A number of different technologies must come together to make 5G a reality, Gordon Mansfield, AT&T, told an audience at the HetNet Expo in West Palm Beach 2017 last week.
“A lot of people think that 5G is a singular, magical event, but the fact is that 5G is a lot of different components that have to come together,” Mansfield said. “Whether it is the virtualization of the core, the densification of the RAN, a change in the transport between the cell sites and the core, as well as placement of content to reduce latency. All of those things need to happen. It is an evolution.”
Just as important, however, is the collaboration of the wireless infrastructure industry with wireless carriers, smart cities service providers and municipalities. Many smart cities initiatives will deploy equipment on the same poles and streetlights as small cells, which means multiple entities must work together on the structures’ design to optimize deployment.
“There are synergies to working together, which reduce costs and optimize performance of all parties’ equipment,” he said. “Increasingly the wireless network domain and the smart cities domain are overlapping, providing an excellent opportunity for synergies to reduce the cost model and deployment model for both. All parties’ needs must be taken into consideration to speed deployments.” Among the shared components in small cells can be power and fiber, he added.
Small Cells: Multiple Purposes
Mansfield said there is no one-size-fits-all design for small cells, and a tool box approach is needed to provide variable alternatives that can be adapted to the different needs of wireless carriers and smart cities.
Along with wireless carriers’ equipment, small cells may have the components of Wi-Fi, LED lighting, public safety video, digital banners, alert systems for emergency assistance, sensors all charging stations all competing for space.
“The street lights are becoming technology hubs. There are options when multiple things are attempting to be done,” Mansfield said. “You have to choose from the deployment options based on the needs of multiple parties.”
A small cell provider should look at the deployment options through the eyes of the municipality, the mobile carriers or smart cities providers, according to Mansfield.
“If we consider smart cities and wireless carriers all together, we can simplify the deployment and minimize the disruption of the municipal services,” Mansfield said. “If we work now, we can develop forward-looking designs that will evolve once the equipment that is going on now becomes the 5G equipment that will be added later.”
Blending Small Cells into the Urban Streetscape
Tens of thousands of 4G LTE small cells have been deployed so far, and some municipalities have been less than receptive to the rollout. Mansfield said the difficulty in siting small cells is understandable.
“We are putting a lot on these poles, and in the future, many of these nodes are going to be upgraded to support 5G technology,” Mansfield said. “That means more equipment on the pole. People get nervous when we talk about putting all this equipment on poles with more to come in the future.”
Mansfield called upon the wireless industry to accommodate aesthetic concerns of the public concerning small cells.
“We have to work closely with municipalities to promote an environment that is conducive to rapid deployment,” he said. “AT&T is driving its collaborators and vendors to develop small cell form factors that can be unobtrusively integrated into the urban streetscape with key emphasis on aesthetics, functionality and flexibility.”
mmWaves and Small Cell Design
5G technology will complicate small cell design, because transmitting in the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum requires the antenna and radio to be integrated, Mansfield said. Because the frequencies are so high, there is no tolerance for losses caused by having coaxial or feeders between the radio unit and the antenna.
“The antennas themselves are active antennas, which support the massive MIMO that is needed to maximize coverage out of the mmWaves,” Mansfield said. “We are already talking to the OEMs about miniaturizing these components so we can start to scale and facilitate the picocell deployments and the form factors that will blend into the urban environments.”
Additionally, the limited wave propagation characteristics of the mmWaves eliminate the use of material to be used to conceal the structure, which Mansfield noted as ironic considering the need to camouflage small cells.