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How will the coming of 5G affect the fibre and leased line market?

Within the next few years, the UK is set to transform its digital economy with the arrival of 5G. Already being tested in select towns, the arrival of 5G will mean that mobile users should be able to take advantage of low latency and hitherto unheard of speeds for mobile internet access.

It will change the industry landscape, allowing mobiles to function more as ubiquitous connected platforms. It will give gamers new ways to experience their content through more multiplayer events, with faster video streaming services. It will allow data to be gathered from our increasingly device-connected world on us, about us, and very likely inside us for people using the latest medical devices and implants.

I have heard some people wonder if the time of fibre and leased lines and cables is reaching its end to this invisible spectrum. What these people don’t realise is that fibre networks will actually form the veins of this connectivity.

5G’s success will actually depend on the fibre networks between sites to carry the information from our mobile handsets and the predicted booming market for the Internet of Things. Indeed, there are some in the industry who think that we will need more fibre, rather than less, especially because any existing copper-based connections simply don’t meet the standards for 5G and will have to be replaced.

One other reason that fibre and leased lines will continue to play a role is the faith in users that fibre is also more secure than mobile networking. Whilst it might be the case that some well known companies have removed landlines from their offices and let their employees use their mobiles in their stead, there is a lot of difference between that and having the whole company’s data be broadcasted and, indeed, permanently connected to the internet. This will require a lot of getting used to for security advisors who will almost certainly want to err on the side of caution before migrating such a valuable resource onto a new system.

But 5G does have the capacity to ‘leap frog’ fibre in certain circumstances. Where fibre is hard to lay, such as the rural parts of the UK or around points of historic or conservation interest, a 5G network could conceivably provide coverage. But here, for the user, the choice isn’t between fibre or 5G, it is only the latter, which essentially means some form of connectivity over none at all.

What might be a trend for the future is that fibre providers might become more focused on servicing the mobile infrastructure market than selling directly to end users. In ten years time, and once the quality of 5G is seen, fibre’s biggest client might very well be the carriers who depend on it to connect their 5G sites.

It should also be remembered that the leased line industry is also undergoing a profound revolution: industries that die out do so in no small part because they fail to develop and innovate, but the leased line, whilst mainly a technology that is buried, is far from dead. New developments with Software Defined Networking that allow bandwidth on demand are going to give this technology some longevity yet. Furthermore, some aspects of leased line technology might be harder to transfer to a 5G equivalent, for these aspects work on a physical connection rather than a mobile network. Security is one such issue: a leased line connection is secure, a mobile using 5G, on the move and from different locations, risks a widening of the attack vector for any malicious actor to take advantage of.

So certainly, for the foreseeable future, fibre and the leased line are products that aren’t going to disappear.