To understand the current state of global 5G network deployments, Fierce Wireless conducted a survey of wireless industry network professionals, involved in the planning, design or deployment of the 5G network, in mid-2021.
While the survey was fielded to MNOs across the globe, over 50 percent of the respondents were located in North America. Seventy five percent of respondents said their network was still being deployed or had been deployed, or that commercial 5G service had already been launched. And two thirds of respondents said that their MNO would have deployed 5G before the end of 2021 (two fifths said they deployed before the end of 2020) and another 20 percent said they expected deployment sometime in 2022.
The survey also asked the MNO respondents to identify and rank the top issues that impacted the speed at which MNOs are deploying 5G network equipment. While many of these issues are dependent on local market conditions, many factors can be improved by the MNOs themselves. Similarly, some factors, such as the availability of new spectrum, will likely take some time to address and improve.
But there are many other issues that can be addressed by the MNOs with careful network design, planning and vendor selection. For example:
- Front/mid/backhaul: All modern cell sites require fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul, provided with either a fiber or microwave wireless link, as long as sufficient bandwidth at low latency is available. The issue with fiber is one of cost but wireless backhaul uses existing wireless bands to provide a broadband, low latency connection suitable for both fronthaul and backhaul. Aside from faster network deployment and reduced operational costs, wireless front/backhaul with MIMO shows a 61 percent capex savings compared to fiber (source: Ceragon).
- Ability to get cell sites: Since 5G tends to use higher frequency bands than previous generations, the signal propagation is lower and hence the cell site covers a smaller area. The benefit is that the overall capacity of the 5G network increases, but this of course requires more physical cell sites. If an MNO can upgrade the backhaul links on a cell site to increase capacity without visiting the site, changing the equipment or adding additional equipment, then some of the zoning and permissions process necessary for a new or upgraded cell site may be avoided. This would then reduce the time taken to deploy the network and thus get to commercial service faster.
- Space on towers: Since 5G networks support higher bandwidth to each user, the front and backhaul capacity required in the cell is higher than for 4G. If wireless front- and backhaul is being used, this may mean additional and/or larger equipment to provide the necessary capacity. Ceragon’s solution to this problem enables a second channel for front- or backhaul on the same microwave radio – multi-core. The result is double the capacity using the same radio, saving on equipment costs and installation, as well as the space on the tower. Ceragon has shown a 30 percent capex reduction.
- Skilled labor issue: This factor was identified as a major issue in the 5G network professional survey. The solutions to this problem are varied but take time to implement and can be expensive. The choice of 5G network equipment can ease this problem – if current network equipment can be upgraded to support 5G or a cell site visit is avoided by upgrading capacity remotely, then the need for skilled labor is reduced and the installation resources can be used elsewhere. Some vendors also provide additional software tools that reduce the required skills of the installer.
- Financing: The new Open RAN initiatives and disaggregations help the MNO to manage its spending on new equipment. If previously the MNO bought a full wireless solution with radio and indoor units from a single vendor and then added an additional CSR from a big routing company, disaggregation now allows source the radio from their preferred vendor, add a whitebox to replace both the IDU and CSR and then load the preferred NOS to meet the MNO’s exact requirements, and a centralized radio management application to perform the task of the traditional IDU HW.
There are many issues MNOs are facing deploying 5G networks. Global deployment of 5G networks is far from complete – many MNOs are either starting their deployments now or are still in the planning phases. And once the initial 5G network deployment is complete and commercial service is launched, additional 5G capacity will have to be added as the subscriber base grows.
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