The Freedom of the Great All-Outdoors

By Jeremy Ladner 9 min read

We all know that making the move from a legacy technology to something new can be difficult, even uncomfortable. We’re all familiar with that feeling of unease when a notification pops up prompting us to update our operating system. Or, when we make the leap from one cell phone brand to another, and we’re faced with an inevitable learning curve that leaves us looking for some setting that used to be simple to find. 

The same can be said about making the switch to an all-outdoor solution.

The Challenges of Change

If it makes you feel any better, we’ve had this problem for a long time. Just prior to the turn of the 20th century, newspaper headlines detailing the potential dangers of something as innocuous as indoor plumbing were peppered across multiple publications. In 1895 the Washington Post printed “Paved Streets Not Desired by Many” editorializing citizens’ concerns about the switch from cobblestone streets to asphalt.

It’s hard to imagine now but the idea of replacing horses with automobiles received a lot of pushback from the public. And perhaps even more unbelievable is the fact that it took more than half a century for electric refrigerators to unseat traditional ‘iceboxes’ in the majority of modern kitchens. Countless articles have been written on our natural aversion to change, this classic from the  Harvard Business Review covers all the key points.

There’s an odd juxtaposition between our constant quest for improvement and our reluctance to embrace change – humans are an odd bunch.

Learn to Love the List

All those examples and more illustrate the challenges faced in adopting new solutions for old problems. That’s why when I evaluate a new solution against an old one, I always take the approach of starting with a wish list laying out what I think the ideal solution looks like and then set to work on evaluating the pros and cons of the available solutions and how close they come to hitting my wish list target.

That said, every operator will have different metrics to measure. Some operators own their tower, shelter, and rack space while others are renting. Some operators are upgrading brownfield sites and have a considerable amount of existing infrastructure that can be reused while others are focused on greenfield locations where installing shelters isn’t even an option. The number of variables can be vast and vexing.

After hearing from several operators that span the complete spectrum, I’ve put together a wish list I think is representative of many.

The Wireless Cell Site Wish List

  • Lower CAPEX and OPEX
    Cutting costs is likely somewhere near the top of every operator's wish list. While it may be obvious to most, it’s worth pointing out that a single all-outdoor hardware unit is often significantly less expensive in terms of overall CAPEX.

    That doesn’t even factor in the savings associated with removing the need to purchase, transport, and install the heavy low loss coaxial cables required for split mount. Add to that, the sizable OPEX savings gained from not needing to house an indoor unit (IDU) in a shelter, cabinet, or rack and then power the unit, or maintain a safe operating temperature for it. multiply those savings across every relevant cell site and it adds up to a substantial sum.

    But wait… there’s more! With half as many hardware units there are at least 50% fewer points of potential failure. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to minimizing maintenance costs and expensive site visits.

  • Improved Sustainability
    Energy costs and consumption continue to be a real concern for operators of every size. The more energy your network uses, the greater the environmental impact is likely to be. An all-outdoor solution requires half as many physical units to be produced, shipped, deployed, installed, powered, and cooled. The removal of that second device and all the infrastructure required to produce, transport, connect, and cool it equates to an enormous elimination of CO2 and a massively positive impact on the environment. An all-outdoor solution that leverages multicore technology reduces CO2 even further.

    That all adds up to a cumulative cut in greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon emissions putting your organization miles ahead when it comes to meeting your internal sustainability goals and government-mandated emission targets.

  • Fast and Easy Installation
    All-outdoor solutions minimize installation and upgrade times. The faster deployment of half as many hardware units helps expedite the recouping of your CAPEX investment and shortens your customers' wait for network improvements – fantastic news for your customer experience scores and Time to Revenue (TTR). It’s also far faster and easier to find all the new cell site locations required to meet 5G network density demands when you don’t need to consider the additional space that split mounts require for enclosures.

    All-outdoor solutions can often be pre-assembled and tested before deployment, further reducing the time and complexity of on-site installation. That can be a big benefit, especially in remote hard-to-access locations where installation support resources may be limited. Removing equipment from the ground level has the additional benefit of acting as a deterrent for criminal activity. All-outdoor solutions also alleviate the need to set up extensive indoor cabling, power sources, and other infrastructure. This further reduces the overall installation time and cost, as well as the potential for installation errors, delays, and expensive site visits.

Hanging on to The Horse

There are certainly some instances where sticking with a split mount solution can make sense, especially if it’s a brownfield site where the operator owns the tower and enclosure, rent isn’t an issue, and there are a substantial amount of legacy devices that are being incorporated.

That said, there will be some operators who are reluctant to let go of their ‘trusty old split mount’ in favor of an all-outdoor solution regardless of the situation, cost savings, environmental impact, or various other potential benefits for the simple reason that change is difficult.

Yes, it’s true that maintaining an indoor unit (IDU) can sometimes be easier because it’s at ground level and not up a tower, but as we mentioned earlier if you remove the indoor units altogether along with the associated cables, power, and cooling infrastructure there is far less maintenance overall.

The E-Band Indicator

If you’re still not sure which way the wind is blowing in the world of wireless transport backhaul and fronthaul technology, consider this, providing 5G capacity in densely populated urban areas is incredibly difficult without e-band. Now, try finding split mount options that deliver e-band connectivity, you’ll soon see that the hardware isn’t being made. E-band and millimeter wave (mmWave) will continue to play a critical role in supporting 5G moving forward and much of that capacity will be built on the back of all-outdoor hardware.

When most operators weigh the cumulative advantages of all-outdoor cell sites they are left with a clear conclusion, all-outdoor is the way to go. Eventually, change is inevitable, and we’ll all be left gazing down the long lens of history looking back with an amused smile at our predecessor’s penchant for holding on to the past.

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