The continuing growth in demand for better mobile broadband experiences is inspiring the industry to look ahead at how networks can be leveraged to meet future extreme capacity and performance demands. 5G is supposed to be the set of technical components needed to handle these requirements. 5G emphasizes the development of existing techniques to improve capacity, combined with evolution in radio technology or – where necessary, even a change in system design principles.

Future wireless access will extend beyond people, supporting connectivity for any element that may benefit from being connected. One of the key motivators for 5G is to provide ubiquitous, high-speed, high-quality wireless broadband coverage to meet societal and industrial needs beyond 2020. The real challenge is to enable a host of different platforms able to work together as a seamless whole, largely software-controlled and flexible enough to support any usage pattern. More unified and standardised fixed access solutions would allow much higher volumes, and thereby higher integration densities, much lower cost and reduced energy consumption.

All these features may not be acquired by a simple upgrade of current systems, but will require new protocols and access technologies altogether. 5G will need rethinking from the system and architecture levels down to the physical layer. The Radio Access Network (RAN) will become more heterogeneous and will require flexible topologies and high performance from the backhaul network. The latter must scale in capacity to avoid becoming a bottleneck beyond the current data capacity shortage experienced by customers in the wireless access segment. To overcome this situation, a convergence of wireless and optical communications is revealed as the perfect combination to fulfil the stringent requirements imposed by the RAN and new Radio Access Technologies (RAT).