5G Network Deployment

Breakthrough technologies that are integral to 5G, such as Massive MIMO, network slicing, beamforming and network function virtualization (NFV) necessitate phased approaches to new 5G network deployment, as well as significant investment, with telecom operators expected to spend upwards of $300 billion on new 5G core network deployment over the next decade. This new monumental task lends itself to a wide variety of strategies and options, each with inherent benefits and drawbacks surrounding 5G network technology and access to faster speeds.

The promise of new 5G deployment has transitioned from the drawing board to reality as the next generation of wireless technology, planned and developed for nearly a decade now, begins limited service. While 5G signal will ultimately bring faster speeds per second, latency and service improvements, the fundamental architectural transformation makes this deployment a complex and multi-layered endeavor that can only be accomplished by the public and private networks and spectrum sectors in aggregate across the globe. 

5G Deployment Options 

Throughout the first new 5G development cycle, operators and industry insiders efficiently studied the emerging trends. This led to the collective realization that expedited 5G network deployment service and standardization was necessary. As a result, 45 major players in the existing LTE wireless industry convened in March of 2017 to create a 5G deployment plan entitled, “Way Forward on the overall 5G-NR eMBB workplan”.

5G New Radio

Release of the 3GPP new radio (NR) non-standalone specification followed several months later. The non-standalone concept has been developed as a means of introducing the first 5G coverage functionality on top of current 4G/LTE network infrastructure, which has led to a wide variety of potential 5G deployment scenarios.

The choice of standalone or non-standalone connectivity is just one of the variables to be considered when creating a 5G deployment plan. Integration of virtualization elements and edge computing, fronthaul and backhaul network configurations, small cell placement strategies, MIMO application and spectrum allocation make each 5G network truly unique. This new level of customization requires scalable, accurate and efficient test solutions to support the disparate network deployment models.

  • 5G Deployment Options 3GPP
    The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has defined multiple options for standalone and non-standalone 5G network deployment. Release 15 of the 5G specification, published in December of 2017, focused on the non-standalone options, with the first standalone specifications following in June of 2018. 5G deployment option 1 is simply legacy LTE with an evolved packet core (EPC). Option 2 is characterized by NR alone communicating with the 5G core network, without an LTE anchor. This standalone option requires continuous NR coverage in the target area. 3GPP deployment options 4, 5, and 7 all leverage the existing LTE infrastructure with differing modes of dual connectivity distinguishing each configuration.
  • 5G Deployment Option 3X
    To add more complexity to the mix, 5G non-standalone deployment option 3 is really three options in one with variants 3, 3A and 3X falling under the same umbrella. Each one uses the LTE base station as the signaling anchor, but each defines traffic protocols between elements slightly differently. Thus far, 5G deployment option 3X has garnered the most acceptance of these three 5G NR deployment options, since user data flows directly to the 5G gNB portion of the base station, which is designed to handle higher data rates. Option 3X also provides robust coverage at higher frequencies and almost no inherent interrupt time in LTE 5G mobility.

5G Deployment Challenges 

With so many 5G deployment options to choose from, simply deciding which fifth generation approach to take is the first of many inherent 5G deployment challenges. Breakthrough 5G wireless technology platforms are pushing the envelope of design, manufacturing and testing capabilities. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is a prerequisite for core network slicing, intelligence at the edge and other essential 5G signal features that will power the delivery of IoT and AI-based services. Security issues, standards development and the requisite CPU horsepower to drive virtual functions are some of the many obstacles being tackled by NFV developers.

5G Deployment Challenges

The millimeter wave is another essential fifth generation ingredient that can present technological and logistical challenges. Due to the limited range and inability to transmit through solid objects, the sheer volume of antennae required introduces hurdles that can only be addressed through methodical, incremental deployment. Spectral efficiency, measured in (bit/s)/Hz, is currently gated by the Shannon Limit which defines the maximum rate that data can be sent over any medium with zero error. 

This theoretical ceiling is much less than what is expected and required for 5G deployment. Only Massive MIMO and beamforming, utilizing large antenna arrays, will enable 5G to effectively circumvent this natural limit of faster speeds.

Other 5G network deployment considerations are more bureaucratic in nature. Local regulations, zoning and aesthetic concerns come into play when densely packed 5G hardware is positioned in common areas. Auctioning and licensing portions of the NR spectrum to various network operators can be a lengthy process, leading to delays in deployment as these allocations are finalized. On a global scale, privately funded 5G service deployment may struggle to keep pace with state-funded deployment in other geographies. This could potentially lead to longer than planned reliance on non-standalone mode and the first legacy wireless architecture.

5G Network Deployment

Unlike past historical transitions in wireless architecture, 5G represents an ongoing evolution of existing networks rather than the wholesale replacement or “forklift” approach to deployment that was utilized for LTE, with limited financial payback for operators. Incremental 5G network deployment, with initial 5G deployment layered on top of legacy architecture, is commonly viewed as a prudent and efficient way to reduce CapEx spending and minimize financial risk. 

4G & 5G Network Architecture

The service-based 5G architecture, along with core network slicing technology, will facilitate a diversity of new offerings that can enhance existing use cases while efficiently fulfilling many new ones. 5G network deployment options are dependent on the business needs and preferences of the operator. 

While enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) is expected to be the biggest global use case, operators expecting to leverage the exponential increase in massive machine type communications (mMTC) or fixed wireless access (FWA) will tailor their 5G deployment strategy accordingly. The deployment model will depend on the densification and coverage required for targeted use cases and the allocated spectrum for each specific network. 

5G Commercial Deployment

The number of commercially deployed 5G networks is expected to reach 55 globally in 2019, more than three times the total completed in 2018. This includes 21 new 5G deployments in Europe and 10 in Asia. This year-over-year increase is a clear signal of strong competition between commercial operators as they strive to enter the first 5G marketplace. 
The completion of Release 16 of the 3GPP 5G specification is designed to accelerate this pace, with more details and technology enhancements concerning industrial IoT, satellite network integration, security and other pertinent topics are applied in the 2020 release.

Much like the industry-wide collaboration that occurred to standardize 5G architecture, similar cooperation between operators, chipset, and infrastructure manufacturers, device makers and regulators will be imperative for successful 5G commercial deployment. With the broad 5G service use case portfolio, additional industries such as automotive (including self-driving cars), medical device, agriculture and aerospace technology are now becoming part of the expanding coalition of stakeholders. 

5G Deployment and Fiber

Although more emphasis is often placed on the new wireless aspects of 5G technology, the role of fiber in 5G commercial deployment is pivotal, since most of the network infrastructure is made up of fiber. By 2023, approximately two thirds of all backhaul connections will be fiber-based. Connections between the next generation core (NGC) and NR active antennae are also completed using a fiber pathway. With the high volume of connections required for 5G fronthaul and midhaul applications, PON architecture is one option that can be scaled to accommodate the increased throughput demand. Validation of all fiber connections must be completed, making advanced 5G technology and fiber optic test solutions essential to 5G deployment.

PON Architecture

5G Deployment Testing

Each discrete phase of 5G NR deployment requires a specialized tool kit to support successful implementation. During the technology 5G verification and validation phase, test equipment capable of simulating real-world user behavior can help verify quality of service prior to activation of 5G signals. 

The TM500 network tester can assess the complete 5G network user experience including simulated interactions with other users and typical real-world device behavior such as emailing and streaming in the mobile world. The TM500 also supports a high number of UE’s per cell or carrier to evaluate capacity.

During the technology deployment, activation and scaling phase, the spectrum and interference of 5G signals in the millimeter wave requires accurate analysis and characterization to facilitate installation and commissioning activities. The portable CellAdvisor 5G combines real time spectrum analysis and 5G beam analysis making it ideal for massive MIMO and antenna beam validation. The CellAdvisor also includes built in fiber test and inspection capabilities for added 5G deployment versatility. 

The importance of testing this technology continues through the assurance, optimization and monetization phase. In this phase of 5G deployment, Quality of Experience (QoE) becomes a primary concern for fully operational networks, with advanced applications such as the IoT and autonomous vehicles creating new monetization opportunities with low margin for error. This makes real time intelligence platforms such as NITRO Mobile essential for capturing, locating and analyzing mobile events for exceptional new user experience insight surrounding 5G.  

NITRO Mobile Platform

Some have deemed the first 5G deployment to be a hallmark of the “sixth technological revolution”. Historically, this puts 5G evolution technology on a level of importance equivalent to steam power, the assembly line, or the dawn of the computer age. 

This distinction has led to 5G adoption spearheading a massive infrastructure evolution and paradigm shift that has included the best engineers and scientists in the world. These infrastructure experts have realized that the broad array of new 5G use cases require both standardization and flexibility, which can often become contradictory forces. This same adherence to emerging infrastructure specifications, coupled with functional versatility, makes the very best 5G test tools essential components of the 5G deployment landscape.

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