Enthusiasm is mounting for the potential of 5G technology. The next generation wireless telecommunications system promises higher speeds, lower latency and greater capacity than the current 4G system.
In an often repeated example, it will only take 3.6 seconds to download a two hour movie compared with the current 6 minutes using the 4G network.
5G networks will be essential for the expected growth in demand for mobile data. According to Statista, global mobile data traffic amounted to 19.01 exabytes per month in 2018 but is expected to reach 77.5 exabytes per month by 2022.
In addition, certain features of 5G networks are expected to unlock the potential for IoT applications. Sensors can be accommodated as can the responsiveness necessary for advanced IoT applications such as robotics and autonomous vehicles. Combined with edge computing, data analytics and machine learning, many believe that 5G will generate new business opportunities.
According to Mike Wood, “5G is set to revolutionize wireless communications and play a major role in our future connected society and facilitate the road towards a more advanced Internet of Things. Wood chairs IEC Technical Committee 106 which recently published a new IEC Technical Report on evaluating human exposure to radio frequency fields, including those used by 5G networks, in the vicinity of base stations.
As the demand for mobile data expands, it must be accompanied by an increase in the backhaul capacity of the mobile broadband network. According to the consultancy firm Deloitte, wireline broadband access supports up to 90% of all Internet traffic despite the fact that the majority of the traffic ends on a wireless device.
5G networks will rely extensively on wireline broadband. Because they transmit on higher frequencies compared with 4G networks, the propagation characteristics of 5G networks are more limited. Signals will have greater difficulty travelling far or penetrating walls.
As a result, they will require a dense network of small cells connected to a cabled network. And, these cables will use fibre optics. As noted by Deloitte, “unlocking the full potential of 5G rests on a key assumption: the extension of fibre deep into the network”.
The physical properties of fibre optics permit the transmission of data over long distances, with greater security and at higher data rates compared with traditional copper cables. And because they are immune to electromagnetic interferences, fibre optics can be used in various environments safely, including those with high radiation, without altering the transmission.
The fibre optics market is dynamic and in constant expansion, driven by the growing demand for high data bandwidths in combination with improvements to fibre optic technologies.
Standardizing fibre optics
International standards provide safety and performance assurances. They establish minimum requirements for systems, devices and components to ensure product functionality across various manufacturers and provide test methods to evaluate performance and durability.
IEC Technical Committee 86 prepares international standards for fibre optic systems, modules, devices and components intended for use with communications equipment. Its activities cover terminology, characteristics, calibration and measurement methods and functional interfaces. Optical, environmental and mechanical requirements are defined to ensure reliable system performance.