Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Holy Grail of 5G


What’s real, what’s legend, and what are the ramifications for network operators, construction companies, and distributors

Photo: © artistrobd stock.adobe.com

A connected network supporting 5G wireless traffic and all things Internet continues to generate news across the globe. Recently, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri described 5G as, “the best wireless technological leap that’s ever happened in the history of the business.” Not to be outdone, Verizon Chief Network Officer proclaimed 5G “has the potential to usher in the fourth industrial revolution.”

Whatever the hyperbole, everyone agrees that 5G and the surrounding Internet of Things (IoT) – most of which are simply left to the imagination at this point – will completely alter the landscape of our business and personal lives.

So, to that end, what is also clear is that fiber-optic cable remains the conduit of choice to support this technology. All of the major U.S. wireless carriers are in the construction phase of their network. T-Mobile expects to have 5G in 30 markets, AT&T in a dozen more, and Verizon with at least 5 cities, by the end of the year. In fact, the Fiber Broadband Association estimates that 1.3 million miles of fiber cable would be required to provide full 5G service to just the top 25 metropolitan land areas in the US (assuming all 5G cells were served by fiber connections).

Couple those figures with a recent announcement by Dish investing $1 billion over the next 3 years to build its own network, Google Fiber progressing on their fiber-to-the-home plans, and rumors of Facebook and Amazon entertaining the space. And this doesn’t even include tower providers, traditional carriers, CLECs, and ISPs tackling builds to keep up with their own enterprise customer demand.

One has to wonder – how do we get it all built?

We all know that fiber will be installed at record levels over the next 2-5 years. There is a debate whether or not the ability to procure fiber will be in allocation or not, but there is no debate on the immense amount of network that’s going to be built. The key for future fiber networks will be density – not only in fiber mileage but fiber strands within the core network. At Comstar, we are already seeing many of our customers looking for larger count fiber – from 432- and 864-count, all the way up to 1,728-count – and much less demand in the smaller amounts.

The eventual constriction of fiber cable availability will trickle down to all network construction outside plant materials as providers race to be first to market and complete 5G buildouts.

There is one other underlying consequence of the 5G buildout – is there enough qualified labor to support construction of the network? Inevitably, there will be a labor shortage so it may be even more critical for carriers to take back control of their materials knowing that they may have to branch out from their traditional contactors to get jobs completed.

Questions every carrier should be starting to ask include: How do we find new contractors? Do these new contractors have the relationships to get the industry-best pricing? Do they have the appropriate credit to procure materials such as fiber cable? Do they value the same quality of materials as the end user?

Labor uncertainty shouldn’t cause project uncertainty. From project managers to supply chain supervisors, network deployment to construction divisions, every department from installers to the C-suite must already be thinking about these challenges in an effort to plan accordingly on how the coming 5G holy grail will affect timelines, budgets, and access to mission-critical OSP materials.

To learn how Comstar Supply can more effectively help you manage your materials and network construction projects, please feel free to contact us at 866-326-6782 or reach out to your local Comstar sales manager.