Preparing for the 6G and Extreme Edge Future

Preparing for the 6G and “Extreme Edge” Future

In my previous blog entry, I left off promising to explain how wireline operators can build access networks today which will be able to handle the 6G future.  

The answer to that question is central to the fundamental value AFL provides with our access network solutions: build a network that is expandable, flexible and accessible.

What 6G will mean for the access network

To understand that answer, first let’s quickly review what we know about 6G so far, and what is likely to be true.

Known – the goals for 6G, as identified by Next-G Alliance, will include characteristics like:

  • Trust, Security and Resilience
  • An Enhanced Digital World Experience
  • Cost Efficient Solutions
  • Distributed Cloud and Communications Systems
  • An AI-Native Network
  • Sustainability

Likely to be true:

  • 6G will include the use of additional spectrum, particularly at higher frequencies
  • Because those higher frequencies have limited range, the “densification” of cell sites will continue, such as the deployment of more sites, with a smaller radius of coverage (see below)  

Figure 1: Cell site densification over time

  • Low-latency applications will drive the need for more computing power, closer to the network edge. For example, a transition from having occasional autonomous vehicles to having a fully AI-managed traffic system (possibly including aerial traffic due to the proliferation of drones) will require that system to have extremely low latency at a local level 

What this means for the access network:

  1. Many more wireless nodes will appear in locations that are hard to predict right now
  2. There will be a need to site at least small amounts of server/processing power in locations that cover a small area, but may or may not be suitable to locate on a subscriber premise
  3. Both #1 and #2 will present revenue opportunities for the access network operator – but the operator will lose those opportunities to another operator/technology if unable to provide the required data connection

How to build the access network today: Expandable, Flexible and Accessible

The key to maximizing these future revenue opportunities is with the three key characteristics of the AFL Converged Access Network solution: Expandability, Flexibility and Accessibility

The network must be able to handle not only more traffic in the future, but also more connection points – at locations that will be hard to predict. An “extreme-edge” computing node may show up where today there is a cabinet or a macro cell site, and this may require additional fiber connections.  6G access points will show up wherever the RF coverage map says they should, modified for power availability and a suitable location, such as a pole, to put it. All of these will generate more traffic, and they may need a unique fiber connection. For example, they may not be suitable for multiplexing onto the same fiber as other traffic. AFL’s high-density, high-fiber count solutions for the access network allow for the deployment of more fiber in the same space, at a minimal incremental cost, to provide the network with this future expandability.

Exactly when and where these new connections (and revenue) opportunities will appear, is something we cannot predict.  But if operators design flexibility into their networks now, they will be ready for these moves/adds/changes. Let’s look at one way AFL solutions enhance the flexibility of a network.  

In Figure 2, we see two examples of a situation where two 864 fiber cables are meeting and being spliced together in a network. On the left is the solution from AFL’s competitors. It typically requires a 30”x60#x30” handhole to accommodate a slack loop and splice case. On the right is the AFL solution.  With Wrapping Tube Cable and the Apex® X-2S Sealed Splice Closure, operators can achieve the same results in only a 17x30x18” space. This gives them the flexibility to either use a smaller handhole and have more options for siting it, or use the same size handhole and have plenty of space to bring in more cables later. Or, split the difference and use a 24x36x24” handhole. Regardless, this is just one example of how AFL provides the network operator with options today, which can make the network more flexible to accommodate changes in the future.

Figure 2: AFL solutions make more efficient use of available space and volume, providing flexibility to the network operator


No matter what, when a new physical layer connection needs to be made, somebody needs to go out to the field and make that connection. And when they do, that connection can be complicated and present risks to the network. AFL’s solutions make the network accessible, meaning that technicians can make those connections quickly, simply and at lower risk.
The design of the APEX splice closure is a great example of this. We have designed it for the splice technician, making it easier to re-enter, route fibers and make a new splice without disrupting existing connections. Wrapping Tube Cable with SpiderWeb Ribbon® makes it easier to identify and handle the specific fibers that technicians need to access. And finally, we have a straightforward, yet reliable and effective system for re-sealing the closure – reducing the risk that a move/add/change might cause problems later on.

6G and its associated applications are a big unknown today. But among the few things we do now are that 6G nodes will require data connections, and that we can’t predict today where those nodes will be, but that each of those nodes will represent a revenue-generating opportunity for whoever can provide a data connection. Similarly, ultra-low-latency applications will drive compute power closer to the edge – but we can’t predict how far to the edge, when and exactly where those compute locations will be. Again, though, we do know that they will require data connections, and those will be revenue opportunities for whoever can provide that.

The best way for access network operators to prepare themselves for the 6G and “extreme edge computing” future, is to design a network that has the expandability to accommodate more connections; the flexibility to make those connections when, where and how they occur; and the accessibility for those moves/adds/changes to be done quickly and simply and with the lowest possible risk to the rest of the network.  AFL’s solutions provide all of these characteristics.  To learn more, contact us today.