A new survey highlights the gulf between mobile operators’ 5G ambitions and their deployment realities, especially when it comes to densification.
The report, commissioned by the Telecoms Industry Association (TIA) and InterDigital, found that 33% of operators aim to start deploying commercial 5G services by 2020. However, this will only be possible if several challenges are addressed.
The key issues, according to the survey, conducted by Tolaga Research, include the need for partnership strategies to roll out small cells at scale – “a key requirement for the mainstream rollout of 5G”, says the survey. The “lack of partner diversity in 5G network densification” is cited as an important barrier, along with fragmentation of data offload strategies, security concerns, and uncertainties around backhaul technology. All these must be overcome before 5G can become a reality, says the TIA.
Here at Small Cell Forum, the report was particularly welcome, because it reflects the same issues which are urgently raised by our operator members as they look ahead to 5G. These concerns are now at the heart of our work agenda for 2017, and we are confident that this program will produce concrete solutions for many of the challenges highlighted by the report, in good time for the start of 5G deployment.
For instance, the Forum has been making significant progress in addressing the site acquisition and deployment challenges of dense networks, whether these are LTE or 5G. We provide blueprints and practical guides to help make deployment processes repeatable and simple; educate and lobby regulators to streamline their rules for small cells; and work to bring together a wide range of stakeholders, such as city infrastructure owners.
The TIA report highlights the importance of such work. While it says that 75% of operators plan to partner with building owners for densification, and 64% with utilities, the authors believe that “without broader partnership strategies, operators in many markets will struggle with their 5G network densification objectives, and it is therefore crucial for operators to broaden their range of partnerships to enable the small cell densification demanded by 5G”.
Other challenges raised by the report, including backhaul, security and the use of unlicensed spectrum technologies – such as LTE-LAA or MulteFire – are all the subject of dedicated work items within the Forum’s 2017 program, which is organized around two overall issues, hyperdense networks and digital enterprises.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the significant deployment challenges ahead; areas like network densification, data offload and backhaul are all key to make 5G a reality, and operators need to ensure they have a strategy in place for the mainstream rollout of 5G,” commented Dr. Robert DiFazio, Vice President, InterDigital Labs.
The Forum completely concurs with this view, and invites operators and other interested parties to find out more about the progress we have already made in addressing these challenges, and our plans to smooth the path to 5G significantly with a very intensive work program for the months ahead.