The revolutionary fifth generation mobile network, 5G, promises significant advantages over the current 4G network: reduced latency, higher bandwidth, superior reliability and the ability to handle many more connected devices in a smaller footprint.
5G is presently being deployed worldwide and the province of Quebec is no exception. Not far from Hypertec’s head office, the City of Montreal will begin pre-commercial testing as early as 2020. According to the Métro newspaper, it will create a 5G test environment of over 2 km2, bounded by Guy, Notre-Dame West, and Sherbrooke streets; and Saint-Laurent boulevard. In this compact urban area, some 200 new 5G antennas will be deployed.
The objective is to allow some companies to test this new network, and for provincial and federal public health agencies to perform some analysis.
And there will definitely be a lot of testing and a lot of analysis. With 5G, it is not enough to simply replace old antennas with new ones. Entirely new infrastructure must be designed, built, and deployed – a process that has its own set of challenges!
5G challenges in urban areas
The deployment of this next generation mobile network will not happen overnight. Rural areas have their own challenges, such as the digital divide caused by the large coverage area and the low population density. Here are five main challenges faced in urban areas:
1. More antennas
With 4G, an existing “macro cell” has a coverage of about 25 km2. Such a large area will no longer be possible with 5G technology. Instead, small cells, either femtocells or picocells, will need installed. They are antennas or miniature base stations that cover a much smaller area. To serve an area of 3 km2, as many as 60 small cells could be required! So about 600 times the number of antennas will be required compared to the old network.
2. The location of the antennas
Obviously, all these antennas will have to be installed somewhere. But not just anywhere. To provide adequate coverage, in addition to the existing rooftop antennas, new locations will be required. Structures such as utility poles, street lights, traffic lights, bus shelters and other building surfaces will be used. The higher operating frequency of 5G antennas means that they will also need to be placed inside buildings.
3. Wired connectivity
A “wired” network is necessary to connect the antennas but due to the higher bandwidth requirements of 5G, the existing copper-based cabling will be insufficient. The solution is optical fiber cabling capable of handling the high capacity demands.
To build the 5G network, it is necessary to bring fiber as close as possible to new antennas. So, Where the fiber does not exist, it needs to be installed. And where it exists, the capacity may be insufficient and additional cabling needs to be installed.
In urban centers, this will require trenching, pulling new cable, and permission from municipalities and local governments to execute the work.
4. Edge computing
Compared to the relatively simple connectivity requirements of the 4G network between an antenna and a data center. The 5G network infrastructure consists of several layers and multiple antennas that have a smaller coverage area, but must data processing must occur much closer to the wireless devices. This is where of edge computing comes in. Edge computing is essential for 5G; however, additional network layers are needed in order to prevent bandwidth and latency from suffering. And with additional layers comes a more complex network architecture.
The majority of industry experts do not see retrofitting existing infrastructure as the solution.
Where they all agree is on the topic of the significant capital costs of installation of new 5G infrastructure: new antennas, cabling, electricity, installation labour, new data centers, new computing infrastructure…
Then, once the installation is complete, there are the operating costs to manage and maintain the components. In addition, there will be “rental fees” from building and infrastructure owners where the antennas are installed.
Although the test environment in Montreal will only cover 2 km2, it will certainly provide valuable insight into these five main challenges of implementing 5G and others which are still unknown.
One thing is for sure, there is still a lot to be done behind the scenes to ensure 5G connectivity delivers on its promises. Until then, our experts are watching closely!
High-performance IT infrastructure, including low latency servers, powers edge computing. Contact us to learn about our hyperscale server solutions, and get ready for the arrival of the 5G mobile network.
This post is also available in: FR