To meet coverage requirements in urban areas, 5G mmWave network deployment will depend, to a large extent, on small cell sites located on street poles. Several options exist to combine and conceal the 5G/4G electronics, power and connectivity on new or existing lighting poles to create a small cell site. Through scalable manufacturing, testing and fast turnaround times, these options can reduce time-to-deployment and simplify installation.
Small cell poles will form the backbone in dense urban environments
To make 5G wireless services a reality, it is anticipated that small cell sites using mmWave radios will be widely installed to provide sufficient coverage. Their higher frequencies exhibit increased propagation loss that limits inter-site distances (ISD) to roughly a tenth of a mile. So, 5G small cell sites must be lower to the ground and in closer proximity to one another than previous wireless generations.
As a result, in dense, high-volume urban areas, 5G small cell sites will become prevalent across busy city streets, historic sites and neighbourhoods, co-existing with lighting poles and other street furniture. To avoid cluttering up these urban areas, carriers, tower companies and municipalities are recognizing that street lighting poles are obvious platforms for 5G small cell sites. However, 5G small cell site solutions need to balance the needs of both service providers and municipalities.
Integrated small cell lighting poles form complete 5G site
As 5G services proliferate, integrated 5G small cell poles are expected to become a common element in the urban landscape. They need to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the architecture, public spaces and pedestrian right of ways. Because each city has its own history, challenges, ordinances and aspirations, integrated poles will need to be easily adapted to different designs yet be based on a standard product for streamlined customization and manufacturing.
Crucially, integrated poles should combine and conceal all the elements needed for a complete 5G small cell site. The Raycap integrated small cell pole, as an example, can integrate AC- or DC-powered 5G mmWave and 4G radios, AC disconnect functions with surge protection for safety and long life, as well as fiber management and connectivity enclosures.
Most integrated small cell poles mount the 4G/5G antennas or radios at the top of the pole to optimize performance and make concealment easier. The overriding characteristic of pole toppers should be flexibility in configuration, so the radios can be positioned optimally (and eventually upgraded) depending on the needs of that particular site. Importantly, the pole manufacturer must be able to provide a concealment material that does not interfere with the 5G mmWave signals.
To meet required coverage patterns, multi-tenant siting and future upgrades, the pole topper should have a uniform form factor that can host different brands of 5G radios, as well as be backwards compatible with lower frequency bands. With unique mounting options, the form factor can support different orientations of the radios, radios on different levels, on top of one another or back-to-back.
Enclosures on existing poles and buildings provide flexible deployment
When a new, integrated pole with a pole topper is not an option, carriers and municipalities can use a small cell enclosure solution to mount the 5G small cell on an existing pole. Carriers and cities can balance performance needs with aesthetic standards through the use of custom-made mounts, shrouds and enclosures to conceal or partially conceal equipment on existing metal or wooden poles. Some engineered solutions can also integrate concealment materials and surge protection devices, to deliver complete solutions for custom shrouds, street furniture and electrical protection of network infrastructure equipment. Carriers and municipalities can have these enclosures customized to blend in with existing environments, seamlessly.
For those areas where lighting poles do not provide adequate coverage, it is straightforward to mount and conceal 5G small cell sites on buildings, monuments, signs, and other elements of the urban cityscape. Advanced enclosures are available to conceal entire sites and seamlessly blend in with the color or texture of existing infrastructure.
Concealment options are critical to streamline review and deployment
With one or more small cell sites destined for virtually every block, municipalities are rightly concerned about the aesthetic implications. Fortunately, there are now materials that can cover 5G radios with, very little or, no impact on performance.
New materials ae now available that meet the needs of 5G bandwidth, and gigabit speeds, while minimizing dB loss. They have been tested and approved for use at the mmWave frequencies commonly used for 5G networks. In addition, they are entirely backwards compatible with widely used frequencies for 4G and earlier technologies.
Rapid time for deployment calls for integrated small cell poles
According to the CTIA trade group, small cell sites will skyrocket from 86,000 in 2018 to over 800,000 by 2026. As a result, high quality, scalable manufacturing will be critical to meeting this demand.
Crucially, integrated small cell poles answer a related challenge of 5G site infrastructure: rapid time to deployment. They can be engineered as a standard product line and then quickly customized for a particular need.
Furthermore, integrated small cell poles can be manufactured, assembled and tested at a factory under controlled conditions. This means they will arrive at a site with cabling, radios, and power and fiber equipment ready to go. All that is needed for installation is to affix the pole on the foundation, then hook up the feed lines for power and fiber. This is much faster than hiring field crews to install electrical components and run cabling on site.
Multiple deployment options are available for carriers and municipalities
It is still early, but solutions are emerging to help carriers, utilities and municipalities work together and move ahead with 5G policies and installations. In particular, choices for situating small cell sites on street lighting poles will assure municipalities of favourable aesthetics and fast installation.
At a macro level, pole toppers, enclosures and other concealment solutions give carriers and municipalities multiple choices and a wide range of flexibility to solve specific site characteristics. This ultimately will help benefit all stakeholders in streamlining and speeding up the deployment of 5G services.
Dr. Apostolis Sotiriou is the AVP Telecom Sales, Raycap Inc. Apostolis is a graduate of the Aristotle Technical University in Telecommunications. He received his PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens and received Executive Business Training at Harvard Business School. Before joining Raycap, he worked as a technical engineer for Cosmote Mobile Communications.