How will 5G impact network operators in 2022?
As more people turned to working remotely at the start of the pandemic, carriers shifted their investments to the fixed infrastructure that underpins home broadband connections.
About the Author
Douglas Rankin, vice president of wireless outside sales, Europe at CommScope.
In 2022, we will see renewed interest in 4G modernization and time spent evaluating the most pragmatic ways to add capacity and capability into 5G deployment plans. We see three major trends in the market for the coming year:
Define a strategy to simplify 5G deployments
Urgency around spectrum deployment creates new opportunities for mobile operators to meet ever-increasing demands for network capacity, spectral and operational efficiency, and a migration path to 5G and beyond .
Operators all over the world are looking for ways to monetize their networks and we will see the first layer of 5G gaining ground mainly in cities. In addition to faster mobile speeds, the industry will test new use cases such as personalized experiences for fans, 5G connected collars on farms, and remote-controlled ultrasounds on public 5G networks. Spectrum used for these new services will require densification, and operators will seek technologies and other cost-effective deployment models, such as the use of neutral hosts to supplement local coverage requirements.
We can also see business model innovation coming from industries like healthcare or logistics, for example. That’s no surprise given that AWS recently launched a new managed service that helps companies set up and scale private 5G mobile networks in their facilities in days instead of months. This trend could continue as vertical application specialists decide to buy a slice of the 5G network to rebrand it and sell it as a niche solution for their customers.
Discover ways to maximize existing infrastructure
The race for 5G has become as much about engineering as it is about technology. In fact, one of our customers said that 5G is the biggest civil engineering program of all the Gs. With 5G comes new frequencies, which means new equipment will need to be deployed at the top already crowded towers. Carriers face significant challenges as this combination of heavier 4G and 5G equipment puts phone masts under additional strain.
Mobile operators are looking for ways to optimize the use of their current infrastructure while reducing energy consumption. The goal is to minimize the need to build new towers or structurally add to existing ones.
To solve this problem, engineers will combine active 5G antennas with passive base station antennas already used in older cellular networks. Operators will look for technologies that optimize their tower space and wind load while combining multiple antennas under one radio. More network operators can turn to neutral hosting providers to reduce footprint, cost and increase energy efficiency, as well as meet internal and external sustainability requirements.
Going forward, operators will continue to strengthen their eco-credentials, studying the amount of energy used to manufacture 5G components. This could include additional green commitments based on legislation and concerns around energy storage, new energy use and heat dissipation. Energy-efficient equipment, renewable electricity and new ways of feeding the grid will continue to be measured as operators aim to reduce their carbon footprint.
Being green has never been more important and in an increasingly 5G world, especially as network operators could face significant growth in their energy bills. As carriers turn to multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) techniques to prepare for 5G, they could potentially consume 2.5 to 3 times more power than previous systems. This means that for the foreseeable future, the millions of cell sites at the heart of the 5G network will need more power than their 2G, 3G and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) predecessors.
Although passive antenna solutions consume very little power and use less energy for manufacturing, operators will be more concerned about power consumption in 2022 as they deploy more massive MIMO antennas for urban areas and suburban.
Also, C-band spectrum has only recently been allocated, so operators haven’t had time to activate C-band networks yet, but as they do, power consumption will become a key factor to resolve. In the future, we may see cloud-native network management software using analytics to collect data from devices in the field. This could help identify impending network performance issues before they occur.
Look for ways to support Open-RAN
Before Open RAN becomes a mainstream 5G technology, there is still a lot of work to be done around interoperability between vendors. We expect to see new commitments in promoting network architecture and industry standards in 2022.
The focus will be on long-term planning with a particular focus on Open-RAN as a concept for 4G as operators consider new strategies for how new standards will play into 5G deployments , especially in Europe. Notably, Vodafone launched its first Open-RAN cell site in England this year and plans to roll out 2,500 more sites.
Ultimately, the goal of Open-RAN will be to further drive innovation and improve operational efficiency. Operators will have more flexibility over the types of services they offer as third parties write new AI-powered applications.
Prepare outdoor wireless networks for the future
Global estimates suggest that carriers will spend around $1 trillion (2019-2025) to capture emerging 5G growth. 2022 will be a year of experience in planning and deploying 5G networks.
They will look to vendors that can simplify 5G deployments and maximize previous investments. For example, hybrid active/passive antennas can reduce tower loading and operating costs; simplified base stations and radio connections speed deployments and reduce labor costs; power conditioning equipment can reduce power consumption. Operational efficiency will accelerate 5G and Open RAN deployments from 2022 to 2025 worldwide as MNOs balance their budgets and utilize their technologies. TowerCos and Neutral Hosts will continue their momentum and also become more relevant.
In addition, telecom equipment vendors will need to provide network-agnostic solutions, so their customers have more flexibility over deployment options.
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