Clearfield Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Morgan sees an even bigger role for fiber going forward, thanks to bigger roll-outs of 5G and the first edge compute use cases over the coming years.
At the highest level, 5G needs smaller cell sizes at the network edge to deliver on the promise of low-latency, high bandwidth services, according to Morgan.
"One of the things that I think often gets overlooked in the 5G discussions is the need to have a quality fiber-optic connection," Morgan said. "It's almost taken for granted these days that everyone knows how to build fiber-optic networks. If we look at the forecasts for connections in the next few years on all the small cells that are enabling 5G, it's going to require an enormous amount of fiber optics."
On that note, Clearfield, which competes against Corning and CommScope, is working on larger fiber cabinets based on last year's $10.3 million deal for Calix's outdoor powered cabinet products. Morgan said that Clearfield is also partnering with the Fiber Optic Association on certification for its contractor partners.
"For training, there's a number of things that we're doing really to enable the people that are building the networks. When you think of network operators and the service providers that have the capex that is driving theses network builds, in many cases they're preferring to outsource as much of that as they can," Morgan said. "So they would prefer, in a perfect world, to just sell the services that would go over those networks, rather than to build, construct and operate those networks. We have a network of contractor partners and construction engineering firms that we work with to get them up to speed with the latest techniques that really save time and money on all these construction projects."
While this year's 5G deployments have yet to scale nationwide, Morgan said that would start to change next year. Currently, the Third Generation Partnership Project's (3GPP) Release 15 is being used to enable enhanced mobile broadband speeds of up to 1Gig. Morgan said that the Release 16 specs will be frozen this year, which will lead to more use cases going forward for 5G, namely at the edge of networks with multi-access edge computing (MEC.)
"Release 16 will better define what's coming, including massive machine-to-machine communications and ultra reliable low latency connections," Morgan said. "As those types of applications come on the market there's an idea of taking what's today in the data center, and pushing those compute resources further out to the edge of the network."
Morgan said once Release 16 is completed this year, products would start showing up next year and in 2021.
Morgan said MEC needs four elements to be successful: a secure location, both logically and physically, a reliable source of power and a "lot of fiber access and a lot of fiber management."
"It's still to be determined right now when these edge clouds are going to materialize," said Morgan, who is the chairman of the board for the Fiber Broadband Association. "I was at an industry conference recently and the operators said they would offer up the real estate space and power for multi-access edge compute. It could be a traditional CO (central office) space that was reclaimed with the miniaturization of all the central office switching gear for voice services. Those spaces have been reclaimed for other things now.
"Telcos are offering that space up for MEC. What I'm getting is that the (fiber) cabinets will be a natural place for cloud computing and MEC in the future. We have a portfolio that will be ready for that when MEC hits the market."
Morgan said that Clearfield has more than 700 customers that are working on fiber projects across North America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.