The upcoming wave of 5G rollouts across the world is going to depend on a wide range of technologies like mmWave spectrum and fixed wireless points, but according to a white paper from the Fiber Broadband Association, ground-based fiber broadband will serve as the backbone for all of it. One of the key ways that carriers are planning to deploy 5G in the near future is through small cells, small-scale and high-speed 5G access points that have lower capacity and range than normal cell points. Naturally, for good 5G coverage, these would have to be linked together to a central network, and deployed in extremely large numbers. This is where ground-based fiber broadband comes in.
The Fiber Broadband Association's research indicates that over 1.3 million miles of fiber broadband would be required to reliably service 5G through small cells to just the top 25 metropolitan areas in the United States. Since 5G signals can easily be hampered by building materials like concrete, using fixed 5G to service businesses and homes may be less practical than simply putting in a fiber broadband connection. This is especially true of instances where the 5G cell sites would see high demand for great amounts of speedy throughput by many users. These, the white paper states, would actually each require their own broadband connection, unable to meet demand by simply using other nearby sites in a daisy-chain as backhaul.
The white paper essentially talks about the fact that there are certain use cases where 5G will never truly replace fiber broadband connections, at least not in its current form, and the fact that fiber broadband is integral to the creation and deployment of 5G networks. Some players in the wireless industry plan to galvanize existing networks in order to achieve 5G speeds and capacity with long-range equipment, but these approaches have a long way to go at present. Many carriers and network equipment manufacturers have broken the gigabit barrier using existing LTE networks, but this requires the deployment of numerous technologies on top of normal LTE equipment, and will likely be unable to provide those sorts of speeds to end-users in mass numbers across wide areas.