Originally published on isemag.com
With 5G rollouts multiplying worldwide, it’s no surprise that there is a growing need to densify deployments. At the same time, pursuing a traditional deployment approach is difficult because new microcell sites are becoming scarcer and more challenging. As a result, network operators in many locations are increasingly relying on small cells—particularly in dense urban environments—transforming the way networks are built and perform.
However, many municipalities, city residents and suburbanites are opposed to the potential clutter and construction disruptions that additional network deployments can create, making the process of securing new site locations increasingly complex. To address this challenge, smart city innovators are turning to new form factors and more aesthetically pleasing solutions that allow network infrastructure to be hidden in plain sight.
Beyond the complexities of obtaining zoning permits, other hurdles include the fact that macrocell sites in many cities are already saturated, as well as the disparities of 5G spectrum propagation characteristics. For example, using mid-band or mmWave frequencies to quickly increase capacity means that a traditional macrocell site plan is not feasible.
In an effort to adapt to these new deployment realities, many network operators worldwide have transitioned to street level small cells. The downside is that when small cell deployments are undertaken with an ad hoc approach, this can lead to excessive clutter due to separate street facilities, unsightly equipment tacked on to existing street works, and repeated civil works costs and disruptions. This issue is particularly glaring when existing streetlights are retrofitted with externally mounted radio equipment, as opposed to installing integrated equipment.
Dublin Gets Street Smart
Like many other metropolitan areas, the Irish capital city of Dublin has experienced a post-pandemic resurgence, driving the need for greater mobile capacity to serve a population of workers, residents and tourists that exceeds one million. Subscriber data demands are still growing, but existing network topology is already significantly dense.
Although the Dublin City Council was keen to increase network capacity in the urban center, there were very real concerns about the potential for unsightly infrastructure deployments throughout an historic tourist destination. To avoid such an outcome, a smart connected waste bin solution was deployed as part of a Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Connected City Infrastructure project, enabling increased connectivity and improved services as part of a Smart Dublin initiative.
When planning new 5G densification strategies, there are a number of various factors broadband service providers should consider as they work with cities. Several include:
- Target areas of network congestion in shopping areas, mass transit locations and public parks.
- Be aware of key aesthetic requirements for heritage districts and other high-value real estate.
- Find ways to minimize the number of disruptions and costs of future civil works projects.
- Leverage multi-purpose street works to reduce street clutter and deliver improved services for enhanced community experiences and economic development. Consider creative options like smart connected waste and recycling bins. One example is called Telebelly. It conceals radios, power, and transmission equipment discreetly within a sensor-equipped enclosure that also serves to collect trash. The sensor within it can communicate real-time status to waste collection crews to ensure optimized efficiency of trash removal.
- Be sure the antenna fits the smaller site footprint and improves aesthetics. Canister antennas can be mounted on masts integrated into the smart bin. The use of an omnidirectional canister antenna solution not only enables increased coverage in a compact form factor, but it also allows compliance with strict size limits for small cell sites as outlined in Article 57 of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC).
- Be sure your urban network densification plan has the fiber access and power requirements it needs. These resources are often reliant on legacy infrastructure systems that are available or not available to particular locations. In the case of the Dublin project, fiber resources were readily available, due to a large number of data centers operating in the general vicinity. Access to power, on the other hand, was particularly difficult. The city’s existing streetlights relied on an unmetered power supply that the city purchased according to a fixed dusk-to-dawn tariff. This legacy system was unable to accommodate additional connections and billing for the new sites attached to unmetered street works infrastructure. Ultimately, the Dublin utility had to develop a new system to support power for the small cell deployments.
- Another issue network operators have faced for several years is gaining community support for new 5G network deployments. In order to overcome potential concerns related to the safety of 5G technology, a public information campaign was implemented to educate Dublin residents. In a similar manner, educational campaigns can help city officials better understand how street works sites can be deployed at scale with minimal disruption to the urban landscape, and without impacting the city’s infrastructure or the residents that live there.
- Educate, educate, educate. The more facts you share about the benefits of multi-use solutions, the more likely communities will embrace future smart use cases. One being explored in Dublin is using IoT enabled monitoring sensors to map the city’s air quality.
A Smart Future in Sight
Connectivity demands and changing regulations around tower deployment are giving rise to new site deployment approaches in many urban and suburban areas. One solution is leveraging a neutral host model that enables rapid and affordable build-out of 5G sites with multiple operators sharing the costs. This has the potential to reduce CapEx budgets and offset significant investments in spectrum licenses. Shared sites can also lower the barrier to market entry for greenfield operators that do not have an installed base of legacy infrastructure.
This transformation is driving the adoption of innovative solutions and smart, multi-purpose street works deployments that are economically viable, visually appealing, and capable of providing public service benefits for the community.
After completion of the initial small cell deployments in Dublin, the TIP Connected City Infrastructure project group created a Mobile Connectivity Playbook for Cities that can help city governments and mobile network operators develop a more cohesive approach for the installation of street assets as part of their 5G network densification initiatives. The playbook helps both stakeholder groups improve their networks to advance their smart cities and be good stewards for their communities.