Fiber Optic Cabinets, Cables, Pedestals and Terminals

In January 2022, Verizon EVP and CTO, Kyle Malady said “At the end of the day, these [5G] networks are really going to be fiber networks with radios hanging off ’em."  

Back in 2017, just five years ago, the Fiber Broadband Association predicted something similar. “For 5G to work well, many additional small radios or ‘cells’ must be installed close together—as close as 200 feet apart. To provide multi-gigabit service to many users and applications, these small cells will need to be connected to hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of miles of new fiber optic cable.”  

This assessment held true for millimeter wave high-band spectrum above 6 GHz but for a variety of reasons, millimeter wave deployments of small cells have not taken off. Instead, 5G interest has shifted to using mid-band spectrum between 1 to 6 GHz for coverage that offers hundreds of Mbps speed to phones from existing macro cell towers with upgraded high-efficiency 5G radio equipment.  

Cell towers providing high-speed broadband all use fiber connectivity for backhaul and many are evolving to use fiber in the fronthaul from the base station equipment to the radio antennas at the top of the tower. Fiber is most needed in fronthaul because of the Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) protocol. Legacy CPRI requires a 10Gbps nailed up circuit switch path. The more contemporary enhanced CPRI (eCPRI) lightens the load to just 2.5Gbps on a packet switch protocol. Both are best served by fiber.   

The concept of fronthaul and backhaul are not new to wireless. We had that before 5G, but a new concept called midhaul was envisioned in standards to create an intermediate step in the radio access network (RAN). Midhaul has not taken off because of radio equipment makers combining RU and DU functionality into their gear. This portends an extension of the present mode of operation for the RAN—essentially, you have fronthaul and backhaul. That’s it.   

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) on the other hand, has been getting some recent attention. Touted as a way to establish high-speed broadband connections to those places harder to reach with fiber directly, the total addressable FWA market is limited to 10-20% of what’s available. Both fiber and fixed wireless technologies have been deployed for years—each for different reasons but mostly in a complementary fashion.  

Most networking folks agree that fixed wireless broadband service should be viewed as a hybrid service with limitations but as a good first step to all-fiber. If you’re going to deploy broadband, why not do it right for the long run scenario? Why deploy a technology now knowing that in a few years it will not be able to meet the residential broadband demand?

For now, fiber and 5G have a symbiotic relationship.  What’s good for one, is good for the other (at least for now). But in the long run, fiber-based residential broadband has more bandwidth capacity and performance, is not dependent on the whims of what happens in the airwaves, and ultimately wins out. 

In an interconnected always-on world, fiber is the unheralded cornerstone of modern life, linking everything from hyperscaling data centers to 5G cell phones. Clearfield CMO Kevin Morgan examines the ever-evolving technology of fiber and the role it plays in enabling today’s society.    

Kevin leads the marketing efforts for Clearfield as Chief Marketing Officer. He joined the fiber company in 2016, leveraging his extensive experience in advanced communications technology, fiber optic systems, and business product marketing. Prior to joining Clearfield, he spent two decades serving in various senior marketing positions at ADTRAN. Before that, he spent a decade at telephone operating company BellSouth, now a part of AT&T, where he worked as the lead broadband product evaluations resource in the Science & Technology department.

Morgan is currently the Fiber Broadband Association Chair of the Board of Directors. Morgan has also served in various leadership positions at the Fiber Broadband Association, including Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for 2021. Morgan holds an Electrical Engineering degree from Auburn University and an MBA from the University of Alabama.