Many elements of 5G technology will build on 4G networks. Higher traffic volumes generated by numerous connected devices and objects will require a substantial upgrade of transmission capacity to the base stations/sites. Similarly, several 5G services will place additional demands on network design and require densification in some areas, meaning more base stations/sites and more antennas.
To make roll-out easier, local and national authorities should play a key role setting the right conditions in order to secure necessary investments. Removal of bureaucratic hurdles related to permit processes, and regulations that sends the right build and buy signals to the market participants is a prerequisite. Collaboration between network operators, government, local authorities, municipalities and private sector is required to ensure timely and efficient deployment of 5G.
Easy access to sites and antenna
As traffic increases and higher spectrum bands are used, more equipment and a gradually more compact grid of base stations and antennas will be needed to support several 5G services.
While 5G will leverage on the existing 4G and 4.5G infrastructure assets, the need for higher capacity and use of new frequency bands will require new and more advanced base stations and antennas. Several of the use cases for IoT (Internet of Things) and critical communication imply a specific need for coverage and/or capacity and may need base stations and antennas to be located in optimal positions in order to provide the requested services to society.
In urban areas where the distance between sites today is short, it might be possible to make use of the existing network grid for a while thanks to more advanced antenna techniques1. However, over time and as higher capacity is required, more base stations and antennas will be needed. For the most dense traffic areas, new types of sites will be required for antennas. These could be poles, lamp posts, street cabinets, advertising signs, etc. The mobile industry is working on integrating technical solutions into street furniture and mounting equipment on walls in a discreet manner. In addition, at higher frequencies, indoor coverage from outdoor sites will be weaker. This will increase the need for indoor solutions to fully leverage the use of 5G services.
It is therefore important that local and central authorities take an active role in making sure that permissions to establish or lease access to sites, antennas, equipment, transmission/fibre etc. are easily obtained. Regulations that restrict or make it difficult to gain access to base stations/sites and allocate space for antennas must be avoided.
There is not one global best practice approach to solve these issues. Policy makers should therefore pursue an approach that is as simple and easy as possible within the specific environment and framework of the country in question.
Transmission must keep pace
As the performance expectations such as capacity, peak rates, low latency on the networks rise, transmission must keep pace. This means that 5G networks will require upgrades of existing and new transmission capacity. In this regard fibre will be a key transmission requirement. Use of microwave will be needed for areas with less traffic and where fibre deployment is complicated or expensive. Densification (see previous section) is also a challenge in the sense that higher transmission capacity will be needed to reach more base stations/sites. Combined, these requirements represent a significant investment challenge for the 5G business case.
Exactly how upgrade of existing and new transmission capacity for 5G best can be solved is country specific: It depends on existing infrastructure conditions, regulation and market structures. However, it is very likely that a broad range of solutions will be required. In some markets mobile operators will lease transmission capacity for 5G from infrastructure companies, i.e. cable companies or municipal fibre networks, in others markets regulated access to this infrastructure may also be needed. Such access regulation poses a delicate balance between incentivising those building out transmission capacity and those leasing these assets.
To build more transmission capacity, easy access to duct and trenches is required. Where governments and municipalities have control over such assets, access should be mandatory and at reasonable cost based prices. Likewise where digging is required the process of obtaining permission should be as easy as possible.
Realisation of 5G through collaboration
To ensure efficient deployment of 5G and optimized benefits of investments, broad collaboration between network operators and public and private sectors is needed to ensure that the societal benefits are realised across all 5G use cases.
On the demand side, the public sector has a huge potential as a frontrunner in the use of 5G services. On the supply side, collaboration with local and central authorities can be established with the purpose of exchanging infrastructure build out plans and scenarios and identifying opportunities for joint buildout. Such initiatives lower costs and increase benefits for all parties and society. Communities that want to benefit from using 5G sensors to monitor different infrastructure such as water pipes, electricity, buildings etc. can do so by allowing establishment of necessary technical infrastructure on their properties and in their premises.
Both smaller and larger private sector businesses, i.e. property owners, possess infrastructure that should be made available for buildout of 5G. Collaboration with private sector, directly or together with public sector, is therefore also important and should be established for the same reasons as described above.
Finally, collaboration between network operators will also be important in order to reduce cost and increase speed of roll-out. This can take the form of both active and passive network sharing. This will help reduce ‘visual pollution’ (i.e. installation of excessive sites and antennas) and make roll-out less expensive in rural areas. Telenor is a firm believer that both active and passive network and spectrum sharing between operators in any market must be allowed, as this improves both network quality and efficiency to the benefit of society at large.
Infrastructure policy and regulation is critical for the success of 5G
1) Such as multiple-input and multiple-output and beamforming.