What Does 5G Mean for Optical Communication Industry: Opportunities or Challenges?

With the wave of digital transformation, communication technology has become an important driving force for the transformation and upgrading of all walks of life in the national economy. After that 5G is the future of the communication industry. However, what does 5G mean for optical communication industry: opportunities or challenges?

Undoubtedly, 5G surely promotes the development of the optical industry. At the process of promotion, what it brings for the optical communication industry is not only opportunities but also challenges. On the one hand, for optic fiber, optical module, optical access network, etc, 5G means the opportunity on account that they will benefit from the construction of 5G. While on the other hand, if wanting to achieve real implementation and large-scale application of optical fiber communication in 5G, we still need to innovate in the tech and breakthrough at the economic level. Therefore, in some sense, it means the challenge. In the next contents, opportunities and challenges will be respectively introduced in detail.

The Opportunities 5G Brings for Optical Communication

Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi announced the creation of smartphones supporting 5G technology next year. Generally speaking, there exist three beneficiaries with the appearance of 5G in optical interconnection industry.

For one thing, in the optical communication industry, optic fiber is the first beneficiary in the construction of 5G. The frequency band of 5G is high, and the number of base stations possibly 2-3 times that of 4G. According to the requirement of full coverage, it is estimated by Fiber Broadband Association that the amount of optic fiber used in 5G will be 16 times more than 4G. Out of consideration for the coverage density of 4G base stations which is high in China and for the distance between urban areas is only hundreds of meters, it is estimated that the amount of 5G fiber will be 2-3 times that of 4G.

For another thing, The optical module is the second beneficiary. Assuming that the amount of 5G base station is 2-3 times that of 4G when considering the inhaul/backhaul module, it is expected to bring tens of millions of 25/50GHz high-speed module consumption. The flat structure of 5G will bring huge capacity and cost pressure to the system.

Finally, the high-speed optical access network and optical component are the third beneficiaries. The 5G architecture allows backhaul/inhaul/fronthaul capacity to expand dozens of times, reaching tens or hundreds of Gbps. It is necessary to introduce CWDM/WDM based on 25G/50G to raise the requirements of cost performance for a tunable laser, tunable filter, and CWDM/WDM device. Simultaneously, the demands on TWDMPON system, eCPRI system, and ROADM system are possibly increased. 5G’s demands for transport network and IP network will be increased. and the demands of flexible routing on OTN/WDM and IP network will also be increased. Besides, some new routing function, such as SR, will be introduced with the trend.

The Challenges 5G Brings for Optical Communication

In the 5G era, the number of base stations will increase greatly. A large number of base stations need fiber optic interconnection, which brings new challenges to optical communication when it brings new opportunities. In the process of 5G development, the optical communication industry faces the challenge in the technology, fronthaul/backhaul capacity, and cost. The existing SAW/BAW/FBAR filters are difficult to be used in high-frequency devices. The optical devices are the bottleneck of the fronthaul cost, especially the tunable lasers.


Currently, the peak period of investment in 4G has passed. 5G has become a hot topic and new breakthrough of development in communication industry; meanwhile, 5G is an important national strategy. It is an important factor to stimulate economic investment, leading scientific and technological innovation, realize industrial upgrading, promote economic prosperity. However, the expectations for 5G should be appropriate and timely. The collision of interests between manufacturers and other operators of devices and optical components generates excessive and premature expectations, making little of the inherent logic and the rule of market, technology, and economy.

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1 thought on “What Does 5G Mean for Optical Communication Industry: Opportunities or Challenges?

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