BERLIN -- Broadband World Forum 2017 -- Orange Polska is ramping up spending on fiber infrastructure as it prepares for the rollout of 5G networks in the next few years, says the operator's chief executive.
Jean Francois Fallacher said the investments would provide crucial backhaul support for higher-speed 5G services, besides delivering faster broadband connections to fixed-line customers.
"When 5G picks up we will need to densify and connect more base stations with fiber and so this makes sense for the future of 5G," he told attendees at today's Broadband World Forum in Berlin.
The Polish operator, a subsidiary of France's Orange (NYSE: FTE) group, today passes about 2 million of the country's 40 million homes with fiber networks and now boasts more than 150,000 fiber customers.
Last month Orange Polska said it would look to cover about 5 million households with fiber networks by the end of 2020, spending about 2.8 billion Polish zloty ($780 million) on fiber rollout alone over the next three years. (See Orange Targets Polish Turnaround in 2018.)
Its aim is to capture more than 700,000 fiber customers by the end of 2020, but Fallacher's comments also highlight the importance of fiber in a 5G context, and will draw attention to the backhaul bottleneck that could exist for operators without access to fiber networks. (See Europe's Backhaul Black Hole Looms Above 5G.)
Service providers including Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Altice are now eyeing a next-generation fiber technology called NG-PON2, which promises to support between four and eight 10Gbit/s wavelengths over a single fiber.
Despite some concern about the cost of upgrading today's GPON networks, all three of those operators see NG-PON2 as the most efficient way of managing services for residential and business customers, as well as supporting their future mobile backhaul needs.
"5G is cited as the most common driver for next-generation PON," said Ana Pesovic, the fixed networks marketing director for Finnish vendor Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).
Pesovic reckoned the 5G network "densification" to which Fallacher refers will lead to a huge increase in the number of mobile cells in urban areas. "5G will need 20 times more cells," she says. "That creates a need for a more cost-efficient architecture."
As Pesovic indicated, operators rolling out 5G networks are likely to consider overhauling their radio access networks, taking advantage of software and virtualization technologies to move processing capabilities into the cloud.
Doing so could lead to major operational efficiencies, but it could also require investment in fiber connections between radio sites and edge data centers.
Heather Gold of the Fiber Broadband Association, a US industry group also emphasized the need for more fiber investment to support future 5G demands.
"Network densification will dramatically increase and, as in other places in the network, the solution is going to be fiber," she said today in Berlin.
Orange's Fallacher was not the only service provider specifically calling out 5G when discussing fiber investments at this week's show.
Luis Alveirinho, the director of engineering and network operations for Altice subsidiary Portugal Telecom, said the rollout of NG-PON2 would support the launch of 5G services as that technology becomes available.
"By doing fiber so extensively we can drive the fast adoption of 5G," he said during a presentation. "It is not only about high speed and capacity but also about having more base stations per square kilometer, and having all of those connected with fiber."
Portugal Telecom now passes 4 million homes with fiber networks and is targeting 5.3 million homes passed by 2020.
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading