ZenFi Networks CEO and Co-founder shares why 5G is at risk without fiber

Ray LaChance is the Co-founder and CEO at ZenFi Networks, one of the leading fiber providers in the New York and New Jersey metro region working towards mobile network densification. To date, ZenFi Networks fiber connects over 2,000 wireless sites of the nearly 6,000 it currently has under contract, a number that’s growing every month, making them industry frontrunners for fronthaul innovation and deployment.

LaChance expanded on ZenFi Networks’ success, “We built nearly 800 miles of fiber-optic network in the region, 45 colocation facilities on our network, 125 on-net enterprise buildings, and two monopoles in New Jersey that serve financial exchange traffic at NASDAQ in Carteret, NJ and the New York Stock Exchange in Mahwah, NJ.” ZenFi Networks has a lot of the region’s data traffic running on its network and they’ve been trusted to build out the network of the future because they’re focused on what they do, and they do it well: “We started the company in 2014 to focus on becoming the leading provider of telecommunications infrastructure with a focus on mobile network densification for the evolving 5G ecosystem in the region,” said LaChance, “And, we’ve done what we set out to accomplish.”

LaChance led ZenFi Networks to be the industry leader it is today and shared his insight on 5G’s dependence on fiber.

ZenFi Networks will continue to play a leading role in making fiber available for the network of the future.

For a 5G future, we need fiber availability

There is a 5G infrastructure problem: fiber availability and capacity are integral to the 5G ecosystem, but there isn’t enough. LaChance explains, “There’s been a lot of fiber built over the past 30 years in the New York Metro region. But these fiber networks were built to solve a completely different problem than we have today.”

The legacy fiber that’s been built is in backhaul networks, which were constructed to support sparse connectivity for enterprise and datacenter applications. LaChance elaborates, “Take the example of enterprise data center connections. There are a group of enterprise buildings that are miles apart. They’re all connected together and back to data centers. There’s not a lot of connections, but there’s high capacity between the sites. That’s what I consider a backhaul network infrastructure.”

5G, on the other hand, requires massive densification of the network — largely through small cell installation. “In a city like New York, ZenFi Networks is asked by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile to drop antenna locations at every single intersection. Those intersections are often only 250 feet apart from each other.”

The graph below from statista and android authority provides a visual of just how important 5G is. 5G is in every way a huge advancement upon 4G.

Density creates a new challenge in itself, LaChance points out, “We believe that the old fiber infrastructure will sit in place and manage backhaul needs, but there’s an entirely new complementary fiber network that has to be built, and it’s the fronthaul network.” The fronthaul network is a high capacity, highly accessible fiber-optic network. LaChance continued, “These cables can be 864 strands, 1,728 strands or even larger — they just need to be able to access every single intersection, every 250 feet.” This is a completely different network that will be built in parallel to fiber optic networks that have built in the past. LaChance emphasizes that this fronthaul network has to be built in order to adequately densify the network.

The 5G network of the future will be very dense, which means a lot of fronthaul fiber. LaChance emphasizes that, “…what has to be built is this entire fronthaul infrastructure, which will be a high-capacity, highly accessible fiber-optic network interconnecting antenna locations to edge datacenters.” Building this network is the challenge fiber infrastructure providers are facing in all major cities.

Build fiber fronthaul iteratively to support 5G

LaChance explains that this network won’t be built overnight, or even in one wave — it’s going to be an iterative process. These networks will densify over time, starting by putting the hard infrastructure in place. “Right now, there are sites every 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the New York Metro area,” LaChance shared, “All of those sites are going to be retrofitted with
5G equipment.

Meanwhile, we will be building out fronthaul to enable carriers to build new small cells every 500 feet, then every 250 feet.” LaChance continued, “This new fiberoptic infrastructure will continually be built, utilized, and overbuilt because of the capacity requirements for these nodes to deliver capacity virtually everywhere. This is going to go on for years.” Fiber has to be ahead of the industry because it comprises the backbone of 5G and network densification. This hard infrastructure will support each iteration of telecommunications technology from 4G to 5G, and whatever comes next. Each of these iterations will require a more dense network, so ZenFi Networks will build more and more fronthaul fiber network to support them. LaChance says, “We will just keep densifying. We’re putting in a lot of excess capacity to prepare for what we know is coming.”