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FTTH deployments are continuing to grow, reaching more than 28% of the world's households today, yet many brownfield multidwelling units (MDUs) remain non-fiberized. While next-generation Gfast provides fiber-like speeds, it is complicated operationally. Some operators seem to be postponing their fiber plans for brownfield MDUs, perhaps waiting to see whether 5G FWA will enable easy deployments.

MDU challenges remain

FTTH deployment costs have declined significantly for both network construction and communications equipment. Construction consultants cite network build costs under $500 per home in many US neighborhoods and less than $200 in lower-labor-cost countries. FTTH PON equipment costs continue to decline, and fiber network design and construction expertise are commonplace. Yet, many brownfield units have not become fiber-enabled because of operational challenges such as the need to work with building owners or tenant associations and to reuse existing risers and ducts for fiber pulls.

Gfast was cited as a solution for older MDUs, permitting the fiber build to stop in the basement or communications closet with use of existing copper and coaxial cabling to the household units. However, in large MDUs, fiber may need to be pulled up risers and onto floors. If fiber is needed on each floor, some operators just proceed to FTTH, explaining that additional costs become minimal. However, there is no standard approach to brownfield MDU Gfast or fiber deployments; each MDU has its own characteristics and challenges.

Consequently, some operators are hoping that 5G FWA will solve the challenges of supporting ultra-broadband speeds to brownfield MDUs. At a high level, 5G FWA looks great because fiber does not need to be pulled into buildings or household units. However, permits are needed for placement of 5G cells, whether on light poles or buildings, and fiber is needed to each cell. In addition, multiple 5G cells might be needed for adequate coverage.

Perhaps the real MDU opportunity is for communications infrastructure owners, highly skilled network designers, builders, and negotiators, regardless of the underlying communications medium.


Further reading

"5G is here – almost – with the launch of Verizon 5G Home," GLB007-000132 (September 2018)

FWA vs FTTP: Sometimes Wireless Has the Advantage, TE0006-001407 (July 2017)


Julie Kunstler, Principal Analyst, Network Infrastructure and Software

[email protected]