5G and the evolution of the access network

Head of 5G Business Development and Solutions

The 5G revolution, which is consistent with and a product of the undergoing digital transformation process, is first and foremost an evolution of the network access layer. This process concerns not only radio technology innovation, but also the types of coverage which will see consistent small-cell and indoor coverage growth. Italtel is working with telecommunication and tower companies in the development of 5G access networks according to a new transformation and expansion logic, from radio coverage projects to the integration of the solution.

The expansion of radio access networks, now that more than twenty years have passed since the appearance of mobile networks, requires increasingly specific guidelines:

  1. digital divide areas in which the use of 5G frequencies on millimeter waves brings 100 Mbit/s to the residential market with FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) solutions
  2. residual coverage gaps created over time due to critical licensing issues which are no longer acceptable in this Smart City era
  3. specific and limited high-data traffic areas (traffic hotspots) and, more generally, the effect of the growing Enterprise market, now with a much broader meaning that includes Industry 4.0 and Digital Health, to name just the most famous examples, which creates a demand for increasingly “surgical”, predominantly indoor wireless coverage.

Radio innovation: what is changing with 5G

Points 2 and 3 above explain the phenomenon of network densification, i.e., the inclusion of multiple small low-impact radio sites, either small-cell or DAS (Distributed Antenna System), which lend flexibility to an increasingly detailed coverage design while also making it possible to tackle licensing restrictions.

From a strictly technological standpoint, one of the most important challenges of 5G radio is to provide a solution that is as reliable as wired connections whilst reducing latency to under 10 ms – a self-explanatory figure when considering self-driving vehicles. These targets put wireless solutions on par with wired connections, with obvious benefits in terms of flexibility and use case potential. Just to give an example: think of the advantage of being able to remove the wiring when connecting controllers and actuators in a production chain, while also connecting moving vehicles and robots.

This is called Ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), a scenario involving not only an evolution of radio technology vis-a-vis previous generations, but also an architectural shift which uses Edge Computing to transfer control from the network center to its periphery.

However, it is basically the evolution of antenna technologies that comes to the aid of 5G targets, given that with massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) and beamforming it becomes possible to channel power solely to active links, thus multiplying its effectiveness to a factor of up to 10.

It is therefore clear that 5G is a much “greener” technology than its predecessors: the introduction of small-cell solutions will lead to a hundredfold power reduction while new antenna technologies will reduce “waste” by making it possible to channel power to where it is needed, with a clear positive impact also in terms of containing electromagnetic pollution.

New 5G radio coverage: competition and cooperation

Italy’s decision to keep the entire spectrum of 5G frequencies in the hands of telcos – unlike other countries, such as Germany, which have earmarked part of it for private use – creates new opportunities and challenges for the connectivity and network market.

If we think of 5G use cases and the growing need for “tailor-made” coverage, it is easy to foresee the birth of a new market comprised of de-facto private networks, albeit using the operators’ 5G frequencies.

Shopping areas, production centers and hospitals may now be required to change and enhance their connectivity solutions, prompting frequency operators to share both objectives and costs with the managers/owners of those physical spaces.

Organizations which create access infrastructure in particularly relevant or critical public/private places and then make it available to licensed frequency operators while also operating as commercial brokers are taking on a more and more decisive role in new 5G markets. They are called Neutral Hosts, an emerging role which takes advantage of the virtualization of networks and new “slice” architectures that make it possible to easily create multitenant (and therefore multioperator) infrastructures and platforms. This role is usually played by tower companies, which are accustomed to managing radio access infrastructure on behalf of telcos.

Italtel’s role in the development of 5G access networks

Italtel is at the forefront of the development of 5G networks, fully aware as it is that the design of the (single- or multioperator) technological solution and of the radio coverage project is becoming increasingly crucial in order to ensure that investments offer both performance and sustainability. Italtel supports telco operators and tower companies in the deployment of 5G access networks by sharing operational strategies and decisions, from the design of the radio coverage project (on a local and nationwide scale) to the integration and implementation of the solution.

For small-cell and DAS technology projects, in particular, Italtel applies skills and design tools specifically geared for indoor or outdoor coverage needs and supports operators throughout the entire network development process, from the cost/benefit analysis of the coverage of specific locations to the implementation of the solution.


Discover more about Italtel’s 5G vision and offer 

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