize the LTE control channel and core, and will focus on enhancing mobile broadband. It’s believed that the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea will offer the first large-scale taste of 5G, with commercial 5G deployments following by 2020. The standards will continue to evolve even after the technology is in the market.

No, but the approach of 5G should become an important part of your LTE strategy. According to Cisco’s recent VNI report, demand for more capacity is expected to rise by 50 percent annually prior to the first possible 5G deployments, so LTE growth must continue in the years ahead. However, this growth should be guided by power, backhaul and site acquisition factors that will be critical to 5G as well as LTE. Since many bands currently used for 3G and LTE will be reallocated to 5G over the coming years, building a strong RF path today will ensure a solid 5G foundation tomorrow.

It will have a large role. Industry consensus is that 5G radio networks will opt for fiber as the preferred technology for backhaul and fronthaul wherever possible because of 5G’s bandwidth requirements. The density of radios for 5G will drive the requirement for network convergence between wired and wireless traffic, increasing the requirement for fiber network solutions that focus on providing the density, accessibility and flexibility to support multiple applications needed for the future.

This remains an unresolved question at this time as standards and architectures develop, but the answer will likely be somewhere between two and 12 fibers per small cell site. Utilizing passive wave division multiplexing (WDM) technology reduces the number of fibers required at each location by sending multiple signals along a single fiber at different wavelengths. These components allow capacity upgrades at a relatively low cost, without the costs and delays associated with adding capacity by way of new construction. WDM, packet-based fronthaul and bi-directional optics all can reduce the amount of fiber required at each cell site, while, at the same time, the new CU/DU split will increase the number of fiber interfaces needed.

Centralized RAN, where fiber fronthaul allows multiple cell sites to share remote baseband unit (BBU) resources, will eventually evolve to cloud RAN (C-RAN). In C-RAN architecture, the BBUs themselves will be virtualized in software running in data centers located at the edges of networks. The 5G architecture for C-RAN has the BBU splitting into two entities—the distributed unit, DU, and the centralized unit or CU. The virtualized DU would be located near the edge and handle the real-time functionality of the radio whereas the CU would be deeper in the network and support the non-real-time functionality across many DUs. In addition to the OpEx savings from centralizing physical (and, eventually, virtualized) assets, C-RAN and its fiber-based architecture will also enable greater energy efficiency, increased network capacity and lower latency than currently available—three improvements that are a prerequisite for the successful rollout of 5G-compliant networks.