As the world races towards ubiquitous deployment and usage of 5G connectivity, the laws of physics still apply to our world of instant global mobile communications. Longer wavelengths lower in the RF spectrum still travel greater distances than shorter wavelengths higher in the spectrum bands. So, we will still see interest in and high demand for radio spectrum on the lower end of the frequency ranges for coverage needs. Hence the interest in T-Mobile for the 600/700 MHz spectrum. However, at the same time we are seeing a great deal of interest in millimeter wave spectrum (28, 38, and 39 GHz) by AT&T and Verizon.
7 Things to Watch as 5G Becomes Ubiquitous
So what does all of this spectrum demand actually mean?
- Availability – While advances in technology enable more creative uses of spectrum, help enhance throughput and capacity, and attempt to make possible wirelessly much of what took wires/fiber to deliver in an earlier iteration, available RF spectrum will still be the lifeblood of the wireless world.
- Rural Deployments – The deployments in more rural areas will follow a fairly traditional path forward, utilizing similar planning tools, antennas mounted on standalone towers, and power alternatives that are currently in use.
- Well Rounded Carriers – Not all carriers have the same spectrum resources. Each carrier has different spectrum resources in its different coverage geographies. Verizon’s recent purchase of Straight Path Communications for over $3 Billion to obtain more millimeter wave capacity in various locations illustrates the carriers’ desire to round out their holdings.
- Video Drives Demand – Millimeter wave spectrum is destined to be used in major metropolitan areas to help with the deployment of 5G capabilities, particularly related to video and data use. Because of its shorter wavelengths, millimeter wave spectrum is ideal for adding capacity while reducing interference.
- Regulations Must Change – Millimeter wave deployments will need to be more densely located, which will increase the pressure on regulatory bodies to allow site locations in a more predictable environment.
- Network Management Tools – Because millimeter wave spectrum deployments will be so dense and frequency reuse so aggressive, network interference management tools and automated frequency planning and alignment tools will be an absolute necessity for efficient network management.
- Self-Healing Networks – Similarly, capacity management tools will have to become automated to move spectrum availability to the appropriate micro locations on an as needed on a constantly evolving basis. And to optimize the networks, all networks will need to become self healing.
Fiber Is Still Required for 5G Connectivity
The proliferation of sites in higher density metro areas will also increase the need to interconnect these sites with fiber or fiber like capabilities. There is a great deal of interest in how to deploy, manage, and/or access fiber in city locations to enable optimum connectivity for all of the bandwidth required to carry the data and video loaded on to the networks. While fiber is an excellent capacity solution, fiber is also costly to deploy in metropolitan areas and can be delayed by permitting and other requirements.
Microwave solutions (both point to point or point to multipoint) can provide some relief for these needs, but interference and alignment issues are more prevalent in these kinds of areas for microwave. Also, the ability to provide fiber like capacities using free space optics has long been discussed, but solutions that can also deal with performance issues like rain and fog have not been proven to be cost effective.
All in all, 5G is going to be quite the collection of moving parts, where a keen sense of purpose and a willingness to take an aggressive (but well thought out) path forward is required to be successful.