The challenge of 5G network planning

August 2, 2021

Although the demand for rapid connectivity that 5G provides is growing exponentially in all sectors, especially public and industrial, the 5G revolution might not be coming as quickly as many would like. Due to significant technical challenges and uncertainties, and complex business models yet to be perfected, the deployment of 5G networks is more challenging than previously expected. Solutions and methods that worked well for 4G/LTE  are much less effective for the new generation because they are not suitable for 5G NR short range mmWaves. To cope with this challenge one should ask (and answer) the important question: “what data and conditions do we need to factor in to effectively plan 5G NR networks and how to do it faster?”.

Do not despair, we have answers and tools to answer those questions.


In this article, we will explain the biggest technical challenges of the 5G wireless network planning and how we are solving them. 

How is 5G different from previous standards?

When it comes to parameters like connection speed and latency, the difference is enormous. 5G networks can reach 100 times data throughput than 4G/LTE and latency as low as 1 ms compared to 40-50 ms on 4G LTE. It's necessary, though, to make a distinction between two types of 5G:

Sub-6GHz 5G is based on a similar wave spectrum to 4G. It's faster than 4G, but the differences aren't that huge. It can be considered an extension of the previous generation.

mmWave 5G, on the other hand, uses millimeter waves of much higher frequency, up to even 52,6 GHz, and its potential in terms of transfer speed reaches even 10 Gbit per second. However, for 5G mobile networks, it is mostly expected to utilize the frequency bands from 24 GHz to 52,6 GHz. 

With the growing worldwide demand for fast and reliable connection in all industries, 5G is a much-needed solution. For example, it is instrumental for developing sustainable, green, and energy-efficient Smart Cities, which rely on communication technology and data collection. It also opens significant possibilities for autonomous driving. 

However, it comes with a set of network deployment challenges. 

Why is 5G implementation more challenging?

While millimeter waves used by the 5G standard guarantee extremely rapid connection, they require small cell antennas to be much closer to users. Additionally, the signal itself is much more prone to susceptible to transmission environment effects. Consequently, it means that there has to be 10 times and more antennas installed than with previous generations, which leads us to the main challenge of the deployment. To be created cost-effectively, a functional 5G network requires extensive planning and analysis of numerous types of data and factors to determine the best positions for even hundreds or more (depending on a case) of antennas. 

Geospatial data that needs to be accounted for

Unlike any previous cellular technology, cost-effective and functional 5G network design requires much more geospatial data that goes far beyond just coordinates, buildings and terrain model (DTM). Due to 5G mmWave characteristics, planners need to include a full set of spatial data, represented as a detailed 3D virtual environment. This requirement alone made many planning solutions that worked for previous technologies useless for the new generation. 

What types of geospatial data need to be considered in the 5G network planning process?

1. The type of environment and network topology

First and foremost, the 5G network planning process requires a significantly different approach and different network topology depending on its purpose and environment. The list of variables and requirements for a functional 5G network may drastically change whether it’s designed for a city, industrial area or facility like mine, shipyard, or oil rig. Aspects like volume, size, shape and orientation (horizontal, vertical, mixed) of space, amount of moving objects, metal surfaces or vegetation - all can influence mmWave propagation, so they have to be included in calculations. Most importantly, we have to remember that for factories, mines, and other industrial purposes, a reliable network is a matter of safety, so there’s no room for mistakes. 

2. Areas of high demand or no go areas

Any zones with potentially high demand for connectivity, such as industrial areas, frequently visited city centers, or tourist attractions should be identified and secured with the appropriate number of devices. On the other hand there might also be some areas that should be excluded from 5G propagation for technical or regulatory reasons, for example military areas or installations. 

3. Population density and seasonal peak anomalies 

Besides the actual population in the area, planning systems should account for any social gatherings or seasonal anomalies like tourist season peak, festivals or, let's say, Olympic Games or Glastonbury. To avoid potential congestion, those areas should be covered by radio network that can cope with such a sudden rise of capacity demand.

4. Dynamic elements - traffic or moving machinery

Because of the 5G NR structure (large number of small cells installed very close to the user), dynamic elements such as trucks and other large moving objects can block or cause interference for mmWaves. This aspect is especially crucial for 5G network planning in industrial areas with heavy machinery, such as factories, large construction sites, or mines. 

5. Weather conditions

mmWaves can be susceptible to rain, snow, and other weather and environment conditions. With the correct analysis, it's possible to minimize potential attenuation.

6. Work environment-related interferences 

Depending on the specific work environment, it is important to identify potential risks for the network stability. For example, heavy dustiness in mines can have a negative impact on the mmWave propagation. Welding can have the same effect due to electromagnetic interference. This is why every implementation should be approached differently. 

7. Vegetation

Another factor that can interfere with mmWaves is plant life - especially trees, and its impact can change during vegetation seasons. Even though plants are known to interfere with 5G millimeter waves, most tools don’t factor them in their planning methodology sufficiently enough. 

8. Utilizing existing infrastructure

Smart planning means reducing unnecessary costs wherever it's possible. Our solution includes a tool that identifies buildings, poles, and other structures that can be used for the purpose of building the network.


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Planning tools suitable for millimeter wave technology

The consequence of challenges mentioned above is the need for a complete reshape of the planning strategy and methodology. Network-centric solutions that worked before were based on very different characteristics of the 4G radio spectrum. 5G network deployment using such methods would be insufficient technically and economically. 


On the contrary, the right approach for the new generation is user-centric (EQN - Experience, Quality, Network). According to this idea, network planning should start with the user (or device) experience and perspective. Once the necessary level of experience for users is established, planners can proceed to network planning, knowing it has to meet those requirements. 


In order to effectively plan a network with the user-centric approach, it is necessary to replace existing tools for new ones that factor in characteristics of 5G mmWaves, as well as massive MIMO, and beamforming technologies. Additionally, new solutions must include tools which allow for planning, testing and simulations based on a precise 3D spatial modelling of the entire measurement space. Because of the complexity of those tasks at hand it will no longer be possible to carry them out manually - instead it will be necessary to implement a high level of automation supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).

The innovation of modern 5G planning tools

Adaptation to the challenges of mmWave-based 5G NR planning is a point of necessity, but new generation of planning tools like ours bring much more than that to the table. Here are the biggest advantages of Blare 5G network planning solution:


  • faster and more efficient high-resolution (up to 5 cm), full-space radio propagation simulations using precise 3D virtual models and cloud-based computation engine
  • AI-supported, semi-automatic precise spatial planning of antennas and base stations for 5G NR networks
  • simplification of the planning process, so as to minimize the need to use specialized (expensive) radio-engineering knowledge
  • no costs associated with having own computing power and no need to purchase permanent license or to update the software thanks to SaaS model
  • easy scaling of the solution and team-members simultaneous, remote work on the project thanks to the cloud-based architecture of the system
  • direct implementation of measurement environment 3D model using popular CAD data formats, incl. ifc, dwg, obj, fbx, gml, point clouds, photogrammetric models, IoT data and more

Important notice - public opinion health concerns

According to a statement by WHO from 2020, there are no confirmed negative effects of 5G technology on the human body. However, we realize that there are concerns and distrust in public opinion - a factor that might also be necessary to account for in the planning process. This is why our planning software will include a feature to define, if necessary, areas, which shouldn't be in the range of 5G network according to local government regulations.

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So who will need 5G networks fast?

The need for rapid connectivity that the new generation of networks can offer is much more common than one can imagine. Many markets and industries are, or inevitably will be interested in efficient 5G network planning and deployment soon:

1. Companies that specialize in radio-network design, deployment and orchestration

As of now, there are more than 1000 medium and enterprise-level companies that provide engineering consultancy services for the AEC industry and several thousands smaller companies. More than 40% of them either have departments that specialize in radio network planning or feel the need to have. Our solution can help them to optimize costs and plan effectively using our cloud-based tool. 

2. Mobile operators

Another area for application of the new generation of 5G network planning tools like ours is the mobile operator market. It is safe to say that this market will be growing very fast in the upcoming years. There is a rising discontent for insufficiency of 4G networks among users, especially in cities. Due to technical issues users and companies are more and more often considering switching providers. Fast deployment of 5G is surely a way to remain competitive. It is especially important for the business usage, as 5G can offer a similar parameters to optical fibers, while being much cheaper to deploy. 

3. Private (local) industrial networks

Many industries require fast, reliable, and secure private networks. Most of them nowadays are created using 4G, WiFi or TETRA standards, but it is inevitable that 5G will be the go-to technology very soon because of the unique benefits it offers in terms of capacity, latency, reliability and security. New solutions and technologies, like VaaS-based (Video-as-a-Sensor) intelligent surveillance, simply require a much better overall network performance that only 5G can guarantee right now. 


4. Public sector

The interest in 5G in the public sector is constantly growing, especially in cities that are implementing various types of Smart City solutions, which rely on connectivity and data collection. The deployment of a fast 5G networks will enable the Smart City revolution and lay a foundation for local governments to make their areas much more sustainable, healthier, and better places to live. 

Summary

It won’t take many years until 5G NR networks become a standard, because the potential and functionality of the technology is widely recognized across many sectors. Unfortunately, due to technical challenges and business uncertainties, the transition may be very troublesome in a number of areas such as crowded city centres or industrial facilities like mines or oil rigs. The planning process gets more difficult if there’s a lot of spatial data and environment factors to analyze.


The deployment of 5G NR networks requires different technology and more complex approach to the entire process than any previous standards. Only the adoption of a new generation of tools can make this process efficient, precise and reliable. Blare Tech cloud-based 5G planning solution is the answer to that challenge.

According to a report by Grand View Research, the global 5G market in 2021 is estimated at 46,61 billion, and it should grow to approximately 664 billion in 2028. Besides IT and Telecommunication, it is expected to be heavily applied in the Logistics and Transportation industry, as well as Manufacturing, or Media, and Entertainment. 

For more information about our 5G planning tool, make sure to check the article about it here.

If you're interested in our solution, contact us through the contact form below.

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