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5G-PON: SK Telecom’s unified distribution network  

SK Telecom has detailed a networking architecture based on wavelength division multiplexing-passive optical network (WDM-PON) technology that it says will simplify the rollout of 5G while delivering significant cost savings.

The telecom operator has already deployed the networking architecture, dubbed 5G-PON, for its LTE network and is offering the design to the 5G network standards of the ITU-T.

“SK Telecom is already witnessing a great amount of cost reductions from the deployment of 5G-PON,” says Seungjoo Hong, manager of the Broadband Technology Lab at SK Telecom (pictured).



5G-PON provides a single distribution network for both cellular - LTE and 5G - and high-speed wireline broadband (see diagram).

Source: SK Telecom

The architecture reduces networking costs by reusing existing fibre and optical filters while expanding capacity to support different and growing traffic streams. The architecture also uses passive nodes that do not require electrical power.    

The 5G-PON network comprises three main elements: a central office terminal, the remote node and a tunable SFP pluggable module.

The central office terminal is located at the cellular base band unit (BBU) and performs such functions as wavelength conversion for WDM transmission, the monitoring of the optical link, and the management and configuration - location and order - of the remote nodes. The central office terminal also collects and analyses digital diagnostic monitoring information sent over an auxiliary management and control channel.


SK Telecom is already witnessing a great amount of cost reductions from the deployment of 5G-PON


The second element, the remote node, is a passive optical wavelength router, says Hong, and can be placed indoors or outdoors at a remote site. The remote node comprises a filter for coarse WDM (CWDM) and a filter for dense WDM (DWDM) and supports an optical ring topology between the first stage nodes - called the main radio node - as well as multi-stage node configurations such as a main and sub radio nodes (see the diagram below).


Different 5G-PON configurations. SK Telecom favours a single-fibre ring arrangement. Source: SK Telecom

The central office terminal has knowledge of the order and location of the remote site nodes. This ensures a seamless service by performing delay equalisation due to optical path differences while executing ring protection switching within 50ms when a fibre is cut.

Meanwhile, the tunable SFP is installed at the cellular remote radio head (RRH). The tunable SFP is a low-cost design; it does not use a wavelength locker such that the SFP’s tunable laser is not dependent on a specific wavelength grid. The SFP is operated at the remote radio head using a software wavelength locking function that tracks the centre of the WDM filter using received optical power information from the central office terminal sent via an auxiliary management and control channel.


5G-PON has halved the cost of installation while operations and maintenance costs have been reduced 70 percent


CWDM architecture

5G-PON’s WDM-PON architecture uses CWDM with sub-channels.

The architecture can use existing installed fibre and filters while expanding capacity to a total of 256 wavelengths (16 sub-channels in each of 16 CWDM 20nm-wide bands), such that it can work alongside existing CWDM, DWDM and time-division multiplexing PON (TDM-PON) deployments.

“To expand network capacity in an area, operators can easily deploy a basestation using their existing fibre infrastructure, saving a great amount of installation cost,” says Hong. “5G-PON also allows operators to cover new areas with the least amount of cost.”

Hong says deploying 5G-PON has halved the cost of installation while operations and maintenance costs have been reduced 70 percent due to the intelligent operation and management of the passive nodes and the use of tunable SFPs at the remote sites.

SK Telecom has worked with local vendors including Solid, HFR, SunwaveTec and Coweaver to develop the 5G-PON architecture.



The 5G-PON deployed for SK Telecom’s LTE front-haul network uses single-fibre bidirectional 3-gigabit and 6-gigabit 20km tunable SFPs that support 96 optical links on CPRI/ OBSAI interface channel cards.

Hong says that in 2018, SK Telecom will have bidirectional 10-gigabit tunable SFPs and will start developing of 25-gigabit bidirectional tunable SFPs and eCPRI interface channel cards for its 5G radio access network.

SK Telecom’s own preference is to use 5G-PON in a ring architecture to ensure service continuity in the event of a fibre cut. But depending on the operator, various topologies can be supported.

The operator plans to roll out 5G-PON in 85 areas nationwide, with further deployments expected thereafter.

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