With initial 5G launches looming ever nearer, network operators are running out of time to make critical decisions about the transport network infrastructure that will underpin the low-latency, bandwidth-hungry services operators are hoping to launch and monetize.
And there's no shortage of decisions to be made, notes Heavy Reading principal analyst Sterling Perrin, who is hosting a 5G & Optical Transport workshop with executives from BT, ECI Telecom, Google and Orange on June 26 prior to the NGON & DCI Europe event in Nice, France (June 26-28).
"There's so much the operators need to consider and decide -- there are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered," he notes. Some of the key debating points for all operators, and their partners and suppliers, include:
Optical or microwave in 5G access/aggregation networks? Optics is the go-to option to deliver the bandwidth and latency needed for 5G, but it's clear that microwave technology is going to play a role in 5G transport networks too. How, where and why will microwave be the most suitable option?
Killer apps? Which applications/services will emerge as operators introduce 5G capabilities and which will put the most strain on the transport networks in a 5G environment? The strain isn't limited to bandwidth and latency either, notes Perrin -- the capex strain of building the most appropriate transport infrastructure will also weigh heavy on operator shoulders.
What role will packet technology play in 5G? Will packet networking technology be able to take some of the strain and in what instances might that be appropriate, given the expected latency requirements of emerging applications?
When will 5G transport networks need to be deployed? Operators will need to plan and invest in their transport networks ahead of their 5G service launches, right? RIGHT?
Who will supply fronthaul transport technology to the operators? Will the RAN vendors deliver a complete package of baseband, radio head and fronthaul transport? Or will there be a role for best-of-breed optical suppliers that will be deployed alongside the kit from the radio access network suppliers? (This is going to be a very tasty discussion...)
These are just a few of the many questions that need to be answered and, says Perrin, there's little sign so far of any consensus about pretty much anything. Maybe after June 26 we'll have a few answers -- though very likely the list of questions stacking up for the operator transport network teams will be just that bit longer.
I'm looking forward to the workshop to find out what Perrin and his fellow operator and vendor speakers have to say.
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading