Why RF planning needs better maps for 5G to succeed

The rollout of 5G relies on RF planning to choose cell tower locations. Learn why accurate, up-to-date maps are vital to make this a success.

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Essential RF Planning for 5G Success - LuxCarta Insights

As telecom firms prepare for the expansion of 5G, accurate RF planning will be vital. But rolling out mmWave networks will be very challenging without fine-grained, up-to-date maps. 

At a glance:

  • A growing number of telecoms firms are introducing 5G networks
  • RF planning will play a vital part in the success of this new technology
  • Find out about the essentials of RF design and radio network planning
  • Learn why modern mapping technology will be crucial to making 5G networks a success

5G networks are rolling out at an incredible rate around the world. The first fully-fledged network was only launched in South Korea in 2019, yet by June 2022, 70 countries had some sort of coverage. Over the next decade, these millimeter wave (mmWave) networks will allow more people to access high-speed internet on their mobile devices. At the same time, they will enable the emergence of a host of new technologies, including autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things. 

But to make all this possible, we will need a major transformation in our current cell networks. Since mmWave has high attenuation rates (i.e., the radio waves can’t travel far) and is easily disrupted by things like trees and buildings, we’ll need more base stations connected closer to one another to offer enough coverage and capacity. This means that traditional approaches to RF design just don’t meet today’s needs. Let’s see why.

What is RF planning? 

Radio frequency planning (RF planning) simply refers to the process of deciding where to place cell towers and other equipment to achieve maximum coverage and capacity in a given area. RF design teams use maps to choose the best location for base stations, the number of sites to place small cell towers, and population data to decide where to connect. 

A new RF planning project will follow these steps:

  1. Initial coverage analysis, to estimate the best location for the 5G base station, number of 5G small cells, demand, and basic topography.
  2. More fine-grained site analysis, detailed coverage predictions, selecting the number of sites for small cells, their location, and signal strength.
  3. Installing equipment, then fine-tuning the new network, including things like antenna direction and tilt.
  4. Finally, continuous optimization by engineers is required depending on use and customer feedback using cell lists for each site.

RF professionals typically use software such as Infovista Planet, Forsk Atoll, Teoco Asset, or Ranplan Professional to plan their networks.  

For earlier generations of mobile internet communications (1G up to 4G), the coverage area of cell towers could be fairly flexible. Thanks to the broad width of earlier frequencies, transmitters could cover relatively wide areas and the radio waves could cope with things like trees, buildings, water, and other barriers. 

However, while 5G mmWave offers dramatically faster uplink and downlink throughput, it struggles much more with the obstacles and clutter found in cities, semi-urban and rural areas. And this means that the industry will have to change how RF planning is done as this technology becomes more widespread.

Challenges for 5G RF planning

If your firm wants to compete in the emerging 5G market, then you will need to adapt your RF planning methods for this new era. RF planning has always required accurate maps to help choose locations for base stations, cell towers, antennas, transmitters, and other equipment. However, the way maps were traditionally used is no longer suitable. Here’s why:

  • Accuracy of traditional maps

Since mmWave frequencies have higher attenuation and are easily disrupted by obstacles, you need a far more accurate view of where obstacles are found (including new structures). Traditional maps and open-source data just don’t offer the granularity needed.

  • More base stations and transmitters

Because mmWave networks have a higher attenuation, you will need to install many more antennas in a network than in earlier generations of mobile internet. You, therefore, need highly accurate maps to understand your target environment and find suitable locations. 

  • More resources required

Simply identifying locations for base stations and conducting detailed coverage predictions will require more engineers and technicians than earlier generations of wireless internet. 

These kinds of challenges pose a real threat to the emergence of 5G. If network coverage is only ever available in small areas, then the benefits of the technology will be limited (and customers won’t be incentivized to pay for 5G plans). At the same time, if you invest heavily in equipment that is constantly disrupted by things like trees or new buildings, then you could pour money into projects which don’t pay off.  

Why better maps are key to RF planning for 5G

At present, many telecoms firms use open-source mapping data, such as OSM, to inform their radio network planning. However, as we’ve seen, any inaccuracies, out-of-date information, or poor data on obstacles, could all undermine your plans for mmWave networks. 

And this is where LuxCarta helps. 

Our global maps use the most up-to-date satellite images and machine learning to provide you with highly accurate information to use in your RF planning projects. And, with multiple geodata layers (3D buildings, tree models, vectors for things like roads, waterways, and population density), you get much more information to support detailed coverage predictions. 

Using more sophisticated maps helps with modern RF planning by:

  • Giving you the most fine-grained view of your target area. 
  • Continually updated maps using the latest satellite imagery mean you can spot things like new buildings, roads, demolitions, or other changes in a given area. 
  • Automatically identifying things like trees, buildings, and other clutter help you rapidly plan where to locate transmitters, cell towers, and base stations with greater ease. 
  • Using artificial intelligence to classify topography and clutter speeds up your RF planning process. 
  • Saving you money by avoiding wasted investments in equipment at unsuitable locations. 
  • Saving you time by reducing the number of site visits required of your technicians.

LuxCarta integrates with all major RF planning software, including Infovista Planet, Forsk Atoll, Teoco Asset, and RanPlan Professional. 

Are you ready for next-generation RF planning?

As ever more telecoms firms enter the mmWave 5G market, a new approach to RF planning is clearly needed. Put simply, following the same methods used on the rollout of earlier mobile communications networks will only slow you down. By using more sophisticated, accurate, and up-to-date maps, you can be more confident of a successful and competitive rollout of your 5G networks.  

Contact LuxCarta today to learn more about our mapping solutions, and how they can support you with RF planning for the new generation of mobile internet communications.

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