Notes from Nice
Trends and observations from NGON 2016
LightCounting Principal Analyst John Lively attended IIR’s Next Generation Optical Networking (NGON) conference in Nice, France, June 29-July1, 2016, this year co-located with a new Optical DCI conference. ‘Next generation access networks’ was a hot topic at the conference.
“The advent of 5G mobile technology will be the impetus for true fixed/mobile convergence at the network level”, said Sasha Vorbeck of Deutsche Telekom during his NGON presentation. And while not everyone agreed with him, the evidence is mounting that this will be the case.
One big difference between 4G and 5G mobile networks is that 5G networks will have to deliver a range of broadband speeds, latency, and other specifications, to multiple end-use cases, including connected planes, trains, and automobiles, and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as smartphones. In contrast, today’s 4G RAN (LTE) was designed to deliver true broadband speeds for mobile phones, with little consideration for anything else. More uses cases are just part of the story however; future access networks will also be shaped by several other trends in networking, as shown in the diagram below:
Fortunately consensus seems to be emerging in some of these areas. FTTH and WDM-PON are emerging as the clear winners for next generation fixed access vs. copper and microwave solutions, at least according to speakers from Orange, NTT, and Deutsche Telekom. G.fast for example is bandwidth limited by distance and at typical drop lengths speeds are realistically limited to 0.5 Gbps, not the 1Gbps or more per user that is already becoming the standard in developed countries.
Consensus is also emerging on a new functional split in signal processing between RRU and BBU for 5G RAN equipment, which will contain CPRI inside the RRU. This will eliminate the CPRI requirement on the fronthaul network, reducing bandwidth requirements, and enable the use of off-the-shelf Ethernet optics to carry the traffic. Combined with commercial “pluggable ONUs” for PON networks which could plug directly into the RRU, one can envision future 5G cell-site xhaul being carried by FTTx PON networks instead of a separate, dedicated fronthaul network. Of course traditional CPRI fronthaul will still be required for installed 3G and 4G equipment, which could remain in use for a decade or more in some places.
Pluggable ONUs (ONU optics and processing in an SFP package) are already in commercial use for today’s PON networks, and NTT is proposing to extend this concept to OLT functions via its Flexible Access System Architecture (FASA), announced in February 2016, which would use generic, inter-operable hardware supporting different use cases, controlled by APIs.
When 5G deployment will take place is also coming to a general consensus, with the 2020 Olympics in Japan being most often quoted as the first commercial launching point, with trials beginning as early next year, and general deployment coming sometime after 2020. Philippe Chanclou of Orange gave 2022 as the likely deployment year for 5G in their networks.
Next generation access networks for mobile and fixed broadband services is the subject of a forthcoming LightCounting report: Next Generation Access Networks - slated for publication in November 2016.
LightCounting has just published a research note providing additional content from the NGON and Optical DCI conferences, focused on the datacenter market, and the evolution of networking equipment, in addition to next generation access networks.
LightCounting clients can access the full version of the research note at: https://www.lightcounting.com/login.cfm
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