5G wireless networks are getting plenty of publicity these days, thanks to the blisteringly fast speeds they offer as well as the controversy over banning Huawei's involvement in many countries' 5G infrastructure projects. But sneaking under the radar is another type of "5G" network that will be of much more direct relevance to network professionals: fifth-generation fixed networks, or F5G.
Fixed fifth-generation networks are being developed to complement 5G wireless networks (and Wi-Fi 6) and to support the cloudification of many enterprises' computing setups, which require very high bandwidth coupled with very low latency.
So far the F5G initiative has been formalized by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and in February 2020 ETSI established the ETSI F5G Industry Specification Group (ISG) with founder members including Telecom Italia and Portugal Telecom from Europe, as well as China Telecom, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, and none other than Huawei, the villain of the wireless 5G world.
The plan for the ISG is that it will examine many different networking innovations, including new ODN (Optical Distribution Network) technologies, XG(S)-PON and Wi-Fi 6 enhancements, control plane and user plane separation (CUPS), smart energy efficiency, end-to-end full-stack slicing, autonomous operation and management, synergy of Transport and Access Networks, and adaptation of the Transport Network.
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Where in the World is F5G
5G wireless is being rolled out around the world now, but F5G is still very much in the planning stage. The good news is that progress is being made: ETSI produced a F5G white paper a couple of months ago that offers a glimpse of what the intentions are.
In a nutshell, ETSI wants to produce a generational roadmap for fixed networking, based on optical fiber, in the same way as the generations of wireless networking technologies (3G, 4G, 5G wireless, and Wi-Fi 4, 5, 6) do. So while there is no fixed 3G or fixed 4G, the plan is that there will be a F6G, F7G and so on as technologies evolve in the coming years.
As far as F5G is concerned, ETSI envisages fixed broadband, which is ten times faster than now, latency that is ten times less, and full fiber connections which are ten times more dense.
Wireless History and Future
To get an idea of when we can expect F5G to be firmly established, it might be instructive to look at the wireless generations. 3G was released in 1998, 4G in 2009 (2011 in the USA) and 5G in 2020. Wi-Fi 3 (802.11g) came out in 2003, Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) in 2009, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) in 2014, and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in 2019.
Given that F5G is intended to support and backhaul wireless 5G base stations and Wi-Fi 6 installations, you have to expect that it will be making an impact before Wi-Fi 7 is released (probably in 2024) and 6G wireless (perhaps in 2030). In other words, it's coming, but don't hold your breath.
Also read: Why 5G Isn't Just For Carriers