mmWave 5G has the potential to be truly transformative. But without serious planning, it risks becoming a disappointment – and progress could even be delayed by years.
At a glance:
- mmWave 5G offers incredibly fast internet connections
- But without proper planning, mmWave technology will fail to deliver
- Learn how mmWave networks function, their benefits, and use cases
- Find out why better planning and preparation are needed
Imagine you are a consumer who’s just signed up to a contract with a 5G network to use your ‘5G ready’ smartphone. Convinced by advertising campaigns that your new subscription will give you unparalleled connectivity, you try to download an HD movie. However, despite all the hype about download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, your connection doesn’t seem to be operating at anywhere near that rate. Disappointed, you tell your friends and family that 5G is all hype.
The kind of scenario described above risks becoming very common if 5G coverage doesn’t improve fast. Despite claims by network operators that ever-increasing swathes of the planet are ready for fifth-generation wireless internet, only a fraction of that is covered by extremely fast mmWave 5G.
And this is a real problem. If people can only benefit from super fast speeds in restricted areas, then more and more people will question if 5G technologies are really worth it.
Better planning of 5G networks – and especially the mmWave spectrum – is going to be vital if we want to avoid this kind of disappointment, and ensure 5G achieves its potential. Let’s learn more, and see why more sophisticated radio frequency planning is needed.
What is 5G?
Fifth-generation (5G) wireless internet is a new approach to transmitting data over the air, which promises greater download speeds and lower latency than earlier generations (2G, 3G, and 4G).
Much of the excitement about this new kind of connectivity relates to mmWave 5G. With earlier generations of wireless internet, providers used bands of radio frequency that could cover long distances but delivered data less quickly.
However, by using the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, 5G technology is able to send information at radically faster rates, using base stations that use massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) cells.
While 5G mmWave frequencies (24 GHz up to 100 Ghz) transmit information faster, they have the drawback of attenuating over smaller distances – the signal cannot travel more than a few hundred meters. What’s more, an mmWave signal struggles to pass through building materials, trees, the human body – and even rain.
So, to make a 5G network useful, the devices that connect to it need to be able to switch to lower-frequency signals. A 5G-ready device is therefore one which uses a technology called ‘adaptive beam switching’. Your smartphone connects to and uses mmWave 5G when it’s available, but can then switch to lower frequency bands if the 5G signal becomes too weak.
And this is the crux of the problem facing network operators. mmWave 5G coverage remains very limited in much of the world (less than 10% of 5G networks are in the mmWave spectrum today). What is more, in the places where mmWave 5G is available, obstacles often prevent users from experiencing those ultrafast download speeds.
What are the potential benefits of mmWave 5G?
The benefits of high band 5G, (24 GHz and above) are considerable. If it can be delivered consistently and effectively, it could prove transformative for both consumers and businesses.
mmWave 5G benefits for consumers
Until now, a lot of the marketing around 5G has focused on its benefits to consumers. Here are some of the ways it could help:
- Extremely fast download speeds: Want to download a TV show to watch on your commute to work? With 5G, you can select an episode and download it in seconds. The blistering speed of 5G mmWave will make it so much faster to access HD content on demand.
- Wider band spectrum = far greater access: While today’s 4G networks are powerful, they can struggle to deliver large amounts of content when being heavily used – 4G maxes out at about 4,000 devices per square kilometer. By contrast, 5G mmWave will support up to a million devices per km2. That means that at busy events such as music festivals, carnivals, concerts, or even city centers on a weekend, people won’t struggle to get connected.
- Potential for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA): FWA could serve as an alternative to cable-based home internet connections. Rather than needing to wait for an engineer to come around and connect your home to the physical network, you could simply connect to high-speed 5G networks to power all the devices in your home.
- Virtual reality and the ‘metaverse’: If the ‘metaverse’ (virtual worlds accessed using VR headsets) is to become a reality, it depends on many people having ultra-fast internet for people to have smooth and interesting experiences in them. So, mmWave 5G could well be vital for making the metaverse possible.
mmWave 5G for business
While the consumer use cases are certainly interesting, the benefits of mmWave 5G for business are arguably greater. Here are some of the possible applications:
- Autonomous vehicles and robots: For artificial intelligence-powered vehicles and robots to really work, incredibly high-speed connections to servers will be vital. mmWave 5G networks could deliver the required speed.
- Heavy industry: The so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’, which relies on connected machinery, could also seriously benefit from mmWave 5G. This high-speed radio frequency could help run factories, mines, and other heavy industrial units.
- Healthcare and haptics: By using haptic technologies and wearable tech, some have argued that 5G mmWave will allow for things like remote surgery and medical treatment.
- Internet of Things: The IoT will see millions of devices continually connecting to the internet to send real-time data. 5G networks will potentially help supercharge ‘smart city’/’smart farm’/’smart factory’ and similar concepts.
Besides these benefits, 5G’s proponents argue that there will be many more applications that are yet to be imagined.
Deployment challenges of mmWave 5G
There is no doubt that mmWave 5G has serious potential. But, as outlined at the start of this article, it could prove to be a serious disappointment if the roll-out isn’t properly planned. Here are some of the key deployment challenges of mmWave 5G:
- Foliage: Trees and bushes can all disrupt mmWave frequencies. If the companies deploying these technologies fail to consider the location of foliage in relation to cells, then connectivity could be far less than expected. As we described in an earlier blog, failing to consider trees when planning an mmWave 5G network could cause a huge mismatch between expected and actual 5G coverage.
- Attenuation: Besides trees, there are multiple obstacles in urban environments that will reduce how far mmWave 5G frequencies can travel. This includes buildings, bridges, bodies of water, billboards, and other clutter.
- Climate: Heavy rain or even humidity can all affect mmWave attenuation, and needs to be factored in when planning cell locations.
Advanced mapping makes mmWave 5G planning better
If you are planning to develop mmWave networks in urban, suburban, or even rural areas, sophisticated mapping is essential. 3D maps can help you identify obstacles across large areas, locating buildings, trees, and bridges. This can then support you to identify optimal sites for mmWave 5G cells, and ensure coverage is as wide as possible.
With 5G networks expanding around the world – and plenty of hype about incredible download speeds – it’s going to be vital for telecom companies to deliver on their promises.
LuxCarta’s mapping solutions can help you accurately plan your mmWave 5G network rollouts and cell locations. Contact us today to learn how we can support you.