Fibre optic cable dilemma is ‘biggest challenge’ to new 5G network rollout

SEP 17, 2022

The state’s mobile and broadband taskforce has been warned that the “biggest challenge” to the rollout of new superfast 5G mobile network is access to underground pipes.

The government has set a target of having a 5G network widely available by the end of the decade to provide flawless call reception as well as data transfer which is up to 100 times faster than the current 4G mobile network.

This will allow for greater use of mobile-powered technologies such as drone deliveries and, potentially, driverless cars. However, the state’s mobile and broadband taskforce has been told that the fast rollout of 5G will depend on the ability to quickly install fibre optic cables in underground pipes in urban areas, known as ducting.

Minutes of the taskforce’s most recent meeting show it was briefed that this access to ducting was the “biggest challenge” to the 5G rollout. Jamie Cudden, the manager of Dublin City Council’s smart cities project, told the taskforce that it had learned this following the setting up of its “one stop shop” for all telecoms-related requests.

Cudden told the Business Post the 5G network would require a lot more infrastructure in cities, such as small mobile cells on poles every couple of hundred feet.

“You think you’ve cracked it when you have the pole and the equipment being rolled out, and then you realise that trying to get access to fibre or ducting in the right locations can be very challenging,” Cudden said.

The 5G network will require fibre-optic cables to connect and power all the mobile cells on poles. However, it would be prohibitively expensive for mobile network operators to have to keep digging new underground pipes to install the fibre in. It would also be very disruptive for city centre residents and visitors.

Cudden said that Dublin City Council had a huge amount of ducting already and was hoping to make sure it was made available to mobile network operators to install their fibre-optic cables for 5G.

He said the council had already installed a telecoms duct alongside the new 16km jet fuel pipe that runs from Dublin Port to Dublin Airport. “It’s just to be more strategic. The critical thing is to put in the ducting when the roads are being opened,” he said.

The departments of Housing and Transport have given a commitment to the mobile and broadband taskforce that they are going to work to provide easier access to publicly-owned ducting around the country for mobile network operators. This includes developing a standard approach and guidance document in relation to ducting.

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