Verizon Continues Preparations for 5G Backbone
Back in April, Verizon announced a deal with Corning to buy up to 37 million miles of optical fiber over the next three years, with a minimum spend of over $1 billion. At first glance this appears incongruous. Did Verizon not just sell off most of its FiOS assets that connect fiber optic cables to the home? It turns out that the new fiber is to support its forthcoming 5G high-speed wireless internet.
Not all fiber is created equal. FiOS – now mostly owned by Frontier – uses a standard quality fiber optic cable, without any armored protection, that carries three “colors” of light in a system called GPON, or Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Networks. It’s upper limit tends to be around 1.2 to 2.4 Gigabits per second.
The new Verizon order from Corning is for leading edge, high capacity backbone cable. That is, not only is the Corning cable provided as multiple fibers bundled together and protected by an armored sheath, but also of such quality that dozens of individual colors can be sent along each individual fiber. Each color will be able to tarnsmit up to 100 Gigabits per second of data. Hence each armored cable could be carrying hundreds of Terabits per second in both directions. As you can imagine, this will give Verizon’s core network, or backbone, more than enough capacity to give Verizon Wireless users at least 1 Gigabit per second wireless data rates, and still more bandwidth when the following generation comes down the pike in the 2020s or ’30s.
At the time of writing this blog, Verizon is testing a fixed wireless access system for 5G in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with Cisco and Samsung participating. What do I mean by “fixed access”? Well, although a 5G cellular network will be ideal for supplying broadband services to mobile devices – with bandwidths in the region of 1 Gigabit per second per account – it will now make sense to use the technology to supply the last mile to home-based systems. That is, when the time comes, homeowners may choose to replace their existing home internet ISP in favor of a 5G account with Verizon. I should mention that we have FiOS to our home, with a Tellabs 611 BPON unit that is limited to 75 megabits per second. Even if we were to be upgraded to a GPON system, we would still be limited to only a couple of Gigabits per second.
So what does all this mean for smartphone users? Sadly, it is not yet time to get excited. The widespread use of fixed access systems is still five years away. And there is some work to be done in designing suitable antennae that will fit inside smartphones. Nevertheless, as Verizon’s new fiber roll-out comes online, the increases in capacity will be used to further improve 4G’s reach and bandwidth across the U.S. Independent researchers have found that in just the last twelve months, Verizon’s average 4G LTE bandwidth has increased from 12 Megabits per second to over 16 Megabits per second. I’m pretty sure we will continue to see more mobility bandwidth from all the carriers over the next few years.