Telecoms Update – 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

The demands placed upon mobile operator’s networks will continue to grow both now and in the future due to many factors including the following:

    • The consumer’s ever increasing requirement to be constantly connected shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, future developments will only fuel this further.
  • The advances in MNUBO and mobile technology and corresponding consumer use, continues to increase the demand for more capacity and faster connections on networks.
  • The development and growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) linking utility meters, boilers and household appliances and creating many new and innovative services.

The operator’s networks will need to be upgraded in stages.  Over the medium term the new 5th Generation (5G) networks will evolve to offer higher speeds and capacity, lower latency and support for Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors.  This could result in a need for significantly more base stations to support the networks.

In December 2014, the GSMA outlined eight criteria for 5G networks.  A network connection should meet a majority of the eight in order to qualify as a 5G network:

  • 1-10Gbps connections to end points in the field (i.e. not a theoretical maximum)
  • 1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (latency)
  • 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  • 10-100x number of connected devices
  • (Perception of) 99.999% availability
  • (Perception of) 100% coverage
  • 90% reduction in network energy usage
  • Up to a 10 year battery life for low power, machine-type devices

In more detail this means:

Speed:  5G will be significantly faster than previous generations.  A full HD movie will be able to be downloaded in under 10 seconds, compared with a number of minutes over 4G, which is also contingent on having peak rate speeds for the duration of the download, which is very rarely the case.

Latency:  The response time will be significantly faster, at 1 millisecond compared with the current rate of around 50 with 4G.  Instead of waiting for a movie to download before it can be watched, play will begin almost, if not, instantaneously.

User experience:  Due to the substantial improvements to speed and latency, the user will have the perception of limitless bandwidth and continuous availability, wherever they are.

Capacity:  5G will provide the bandwidth that will be needed to enable the billions of devices that will be connected to the internet to communicate with each other known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Energy:  5G will need to be cost effective for users and operators, hence the need to achieve significant reductions in energy usage.  There is no point in having all of these great services if your phone runs out of charge, hence the requirement for long battery life, not just for phones but for all devices that could ultimately be connected to the network.

The rollout of 5G will have interim milestones in the form of LTE-A and LTE-A Pro.  5G is a significant and complex upgrade to 4G, it is not a single-step upgrade from the first release of 4G, but rather the culmination of many years of sustained upgrades to 4G networks.

5G will thus be a heterogeneous end-to-end network environment that will support a wide range of devices.  The architecture will utilise hardware and software and incorporate network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) to build in intelligence and automation.  The architecture will encompass mobile and fixed network infrastructure, devices from smartphones to wearables to machines, and network and management functions.

On the radio access side, new wireless technologies use higher frequency bands because they aren’t in use and can deliver faster data transfer speeds.  However, higher frequency signals don’t travel as far as lower frequency signals so technologies will be needed to boost signals.  Like 4G, obstacles such as buildings, trees or even the weather can also impact upon the connection.  More base stations will be needed to deliver better coverage, as well as enhanced or all-new antenna technologies.

Radio frequencies used for 3G and 4G are already overcrowded, so a new spectrum will be required and it will need to be in high frequency bands, in order to deliver the envisaged data speeds.  Allocation and management of the spectrum is down to governments and there has been little harmonisation to date.  This will have to change in order for 5G services to work globally, and the ITU’s WRC has begun the process to identify and harmonise frequencies for 5G.  In order to ensure that the 5G spectrum does not run out, it may be necessary in the longer term to develop ways of using the spectrum more intelligently, such as by only assigning the amount that is needed for each task.

Cost is a significant consideration.  Until the technology is developed, it is unknown how much it will cost.  But if the full benefits of 5G are to be realised, the price of 5G capable handsets and 5G services must not be prohibitive.  Just because I can download more data, faster, does not mean that I will be prepared to pay a huge bill every month.  There will be a pressing need to reduce end user costs even though data requirements may grow up to a hundred-fold, monthly bills cannot increase by the same amount if emerging technologies are to be accessible for mainstream use.

5G will enable a fully mobile and connected society.  As end-users, we tend to think about faster data transfer and lower latency in terms of our own usage such as downloading a movie more quickly, at any time or anywhere, statically or on the move, and with little or no lag.  This will obviously be the case, but 5G will enable much more.  On the entertainment side, lower latency will boost the multiplayer gaming experience and further down the line, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will provide an immersive gaming or movie experience.  With 5G, a spectator at a football stadium will be able to watch a live stream of an alternative camera angle at the same time it is happening on the pitch.  This is great for consumers, but it is not the reason operators and equipment vendors will invest billions to develop and roll out 5G.  They will be looking to the more practical business use cases, that will increase the return on their investment.

In the Internet of Things (IoT) age, phones, fridges, lights and pretty much any other electrical item will be connected to the internet.  By 2020 it’s predicted that there will be 50-100 billion devices connected worldwide, many of which will need continuous data access.  Connected cars, drones and wearables are already in business.  5G will take these initiatives to the next level.  Driverless cars that will be able to avoid an accident due to notification from sensors.  The evolution of smart cities that can guide motorists to a vacant parking spot, switch on street lighting when needed by emergency services or identify which roads to grit in bad weather.  Smart grids that can conserve energy resources and manage energy consumption.  The possibilities are endless.  2020 is the widely talked about date for commercial availability of 5G and, while that target looks achievable, it will certainly not be the start of mass rollout.  Like 4G and other generations before it, 5G will be rolled out in stages and will complement existing technologies.

Advancing technology will enable base stations to be placed in different locations such as retail stores on high streets and shopping malls and even lamp posts to provide local coverage, all subject to Planning Regulations and Control.  The need for densification of the network requires acquiring more sites on which to place base stations.  This will motivate operators to attempt to drive down acquisition costs, but the greater demand for new sites will also be a huge opportunity for well advised Landlords.

New rollout in rural areas continues to stagnate, due to the high capital costs associated with constructing a site in a rural location.  There is no hard evidence that landlords and / or rent are the cause of network coverage issues.

There has been much misinformation in the market place regarding the extent of decommissioning by operators.  This has generally happened where two sites, immediately adjacent to each other, are operated by for example CTIL, the joint venture company of Vodafone and O2.  However, capacity issues in city centres can result in sites being retained rather than decommissioned.

If decommissioning does go ahead for a site, it is vital that landlords seek appropriate advice from specialist telecoms surveyors such as Cell:cm to help them navigate through the process successfully and compel the operators to meet their contractual obligations.  It is also important for Landlords to seek specialist advice in order to maximise income and landlord favourable terms from their telecoms sites both now and to take advantage of developments in the future.


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