We had the opportunity to sit down with Zayo’s Chris Parra, vice president of the 5G group, to ask him our top 10 questions about 5G. Chris shares his insight on the current state of the industry, the key role of fiber, progress on densification and his perspective on the future.
1. How would you assess the progress the industry is making in terms of its 5G rollouts?
It’s an exciting time right now. We’re at the precipice of entering the next technological revolution. The amount of information and data being created is tremendous — more than 75 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2025. 5G has the potential to connect us to a completely seamless network that wirelessly connects all devices and interactions. We’re talking about IoT, smart cities, connected vehicles, remote robotics and more. All four wireless carriers in the U.S. have now launched 5G in some cities in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Each of the carriers has its own timeline and roadmap to 5G, which will be deployed in stages over the coming years. Carriers are establishing the framework for 5G now as they augment 4G capacity — more dark fiber backhaul and densification, especially at the pinch points.
2. What 5G applications are most promising?
We’ve all heard a lot about the potential for 5G and autonomous vehicles. While mass introduction of safe self-driving vehicles is likely a long way off, we’ll see increasing levels of capability in connected cars that can communicate with other systems outside the car. The same holds true for other “smart” applications. Many experts believe that the speed and low latency of 5G will enhance the capability of other technologies, including AI, machine learning and robotics. The potential applications range from healthcare and pharma to advanced manufacturing, which will depend on sensor-driven performance data to run plants.
3. How critical is fiber for 5G?
Legacy copper-based infrastructure doesn’t meet the 5G bandwidth demand so fiber is essential. This includes deep, dense high fiber count metro networks. Zayo is a leader in providing this fiber — we are a top five player in 24 of the top 30 MSAs in the U.S. We’re one of the few providers that can do fiber network design and deployment at a national level.
4. What are the notable FTT and mobile infrastructure trends?
A decade ago, the predominant backhaul purchase was lit fiber. Today, that’s shifted pretty materially — although not completely — to wireless carriers purchasing dark fiber. Dark fiber is required for fronthaul and many carriers prefer it for backhaul because of the higher level of control and bandwidth capacity. As one of the few providers of dark fiber, Zayo has been in an excellent position to meet this demand. We have also moved into the small cell space, creating a team that is solely focused on the considerable opportunity in this area. Our newer builds have incorporated not only more technologically advanced fiber but also denser access points, which can support 5G.
5. How are you planning and building for the future?
We will leverage our competitive foundation: deep dense metro fiber networks that are able to meet future demands. Zayo’s team can architect for today’s needs but continuously looks to the future. Our goal is to create infrastructure solutions that can solve mobility issues that the world’s most important innovators are addressing. In a 5G world, we are uniquely positioned not only with our fiber assets and turnkey small cell solutions but also with strong relationships with customers that range from Fortune 50 companies to promising startups to established retailers.
6. What will the architecture of the future look like?
For some time now, the industry has been talking about edge approaches that bring compute, networking and storage closer to the point that data is generated. Edge architectures will be critical to support the connection densities required for an exponentially higher number of active devices in the ecosystem, which will need to execute commands that need to take place in milliseconds. For Zayo, edge strategies for our customers involve dense metro fiber footprints with on-net connectivity to thousands of data centers and buildings, densification of wireless networks and deployment of more connectivity to key cloud infrastructure. We’ll continue to deploy fiber and infrastructure wherever customer demand takes us.
7. Where do you believe the industry is in terms of small cell densification needed for ubiquitous 5G?
Historically, wireless carriers would improve network capacity by adding more spectrum or by splitting macro cells. In a 5G world, larger bands of spectrum are needed and in dense metro areas carriers are looking to higher band spectrum (eg, millimeter wave) to meet this requirement. Given propagation characteristics of higher band spectrum, this will be deployed via numerous small cells, all of which will require fiber backhaul.Industry trade group CTIA has forecast that small cells in the U.S. will grow from about 86,000 in 2018 to more than 800,000 in 2026.
8. What is the relationship between 5G and Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, is the newest version of wireless network transmission, which will redefine the way routers handle connections to multiple devices. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are complementary technologies that will support faster speeds, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices. Wi-Fi 6 will continue to be used for indoor connectivity. 5G is generally preferred in areas of high mobility. Sports arenas and convention centers are good examples of venues where we expect to see 5G and wifi coexist. Zayo will utilize both technologies both separately and together depending upon the specific deployment as well as leverage its on-net connectivity to ~35,000 buildings globally.
9. What’s the adoption curve/trends for private wireless network deployment?
As the carriers focus on their rollouts, the 4G & 5G private network market has been quietly taking off. More companies are evaluating the benefits of private cellular networks, which can optimize business processes and capabilities in ways that are not possible with wired and Wi-Fi networks. Private LTE networks that run on 4G technology are already widely used. At Zayo we’re supporting a range of proof-of-concept CBRS projects that address the challenges of spectrum, MIMO and other technologies in private projects.
10. What lessons has Zayo learned in its mobile infrastructure deployments?
We continue to see the need for more infrastructure and specifically more fiber. Planning network builds for massive densification requires significant forethought. For example how often should you place access points on a new network build? We also continue to recognize the importance of all stakeholders to our projects. Whether it’s a wireless carrier wanting the best coverage or the city concerned about aesthetics, success can only be had with the support of all stakeholders.
Chris Parra is vice president of the 5G group at Zayo. Chris leads the strategy, product and business development functions for 5G. The z5G team at Zayo is a technology partner to mobile network operators and other large enterprises in determining the architectures for building true 5G networks. Zayo’s 5G solutions include fiber-to-the-tower, turnkey small cell implementation and custom wireless solutions. Chris develops key stakeholder relationships and leads complex negotiations to support the deployment of wireless technology at scale.
Prior to joining Zayo, Chris ran the small cell networks group at Uniti and its predecessor company Tower Cloud. Chris’ team was also responsible for the construction and implementation of small cell networks across 10+ metro areas. Chris holds a master’s degree from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two young daughters.