Telcos are progressing past 5G trials, and tackling technical and business challenges, as they move into first network deployments.
5G trial lessons have been learned, and now we’re witnessing a wave of 5G network deployment challenges and initial launches. Unfortunately, this new phase is accompanied by increased complexity coming from technical and business issues.
Telecom providers are taking different solution approaches for their 5G deployments. These differences emerge from a combination of factors, including, allocated 5G spectrum from lower to upper frequencies; access type, such as mobile or FWA; and backhaul type, such as integrated front and backhaul.
5G use cases being deployed, include:
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
- Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
- Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC)
Across all 5G deployments, there are three common approaches being taken:
- Core and RAN virtualization (NFV/SDN)
- Cloudification with distributed MEC solutions
- Artificial Intelligence-based automation and machine learning
Because of the depth of information needed to cover these three approaches, I will discuss using AI and ML for network optimization and O&M, in my next blog.
Based upon their 5G approach and business model, telcos can minimize O&M of legacy networks, and optimize 5G deployment costs.
Regardless of the solution, initial 5G network deployment challenges are expected to have a significant impact on the success of the operators’ 5G services and supported IoT verticals.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 immediate 5G network deployment challenges, solution options, and how Infovista plays an important role in these first deployments.
1. Spectrum 5G Network Deployment Challenges
5G NR deployments in low (e.g. 600MHz, 700MHz, 2.6GHz, 3.5GHz) and high (e.g. mmW: 15GHz, 24GHz, 28GHz, 39GHz) frequencies, come with various scopes and challenges.
Sub-6GHz spectrum requires lower site density to ensure delivery of blanket mobile connectivity. However, this comes at the cost of narrower available bandwidths (generally about 100MHz, using up to 4 carrier aggregation, CA), and consequently, peak throughputs of Gbps order of magnitude. Therefore, higher order modulation schemes and mMIMO optimization are crucial, for delivering high quality consumer eMBB applications, such as HD video streaming, and mMTC applications, like smart cities.
It’s worth mentioning T-Mobile’s approach in the United States, with their 5G deployments of 600MHz blanket coverage, for smooth and cost efficient mobile 5G connectivity. In another example, due to penetration and propagation loss, deployments in the higher spectrum, like Sprint’s 2.6GHz solution, come with more 5G network coverage challenges than sub-1GHz spectrum.
High frequency mmW spectrum, characterized by available bandwidths of at least 1GHz, require high site density. This spectrum is suitable for hotspots, such as high traffic and population density, and for enterprises with high bandwidth demanding use cases, such as eMBB for UHD, 4K, 8K, and 3D video streaming, and remote diagnosis for healthcare. mmW can also be applied to URLLC, for low latency demanding applications, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, remote surgery mentoring, and industrial IoT applications.
However, mmW 5G deployments have significant challenges from propagation characteristics and dependencies, like vegetation, building materials and weather. These deployments allow high capacity for only short distances, while jeopardizing the delivery of consistent coverage.
Although, during non-line-of-sight trials, the environment demonstrated better coverage than expected, due to reflections. The first 5G deployments must evaluate how well devices pick up and benefit from mmW reflections. Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) deployments can benefit from line-of-sight, but only if mounted on rooftops that are approximately 40m high. Planning and evaluating coverage range loss in various antenna mounting scenarios becomes critical for FWA use cases. Additionally, 5G deployments of mmW high density sites require automation of processes and testing scenarios.
It’s noteworthy that mmW spectrum is used in 5G deployments for FWA in the Verizon 28GHz solution, and very low (walking) mobility by AT&T, using 39GHz with a Puck device.
2. mMiMO/3D Beamforming Challenges
Among all the 5G technology disruptions, mmW, mMIMO, 3D, flexible numerology and slot structure; mMIMO and 3D beamforming have the most improved spectral efficiency. Multiple access with pinpoint beamforming, allows multiple users to share the same spectrum. This ensures increased capacity and coverage, especially at the cell fringe. Additionally, 5G deployments in sub-6GHz can benefit from pre-5G mMIMO solutions deployed at LTE sites, by co-siting NR and LTE. This can reduce costs and ease the technical difficulty of mMIMO implementations.
However, the first 5G deployments are expected to face performance challenges, because of the dependency of channel estimation, multi-user multi-stream optimization algorithms, and beam management proprietary solutions, that are within devices and vendor equipment. Quantification of mMIMO gains and 3D beam distribution and usage, requires device-based evaluation, to understand the end impact on the user experience.
3. Hybrid LTE-NR and Mobility Challenges
The first 5G deployments are non-standalone (NSA) solutions. These deployments use LTE core, while LTE access represents the anchor for NR. LTE eNB ensures the control, while 5G gNB provides additional user traffic on top of the LTE traffic.
Cost efficient sub-6GHz co-sited eNB and gNB can smoothly ensure significant coverage and throughput increase. 5G deployments in mmW spectrum, can benefit from the hybrid LTE-NR configuration by using the macro LTE layer as a coverage blanket for mmW mobility between hotspots. This mmW mobility has proven to work at low speeds (walking), while high speed mobility still requires extensive tests and evaluations.
However, these benefits are challenged by the complexity that emerges from the performance of the dual connectivity mode (EN-DC, E-UTRAN -NR Dual Connectivity). This requires precise synchronization between eNB and gNB for signaling and data transfer to the NR.
4. Throughput and Latency Performance Challenges
Spectrum allocated bandwidth and service types, such as eMBB-enabled streaming, AR and VR, define the targeted performance. Each service type experiences different conditions and requires different testing scenarios, to understand how throughput and latency impact coverage conditions and configurations.
5. Device Challenges
The timing of the initial 5G deployments is determined by 5G device availability, which is still scarce. This is due to several technical challenges, including multi-band support of upper and lower frequency bands, that cause design challenges for the front-end filters. It also poses heating concerns, because of power consumption needed to transmit in high frequency bands, and a significant performance impact for higher data rates and bandwidths.
mMIMO antenna positioning determines beamforming gain/loss and beam management in the devices. This has immediate impact on device coverage and mobility performance. 5G deployments have extremely complex device-based testing requirements, with a large number of scenario combinations needed to understand and quantify device performance, and device interaction with the network.
Successful 5G Network Deployments use Infovista’s Portfolio
Infovista understands that optimizing return of investment on 5G deployments requires significant changes in network planning and testing methodologies. Our comprehensive 5G portfolio is designed to maximize cost of ownership, agility and accuracy. It includes complete network planning and testing within a single, integrated platform. Cost-efficient 5G deployments, particularly those requiring high density site placement, can be performed with our automated and remotely controlled site deployment verification.
Maximize Your 5G NR Coverage Benefits
The key to a successful 5G deployment, is NR increased coverage, availability, and continuity, in terms of space distribution and gain. Infovista’s 5G NR scanning solutions generate 5G NR coverage maps for rapid visualization of coverage and performance.
Infovista’s device-based testing solutions help troubleshoot beamforming, tracking and finding, and evaluate beam time-to-acquisition. Infovista also verifies efficient beam switching, strongest beam selection and acquisition, and diagnosing possible failures of these events.
Device-based testing enables the assessment of beam management within the context of vendor-specific procedures, the evaluation of device performance, and their interaction with the network.
This information is ready to be post-processed and correlated with the selected configuration (e.g. MCS, MIMO rank), for coverage optimization, considering the device’s impact, and ruling out faulty device behavior. This is particularly important in gray coverage areas, between locations in which beams may be aimed too high or too low toward the devices. It also helps with cases where device-base MIMO antennas show high loss and poor beam management.
Evaluating time-to-acquisition of the strongest beam can be used for optimization of handover interruption time. Additionally, the first NSA 5G deployments require optimization of the coverage and its continuity, and troubleshooting network performance, for LTE and NR air interface views.
Infovista simultaneous device-based measurements in LTE and 5G NR air interfaces, and visualization of the messaging, are crucial for understanding the impact of the radio channels’ quality of hybrid LTE-NR capability.
Validating 5G Deployment Performance
Throughput is the main performance metric characterizing today’s 5G deployments, as it relates to eMBB. Infovista testing solutions enable 5G deployment performance validation, using device-based assessment of the throughput for spectrum, bandwidth, and configuration.
Infovista tools not only help evaluate field throughput gain for the deployed spectrum-bandwidth configuration, but also troubleshoot unexpectedly low performance.
Infovista solves important 5G network deployment challenges, including:
- Potential coverage impairments by interference, including beam interference from the same TRP-transmission point
- RF quality sufficient to achieve the expected throughput
- Potential faulty dual connectivity, causing incorrect radio resource allocation to 5G NR
Infovista solutions perform evaluations and analysis against LTE, while comparing results in the same analytics window. Simultaneous evaluation of LTE and 5G NR becomes crucial for dual connectivity troubleshooting, when Layer 3 messages need to be analyzed, and the timing between radio access needs to be tracked and monitored.
Cost-efficiently deploying 5G requires quick and effective completion, with clear visibility into issues that need to be addressed for acceptance. Cell sites/cluster commissioning and optimization benefit from Infovista’s 5G site verification testing, that enables automated and remotely controlled site deployment verification.
See how we can help with your project. Take a look at our world leading 5G planning tool, Planet.