5G Deployment Realities 


OK, so many people have no idea about 5G. I can’t believe it. I think we need to have a high-level overview of 5G and the deployment challenges. 

I believe everyone thinks that magically, 5G will appear and the old systems will disappear. Not true at all. 

Here are the questions people ask me every week. 

  • Most people expect a radio upgrade and then we’re done, not true.
  • Many think that you can simply replace 4G with 5G, another myth.
  • Is 5G dangerous? The real question should be, “is your smart phone dangerous?”
  • When will 5G be indoors?
  • Will 5G replace DAS?
  • With 5G, all we need is outdoor small cells everywhere, right?

Here’s a taste of reality to put us all on the same page. 

5G is just a radio upgrade, right?

No, it’s not that easy. If you’re in the business, you know that’s not true. Oh, by the way, just a radio upgrade is not “just”, it’s a whole deployment project that costs a lot of money.

It is not a simple software upgrade. This makes the OEMs happy, but they have to start making their radios as future proof as possible. 

The OEMs are selling radios and deploying gear. They should be happy, yet it appears that they are disappointed in 5G deploying so slow. 

The reality is, if carriers want to deploy 5G properly, they need to upgrade more than the radio.

Let’s look at 7 simple things to be done. (Sarcasm!)

  • The idea of 5G is that is can push more data, so the radio and the BBU need to be upgraded.
  • The radio is new, the antenna may need to be replaced, but carriers won’t do that unless they combine 4G and 5G, then it makes sense.
  • The BBU needs to be upgraded, probably more than software, but new cards and maybe a new fiber jumper.
  • Then the backhaul and the router/modem. It has to be upgraded.
  • The backhaul needs more bandwidth so the backhaul to the core may need more fibers and more data.
  • The core needs to be upgraded, even if it’s an EPC, Evolved Packed Core. Sure, the OEMs say it’s easy, but it takes money, time, and planning. It is an upgrade after all.
  • Oh, let’s not forget the end-user. The user equipment has to be replaced. The smartphones, IOT devices, radios in vehicles, and so on. 

You get it, right. These are not simple or cheap. This is probably why Verizon and AT&T went with mmwave to be their primary 5G technology to start. 

Also, if you think small cells should have been used to deploy 5G, backhaul and e911 play a roll. I’ll explain that later.

Can’t we simply replace 4G with 5G?

No. This sounds great, doesn’t it? We’ll just replace 4G with 5G and everyone is happy. YAY. Don’t be a moron!

Here is why I am going to lay out why it is not a simple replacement and then you can tell people that upgrades are not painless. In fact, is you have ever work on a Microsoft computer, you know that any upgrade comes with a price. 

Why can 5G replace 4G today? Let me count the ways:

  1. The end-user doesn’t have 5G capability in most of their devices. So if you replace 4G with 5G, different technologies, the existing users lose coverage. Remember going from 3G to 4G? Even from 2G to 3G. The carriers had to maintain “ye olde wireless” systems because not everyone wants to buy a new phone the minute it comes old. Older people, like me, will hold on to a phone for 4 to 5 years. So, in today’s world, I think it’s like dog years, for every year you have a smartphone it ages 7 years, so if you keep it for 3 years, 3 times 7, you are actually 21 years behind in technology. I think that’s how my kids explained it to me. By the way, remember when OnStar had to upgrade or cancel service for all those old GM cars, they had old radios in the vehicles where the car outlasted technology. Who would have thunk it? 
  2. Voice isn’t on 5G. I mean sure, if you have an app to do voice like Skype or WebEx, those work great. You can do Wi-Fi calling, that works if you only have one hotspot and a reliable backhaul Remember, Wi-Fi is free and if you’re in an airport, Wi-Fi calling is sketchy at best. However, what about e911? What if someone calls 911 for an emergency? Is Skype going to work, no? In fact, they tell you that it’s not be used for 911 emergencies. Currently, 3G voice is very reliable and works and 4G LTE has VoLTE, voice over LTE, which is acceptable and proven for voice. As far as I know at the time I wrote, this, November 2019, there is no 5G solution that can handle a 911 call. If you replace 4G with 5G, you lose voice and, therefore, lose e911 capability. That means your at fault with the FCC and to be honest, you know that a 5G only site will have someone call 911 only to see something horrible happen, and then sue the carrier. That means that 4G and 5G have to remain side by side until “voice over 5G” is readily available. Get it?
  3. If you simply replace 5G with 4G at a site, there will not be any improvement. People today want something better. When 4G rolled out, the carriers struggled to make it more efficient and better. LTE is quite impressive. Often, it can outperform Wi-Fi with data on a mobile device. People rely on it more and more. Just in time for us to replace it. By the way, Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi, not 5G, so when someone says they have 5G Wi-Fi, just make a funny face and walk away. Calling them stupid is too harsh.
  4. As bit rates go up, coverage goes down. If we want 5G to have a higher bit rate, we may create new dead zones. That means planning and coverage should be looked at before any massive upgrade it’s done. While Sprint has ignored this with the Massive MIMO upgrades, they believe that the pros will outweigh the cons. I believe them.

This may help you get an idea of why it’s not as simple as replacing a technology. 

Is 5G dangerous? (Is your smartphone trying to kill you?)

Oh my GOD, if I have to read one more story about how 5G will make my head explode, my head may literally explode. 

For one, there are adverse effects on the human body with RF. Spectrum is a key factor. So is the power of RF. RF is everywhere including that Wi-Fi hotspot you or your cable company put in your home and on your phone. In fact, RF is in your laptop, your microwave, any smart device you may have that connects wirelessly, and your car. 

By the way, most public safety radios have higher power than any cell phone. I’m just saying.

So, when it comes to the effect of 5G on the body, change the question. Don’t just blame 5G because it’s new. Chances are good you were frying your body since 1G came out. 

When you look at this, think of how RF could be an issue and that some people are more sensitive than others. Also, when we have any new spectrum come out, like mmwave, it has to be tested. Here in the USA, we expect the FCC to have our back. We expect them to look into the safety of each new spectrum and set the power level recommendations accordingly. 

I am no expert, but I have worked around Rf for years. When I climbed, especially in the old days, the only people that would turn the power down were broadcast TV and radio stations. The carriers were supposed to but most NOC would turn down the wrong sites. A lot of incompetence out there. 

Now, with all of that said, there is a condition out there where some people are hypersensitive to EMF. These people often think they are sensitive to Wi-Fi, but chances are good that they are hypersensitive to all RF. Again, they always blame the technology overlooking that it’s the RF and power levels that matter. 

If you want to go down this rabbit hole, look into reliable resources. I think that the FCC and OSHA are reliable resources, for the most part. I also think the carriers may have a little too much influence from having the whole truth revealed. I love a good conspiracy theory, don’t you?

RF Awareness Resources:

If you want to hear a true story about someone who had real RF poisoning, here is a link of someone I interviewed back in 2014, https://wade4wireless.com/2014/06/07/a-story-of-rf-radiation-poisoning-blogcast/.

To let you know, back when I climbed, I would occasionally get RF burns. When I worked on 2-way radios for vehicles, I got RF burns. It happens. Your body heals, at least mine did. You get better, you move on.

When looking at the health effects of 5G, I think the real issue is how people are being affected by addictions. Think of how kids are glued to that device day and night. The thing is, that has nothing to do with RF. It has everything to do with the addition of all the apps.

  • Facebook,
  • Instagram,
  • Twitter,
  • Texting,
  • YouTube,
  • Tinder (I’m just saying),
  • LinkedIn (for us older folks),
  • The list goes on and on!

I am no better, I use my phone a lot. I am on it a lot. I rely on it more and more. I think my iPhone is way better than muy crappy Microsoft laptop. It also costs more. But, the iPhone is reliable and quick and can do way more. It’s just smaller and pocket-sized. How can you hate these things? 

We need to learn to control ourselves. Myself included.

To me, the real health risk is the problems that a lack of awareness can create. That’s the real issue. At least to me, but hey, people are making a lot of money off the RF thing.

When will 5G be indoors?

See the section about “Can’t we simply replace 4G with 5G?”. That explains the biggest reasons why. That and the OEMs are years behind in having an indoor 5G solution. When I say OEMs, I mean they should have a mmwave solution by now. But, they are so far behind that it’s becoming a joke. 

Will 5G replace DAS?

Trick question. The DAS systems are already changing. Less and less coax will be run through the building and more and more fiber to radio heads.

The issue is that it’s more cost-effective to upgrade the radio head and connect it to coax instead of replacing all the equipment. That makes the most sense at this point in time.

Why rerun all the cables if you don’t have too. 

But, new buildings and new installations should all be running fiber to radio heads with power somewhere nearby. 

We will need to increase indoor coverage. That means that some type of DAS will be used, whether it’s going to be small cells or radio heads. The only question is what technology because 5G isn’t there yet. And what spectrum. I can’t wait for mmwave because it will blow the doors off of anything out there, but as I said, the OEMs have no solution today.

So 5G and DAS will live in harmony. 

DAs will start to be called CRAN and the BBUs no longer need to be on site. They can be kilometers away. I think having the BBU onsite is overrated. If it’s a stadium or arena, it is trouble to try to work on it during an event. If it’s offsite, at least you can access it easier, maybe. 

It all comes down to what the business model will look like. Real estate costs money no matter what you use it for. 

With 5G, all we need is small cells everywhere, right?

Here is the biggest lie I have ever heard. Who the hell came up with this? Small cells are merely a tool, not the solution.

In fact, we realize now that the small cell concept was somewhat of a failure. At least, it did not live up to expectations. Now what we have CRAN systems and deploy remote radio heads everywhere, it doesn’t make sense to put a small cell with limitations outside. Indoors, yes, outdoors, no. 

If you look at the way 5G is rolling out now, it’s in the macro sites. That because they can colocate 5G with 4G. They can upgrade the backhaul quickly. They get a bigger bang by reaching more people from those sites. 

If you went on a pole, you could put a radio head there and tie it back to a remote BBU. That makes sense, but you need to add fronthaul link back to the BBU, which most poles may or may not have anything. You may have to add power, again, not easy. You need 4G to have e911 available. Pole sites are way too expensive to be rolling out new technology without having it at your macro sites first. 

Again, CRAN with radio heads makes more sense in today’s systems. We still need fiber or a good solid haul. (fronthaul, backhaul, or midhaul.) If you can use microwave, great. Fiber is generally preferred. 

There it is!

I hope this helped you look at 5G in the real world. There are many factors to look at. It’ snot black and white and a lot of decisions will be financial ones, not just technical solutions. 

Thank you for your time to learn something new! Let’s use it today.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

I appreciate all of your support. Thank you so much!

 

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One comment

  1. Next year when carriers implement DSS and start using carrier aggregation in earnest it’ll likely double or triple LTE speeds and lower latency on existing spectrum (for those who have phones with sub 6ghz 5G radios) but for the enormous difference that has been sold as 5G there isn’t enough sub 6ghz spectrum to make that kind of difference.

    So really 5G is all about running massive amounts of fiber to create thousands and thousands of small coverage areas with gigabit + speeds with the backhaul to support that also. The only carrier doing that today is Verizon. AT&T seems to be debt crippled hence the 5e icon controversy and only having a 5G business product with no announced coverage areas for testing.

    A small amount of spectrum will never come close to imitating 5G as sold as spec’d such as Tmobile going nationwide with 20-35mhz of band 71 but no massive mimo antennas etc for that spectrum because towers can’t support the weight. Pure marketing while their near explosive reactionary statements anytime Verizon has a 5G press release reeks of fear. In order to use CA to pump that up anywhere near 5G they’ll have to have overlapping coverage for all their spectrum including Sprints and the 24ghz they bought and the small amount of 28ghz they already owned pre-auctions. So where’s the advantage if they have to overlap all their spectrum coverage? Zippo.

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