The challenge of 5G network planning

February 23, 2024

The need for the fast connectivity that 5G enables is growing rapidly, especially in public and industrial areas. However, the jump to 5G isn't happening as fast as many would hope. With hefty technical hurdles, undefined business models, and the complexities of deploying 5G networks, the transition is tougher than it was for 4G/LTE. The strategies that worked for 4G just don't cut it for 5G's short-range mmWaves. We must tackle the key question: "What data and conditions must we consider to plan 5G networks efficiently and quickly?"

Don't worry, though – we've got the answers and the tools you need.

In this article, we'll cover the main technical challenges of planning 5G networks and our strategies for solving them.

What makes 5G different?

5G changes the game in terms of speed and latency. It can potentially deliver data 100 times faster than 4G/LTE and reduce latency to as little as 1 ms, compared to 40-50 ms on 4G LTE. But there are two types of 5G to consider:

- Sub-6GHz 5G uses a wave spectrum similar to 4G. It's quicker, but not by a massive margin – It's like an upgraded 4G.

- mmWave 5G, on the other hand, operates on much higher frequency millimeter waves, up to 52.6 GHz, and can hit transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbit per second. For mobile networks, this means using bands between 24 GHz to 52.6 GHz.

With a global rise in demand for fast, reliable connections across all sectors, 5G is the solution we've been waiting for. It is a key for building energy-efficient Smart Cities and essential for the future of autonomous driving.

But it's not without its challenges.

Why is 5G tough to implement?

Millimeter waves give 5G its speed, but they also mean we need more antennas, closer to users, because the signal doesn't travel far and can be easily disrupted. This leads to the core challenge: to build a cost-effective 5G network, we need thorough planning and analysis. We must consider heaps of data and various factors to figure out the best spots for potentially hundreds of antennas.

When designing a cost-effective and efficient 5G network, the role of geospatial data is critical, surpassing the scope of previous cellular technologies. This data is not just about coordinates and a digital terrain model (DTM); it's about a comprehensive 3D representation of the environment due to the particular nature of 5G mmWaves. Traditional planning tools aren't up to the task for 5G.

What geospatial data is essential for 5G network planning?

1. Environment and Network Topology

5G network design demands a fresh approach tailored to its specific environment—be it urban, industrial, or specialized settings like mines or shipyards. Factors like space dimensions, the presence of moving objects, metal structures, or vegetation all impact mmWave propagation and must be factored into the planning.

2. High-Demand and Restricted Areas

Identify zones with a high need for connectivity, such as city centers or tourist spots, ensuring adequate device coverage. Conversely, some areas may be off-limits for 5G due to technical or legal restrictions.

3. Population Density and Seasonal Peaks

Planning must account for population fluctuations, such as social events or tourist seasons, to prevent network congestion.

4. Dynamic Elements

The dense, small-cell structure of 5G NR means that moving objects, like vehicles or heavy machinery, can disrupt mmWaves, a critical consideration for network planning in industrial settings.

5. Weather Conditions

mmWaves are sensitive to weather phenomena, but with proper analysis, their impact can be mitigated.

6. Work Environment Interferences

Identify specific environmental factors that could destabilize the network, like dust in mines or electromagnetic noise from welding activities.

7. Vegetation

The influence of vegetation, especially trees, varies with the seasons and must be adequately considered in planning, as it affects mmWave propagation.

8. Existing Infrastructure

Efficient planning involves leveraging existing structures like buildings and poles to house network components, cutting down on unnecessary expenditures. Our planning tool incorporates this capability, ensuring smart, cost-saving decisions.

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To navigate the complexities of 5G's mmWave technology, there's a clear need to overhaul traditional network planning tools. The old methods, tailored to the 4G spectrum, fall short for 5G networks both technically and economically.

A shift to a user-centric approach (focused on Experience, Quality, Network) is essential. Network planning now needs to begin with the end-user's experience, setting a benchmark that the network must achieve.

Modern network planning demands tools designed for 5G's characteristics, incorporating massive MIMO and beamforming. These tools should enable planning, testing, and simulation within an accurate 3D spatial model. Due to the complexity, manual methods are out; we need automation with AI and ML.

Here's what modern 5G planning tools offer:

• Quick and effective radio propagation simulations with high-resolution 3D models, powered by cloud computing.

• AI-driven, semi-automated planning for antenna and base station placement.

• Streamlined planning processes that reduce dependence on specialized radio-engineering expertise.

• Cost savings on computing infrastructure and software licenses through a SaaS model.

• Scalable solutions with cloud architecture that allows team collaboration from anywhere.

• Integration of diverse 3D model data formats, including CAD files, photogrammetry, IoT data, and more.

Public opinion health concerns

Regarding public health concerns, the WHO confirmed already in 2020 that there are no proven adverse effects of 5G on health. Nonetheless, public skepticism persists in some areas, which may need to be considered in network planning. Our software includes options to exclude areas from the 5G network as per local regulations.

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Who stands to benefit quickly from 5G networks?

The demand for the high-speed connectivity that 5G offers spans a wide range of markets and sectors. Many are already seeking or will soon require robust 5G network planning and deployment:

1. Radio-Network Design Firms

Currently, over a thousand medium to large-sized companies offer engineering services to the AEC sector, with many smaller firms in the mix. About 40% have specialized in radio network planning or see the need to expand into it. Our cloud-based solution can assist these companies in optimizing costs and planning efficiently.

2. Mobile Operators

The mobile telecom sector is a prime candidate for advanced 5G planning tools. User dissatisfaction with 4G limitations, particularly in urban areas, is prompting companies and individuals to consider switching providers. Quick 5G rollout is a competitive edge, offering fiber-like performance at a lower deployment cost, crucial for business customers.

3. Private Industrial Networks

Industries needing fast, reliable, and secure networks are currently using 4G, WiFi, or TETRA. The shift to 5G is imminent due to its superior capacity, latency, reliability, and security. Technologies like VaaS for intelligent surveillance demand the high performance that only 5G can provide.

4. The Public Sector

5G interest is on the rise, especially in cities pursuing Smart City initiatives dependent on robust connectivity and data collection. 5G deployment will catalyze the Smart City transformation, helping local governments make their regions more sustainable and livable.

In Summary:

5G NR networks are poised to become the norm due to their recognized potential and functionality across various sectors. However, technical and business hurdles could complicate the transition, especially in dense urban areas or complex industrial sites. The planning and deployment of 5G NR require advanced tools for efficiency and accuracy. Our Blare Tech cloud-based 5G planning solution meets this need.

The 5G market, valued at $60.61 billion in 2022, is projected to reach around $84.31 billion in 2023. By 2028, it's expected to grow significantly, with estimates suggesting a market size of $2,208.2 billion by 2030, according to Grand View Research. This growth will likely impact various sectors, including logistics, transportation, manufacturing, and media and entertainment.

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