Stepping forward together: F5G fixed broadband and 5G

2020.02.17 By Ao Li, Deputy Secretary General, China Broadband Development Alliance

The fixed network industry has entered the era of F5G full-fiber gigabit based on 10G PON and Wi-Fi 6. Promoting dual gigabit acceleration for F5G fixed broadband and 5G mobile broadband will create a thriving industry ecosystem and open the door to a new era of development for fixed networks on a global scale.

The generational evolution from 1G to 5G in the mobile communications industry is well known. But “5G” only represents mobile communications. What about fixed  networks? In fact, fixed networks have also entered their fifth generation – and we call it F5G.

F5G definition and key features

The development of fixed networks has been driven by business needs and supported by technological advancements. First came the narrowband era supported by PSTN/ISDN (64 Kbps). This was followed by ADSL-based broadband (10 Mbps), VDSL-based ultra-broadband (30–200 Mbps), and then 100 Mbps enabled by GPON/EPON (100–300 Mbps). Right now we’re stepping into the 10G PON-driven F5G gigabit ultra-fast broadband age. And in the future we may see a 10G era based on 50G PON.

Broadband development stage

The future of fixed networks is all-optical. The technology that will support the F5G gigabit era is 10G PON-based full-fiber access. Compared with previous generations of fixed access technologies, the F5G gigabit network represents a huge leap in three ways: bandwidth, number of connections, and network experience.

Ultra-high bandwidth: Network bandwidth has symmetric uplink/downlink gigabit broadband capabilities. Wi-Fi 6 eliminates the final 10-meter bottleneck of gigabit connections, enabling a single-point connection experience for the cloud era.

Full-fiber connection: The comprehensive coverage of fiber optic infrastructure will support ubiquitous connections, including connections to every home, machine, room, and even desktop. This in turn will support the expansion of vertical industry applications, a ten-fold plus increase in service scenarios, and a 100-fold increase in the number of connections, and thus enable the era of fiber optic connectivity.

Ultimate experience: F5G will introduce network slicing and built-in AI on the network side, supporting zero packet loss and microsecond latency. In conjunction with cloud platform AI + big data-based intelligent O&M, this will meet users’ service requirements. F5G will continue to optimize the home device experience and reduce Wi-Fi latency, improving user experience for applications like 4K video and interactive games.

These three key features of F5G will enhance user experience in traditional home access scenarios. Meanwhile, F5G will help optical fiber networks overcome traditional industry barriers and rapidly penetrate various sectors like enterprise, transportation, security, and campuses. It will help industries transform digitally.

China leads the world in F5G network construction

F5G gigabit network construction is in full swing. Latest statistics published by the analysts Ovum show that 234 operators in 57 countries have launched gigabit broadband services. In China, thanks to policies such as Broadband China and increased competition, the fixed network industry has seen some tremendous achievements. An FTTH network covering the whole country has been built, positioning China at the global forefront of FTTH deployment. By the third quarter of 2019, the penetration of users with 100 Mbps-plus access rates in China hit 79.4 percent and the average fixed broadband access speed had soared to an estimated 120.2 Mbps. A total of 91.2 percent of broadband users use fiber broadband.

This country-wide fiber-optic basic network is a strong foundation for developing F5G gigabit networks. A 2019 government work report outlines plans to connect urban gigabit broadband to the home, which will improve distance education and telemedicine networks and make broadband feel noticeably faster and more stable for users.

In May 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) jointly issued a notice on their decision to launch a special action in 2019 to boost the speed and reduce the fees of broadband networks to support economic development.

As part of this action, a dual gigabit acceleration plan was proposed. It involves deploying gigabit broadband access networks in more than 300 cities and “studying and formulating evaluation indicators for gigabit cities and demonstrating gigabit broadband applications.” In early November, under the guidance of the MIIT, the Broadband Development Alliance (BDA) and the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) led an alliance of organizations in releasing the Gigabit City Construction Indicator System. Supported by the existing foundation and coupled with policy guidance and assistance, China’s gigabit innovation will thrive.

China’s three major operators, China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom, are also promoting the deployment of 10G PON gigabit networks and exploring gigabit applications. Statistics show that as of the fourth quarter of 2019, 59 provincial-level operators in China issued commercial gigabit packages. And the figure continues to grow.

F5G accelerates the incubation of new service applications

China Digital Economic Development and Employment White Paper (2019) reveals that in 2018 China’s digital economy grew 20.9 percent to reach 31.3 trillion yuan (US$4.4 trillion), accounting for 34.8 percent of GDP. The rapid development of the digital economy and construction of gigabit networks complement each other.

China’s BDA has also explored F5G gigabit applications in some depth. On June 26, 2019, it released Gigabit Broadband Network Business Scenarios White Paper, offering a systematic examination and synopsis of ten typical business use cases for the F5G gigabit network era. The ten use cases are cloud VR, smart home, gaming, social networking, cloud desktops, enterprise cloud, online education, telemedicine, and smart manufacturing. The paper proposes market spaces, business models, and network requirements relevant to the business use cases.

These use cases can bring users a better experience. The industry ecosystems and commercial applications are relatively mature and place high demands on network bandwidth. As such, they will become typical service applications in the F5G gigabit era. For cloud VR application development, for example, the industry has already built a complete end-to-end ecosystem and developed large-scale deployment capabilities. Typical application scenarios include cloud VR, giant screen cinemas, live streaming, 360-degree video, gaming, music, education, and marketing, which will revolutionize the way people live. On October 10, 2019, the world’s first dual-gigabit cloud VR service was launched by China Telecom Sichuan, officially marking the start of commercial adoption of cloud VR services.

Since 2018, China’s three main operators have worked with industry partners to carry out a large number of service innovations based on gigabit broadband. China Telecom, for example, has launched Smart Broadband, which includes products, applications, and services in five major areas: smart connectivity, smart TV, smart networking, smart applications, and smart services. China Unicom’s Smart Broadband includes smart TV, smart home, WO HOME landline, and WO HOME smart surveillance. These services harness 5G, broadband gigabit, and gigabit home Wi-Fi. China Mobile has launched the Dual Gigabit Plan and rolled out a wide variety of gigabit home integration packages, boosting home broadband quality and offering both gigabit home broadband and 5G services.

With the three pillars of business models, industry ecosystem, and network foundation in place, F5G gigabit networks will spawn more use cases. Exploring these business use cases and promoting the construction of larger ecosystem platforms will better foster the sustainable and healthy development of the gigabit industry.

Hybrid synergy for a thriving gigabit industry

The fixed network industry has seen tremendous changes in terms of applications, technology, and network architecture. It has now entered the era of F5G full-fiber gigabit based on 10G PON and Wi-Fi 6. The 10G PON standard was released in 2013. The technology, industry chain, and products are now fully mature. The main manufacturers are capable of mass producing 10G PON core processing optical modules, and the market is entering the large-scale deployment stage.

In 2018, ITU-T officially initiated the 50G PON standards project based on deploying one generation while preparing for the next. This established and unified next-gen PON network standards, which will guide the development direction of future PON technology. Meanwhile, 802.11ax-based Wi-Fi 6 has been comprehensively improved in terms of capacity, coverage, and performance, and can truly provide a last-meter gigabit experience for enterprise and home users.

Commercial gigabit broadband services have been deployed in more than 50 countries and will become the mainstream application for the next decade. By 2025, the number of connected devices worldwide is predicted to reach 100 billion and gigabit broadband penetration is expected to rise to 30 percent. Network connections will be ubiquitous. And by fully harnessing fiber networks’ ultra-high bandwidth and 5G networks’ mobility as part of deep fixed-mobile hybrid synergy, combined with the mass connectivity of both, this will make the 2H/2B/2C all-scenario smart life possible. Gigabit broadband will become the key foundation of innovative applications in all industries.

At the same time, large-scale innovative commercial applications will highlight the need to upgrade fixed network resources and 5G investment. This will urge vertical industry applications and network infrastructure investment, forming a virtuous closed loop of sustainable development. In the future, F5G and 5G will develop in tandem. Promoting both fixed broadband and mobile broadband (dual gigabit acceleration) will drive an industry ecosystem that’s prosperous for all and open the door to a new era of development for global fixed networks.

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