Data demand is outpacing the ability to build out infrastructure. The need today is for more critical infrastructure to be developed, particularly as some estimates say that 5G will require 13 times the number of towers than we have today in order to support this infrastructure.
As all major carriers work to test 5G systems in the 28GHz and 39GHz bands, one thing is clear: 5G signals aren’t traveling as far as their 4G predecessors. Naturally, that’s due to the use of higher spectrum. But what’s the solution for a network on the cusp of high-speed innovation? The build out of, among other things, more cell towers.
The transition to 5G carries with it the need for densification of the delivery system, which will also require dense array antennas. More computing power down at the source also means more demand on power, making the equipment that runs that broadband network vital for the future.
The market is already shifting in the direction of higher investment in equipment, as evidenced by wireless carriers investing in more towers and higher-end antennas. And if they are not building them, they are leasing them as rapid expansion of new markets continue to drive more of the latter.
This continues to be an interesting segment to watch, as wireless carriers are now leasing these towers from the companies to which they sold the structures to just a few short years ago. Major REITs are in prime position to play a major role in network transformation as they lease space on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the mobile world.
Antenna suppliers continue to experience new demands, as radio access networks shift heavily from voice to data. With it comes the requirement to re-engineer the network architecture to support such things as agile service provisioning, mobile video and automation across the network.
Early 2018 has already produced the fruits of this labor with some suppliers introducing smaller, more compact antennas. Some even containing multiple antenna arrays side by side transmitting or receiving radio waves. This leads to enhanced signaling, which ultimately eases network deployment easier.
It will be interesting to watch the development of Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), which to date are still confined to lab tests (and some 4G base stations). These antennas, which feature dozens of antennas on a single array as opposed to the standard two or more, look to be the ideal solution for 5G base stations built to support upwards of 100 ports.
And of course, more antennas lead to greater interference, which necessitates the need for beamforming, a traffic-signaling system for cellular base stations that identifies the most efficient data-delivery route to a particular user, and proceeds to reduce interference for nearby users.
On the tower and antenna front, there are many trends to watch closely—with certain opportunities and obstacles worth noting. As standards and best practices continue to emerge, look for suppliers to continue to introduce new solutions to market.
Engage in a TIA working group or educational program to be at the forefront of this fast-evolving field.
Carl Rivkin, Manager of Safety Codes and Standards at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), spoke with TIA NOW about how fuel cells act as reliable back-up power for cell towers. Rivkin focused on the environmental, safety and connectivity benefits of fuel cell technologies.