Five 5G Deployment Issues and Potential Solutions for Telecom Service Providers

Widespread deployment of 5G brings with it the promise of a network of connectivity with greatly improved latency and downtime. To reach full 5G capabilities, telecom service providers would be required to reach enough density to monetize the network by installing 5,000 to 20,000 5G small cells in every major city within the next five to ten years. This brings the network much closer to mobile phones and every type of IoT sensor or device that needs connectivity. The explosive increase in bandwidth will open new possibilities, from remote surgeries guided from New York City to a small African village, to enabling new ways for humans and robots to work together on a factory floor.

Full 5G coverage is an ambitious goal, requiring the biggest telecom players to invest $20 billion annually in the US. As of July 2020, about 10 percent of the desired small cells are in place. What are the main roadblocks slowing rollout?

Multiple Interconnected Challenges

The massive scale and density of the planned 5G network creates a multitude of problems for operators and the city governments that must approve every small cell installation before it moves forward.

Here are five of the most pressing challenges:

  • It’s a new process. Adding a massive amount of infrastructure to cities is a new concept for telecom engineers and permit reviewers at the city permitting office. They’re inundated with requests to approve the locations for thousands of antennas. Carriers are taking a piecemeal approach to this processacross different municipalities, which further overwhelms permit employees who are unfamiliar with many of the new small cell specifics.
  • It’s an engineering problem, not a site acquisition problem. On the carrier side, many of the conversations with city officials focus on the deployment as a real estate matter. But the future of telecom services means installation on public right of way not private property. This is a structural, civil, electrical, transportation engineering and city planning issue that needs to be resolved at scale. The telecom service providers need to make sure to look at this from those engineering angles, to avoid liability of potential issues coming up, voice similar concerns with the city permit engineers to avoid any disconnect and misunderstanding.
  • Construction issues vary by site. Because telecom service providers want to build all over a city (with an antenna every block or two), there are real-world issues with such an undertaking. There are myriad issues with construction in already built-upon areas, including underground utility wires and pipes, ADA compliance issues, traffic control issues, and other problems. City engineers and permit reviewers do not want to create more problems for residents, but it’s difficult to avoid some of the construction-related problems with 10,000 antenna installations.
  • There’s no scalable solution, yet. Telecom service providers deploying 5G typically handle each antenna install as a one-off project. They’re taking up a lot of time and human capital. The 5G rollout is the biggest U.S. project since the highway system, but it’s still stuck in “old school” implementation methods. The high costs of the 5G infrastructure means every individual site comes with disproportionate costs, forcing site acquisition, engineering and construction companies as well as municipalities to add various fees. They simply are not receiving the outcomes they want. The industry needs a scalable solution to streamline site selection, construction plans, and discussions with the city.

For telecom providers, there are not a lot of collocation options available. They need a certain density of antennas to offer full coverage and all 5G’s capabilities. However, many cities do not allow carriers to build more than a set number of antennas at a certain distance. And only one operator can build at each site, and collocation is not an option at this point, so they are racing against each other to lock up locations. This creates the same problems operators experienced in the early stages of 4G, where residents of some cities found uniformly better cell phone service with some carriers compared to others. There might be compromise for colocation agreements at single antennas, but these are fraught with technical issues and contentious dealings between operators.

A common thread throughout these issues is the lack of scale and uniformity within the 5G antenna deployment process. Site acquisition, construction plans, and inspection drawings are developed manually, and every antenna is a self-enclosed disconnected project. Because of this Inorsa is bringing automation and scale to this process by streamlining permitting and offering on-demand engineering expertise to boost a provider’s capacity to manage multiple projects.

Looking Ahead

The entire industry will require more scalable solutions through innovative structural, electrical, city planning and transportation engineering methods to reach the ambitious 5G deployment goals and help carriers get to the scale of deployment needed to begin monetization of the network . There are multiple industries such as self-driving cars that will not be available to the wider public if the 5G infrastructure is not in place at the density required. By the end of 2025, an optimistic goal for the industry is 70% of the desired antennas are in place. Telecom service providers will need to work on multiple efforts to reach this goal, by streamlining the installation and approval processes and increasing public education efforts about the safety and capabilities of 5G.

At Inorsa, we use AI and automation tools and methods to be able to streamline the process of engineering production. Our decentralized review process has been helping many telecom service companies succeed at their A&E deployments without the worry of workload and uncertainties of the market.

About Inorsa

Founded in 2020, Inorsa offers a software platform to site acquisition, A&E, and construction groups that automates drawings, structural analysis, reports, and close-out packages. Inorsa’s automation engine dramatically decreases turnaround time and cost for these tasks, while increasing accuracy of drawings. Our platform also allows clients to store documents, cross check and validate accuracy of data and arrange files, making it simple to stay organized always. Inorsa is on a mission to accelerate 5G deployment at lightning speed, at a fraction of the cost.

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Manish Matta
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