Originally published on eetimes.com
As 5G adoption grows, the need to densify deployments is transforming how networks are built, particularly in urban environments. However, municipalities, city residents, and suburbanites will only accept so many deployments and disruptions.
Today’s smart city innovators are looking to new form factors and aesthetically pleasing solutions to hide telecoms infrastructure in plain sight. One such example is how a smart connected waste bin was used to clean up potentially unsightly deployments as part of a Telecom Infra Project (TIP) proof of concept.
Like many cities worldwide, the Irish capital city of Dublin is seeing a resurgence of growth post-pandemic, driving the need for increased mobile capacity to serve a population of about 1.2 million residents, workers and tourists. As in many large cities, macrocell sites have become scarce and 5G network topology has already reached significant densification. Yet, subscriber data demands are still growing.
For network operators and neutral hosts, finding and provisioning new sites is increasingly complex. This is due to not only saturation of sites, but also spectrum propagation characteristics and the hurdles involved in obtaining zoning permits. For example, macrocell sites simply are not feasible when using mmWave frequencies.
To address these challenges, many network operators have transitioned to street-level small cell deployments. An ad-hoc approach can lead to disruptive civil works, excessive clutter and unsightly equipment tacked on to existing streetworks.
In order to avoid these potential pitfalls, the Dublin City Council chose to spearhead a TIP Connected City Infrastructure project in collaboration with local network operators, equipment suppliers and the Connect Research Centre at Trinity College. The project allowed operators to identify various approaches to effectively densify their networks while balancing the needs of the city to improve services as part of a Smart Dublin initiative.
Connect the Dots
Taking a holistic approach, the TIP solution group identified several considerations, including aesthetics for heritage districts, and how to futureproof new streetworks to minimize disruptions and costs. Plus, with real estate at a premium, multi-purpose site usage was a key goal to reduce street clutter while delivering improved services to enhance community experiences and boost economic development.
The project focused on building coverage in the city center where network congestion had been identified, including shopping areas, mass transit locations and public parks. Initial proof-of-concept deployments involved one IoT-connected Ligman smart pole to be used by Vodafone, and two Big Belly Telebelly waste and recycling bins connected to the Three Ireland network.
The new sites, deployed by Cellnex Telecom, incorporated radio access network (RAN) equipment from Ericsson, along with integrated tri-sector canister antennas from Alpha Wireless. The integrated antenna solution enabled the sites to have a smaller footprint and improved aesthetics, complying with Article 57 of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) pertaining to small cell deployments.
As network operators advance 5G build-outs, many 4G deployment challenges are further exacerbated.
For example, network densification requires an exponential increase in power and fiber access. While fiber resources were readily available due to a large number of data centers operating in the Dublin area, access to power was challenging.
In fact, the Dublin City Council had to lobby the power company to develop a new billing system for the small cell deployments. That’s because power to the streetlights is typically provided from an unmetered supply, which the city purchases according to a fixed dusk-to-dawn tariff. This legacy system was not able to accommodate connections and billing for small cells attached to unmetered streetworks.
An open playbook
To guide future deployments, the TIP project group created a Mobile Connectivity Playbook based on their findings. Ultimately, the waste bin solution was found to be more economically viable and visually appealing, with radios, power and transmission equipment concealed within a sensor-equipped enclosure that communicates real-time status to waste collection crews.
Looking forward, the Dublin City Council has begun planning new deployments to support shopping and sightseeing. Of particular interest is an expansion in the Docklands area to integrate the 5G network with existing augmented reality (AR) services for tourists.
The evolution to next-generation 5G/6G networks requires a new way of thinking to build out capacity where infrastructure is strained. For the TIP project, the goal was to achieve this with unobtrusive, smart streetworks that also provide public service benefits.
Beyond technology, however, an essential element in building smarter connectivity is collaboration across an open ecosystem: It takes a village to connect a city.