Innovation is driving dramatic changes in wireless design. Here's a look at what is coming into play in 5G network architecture in mid-band.
Cell phones have historically operated on low-band signals, but as 5G proliferates, 2022 will see a huge rollout of the mid-band signals. Given the capacity and coverage of mid-band compared to low-band, mid-band offers lower latency but limited signal coverage (Figure 1).
Figure 1 Mid-band solutions are the key RF highlight of 5G designs. Source: Wilson Electronics
A mid-band solution can only travel approximately 20% of the distance of low-band, but it’ll get there approximately 10x faster. The $22 billion auction of mid-band by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2022 is likely to lead to a huge rollout of 5G services. Carriers have chosen to pour large amounts of money into mid-band technology for one enticing use case in particular: fixed wireless.
That will facilitate the ability to access the Internet at home and business through only a wireless connection, thanks to the capacity of mid-band technology. It will also benefit users with faster speeds at lower costs as carriers scramble to compete on price. And it isn’t just the large carriers who are eager to jump on this opportunity. Smaller regional carriers who make their living in suburban and rural areas will all be rolling out these solutions in the regions they cover.
Additional towers and signal repeaters
Because mid- and high-band signals cannot travel nearly as far as low-band, additional towers and cell signal repeaters will be necessary to propagate the network in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Currently, the United States has deployed 387,000 towers. In order to be able to take on mid-band technology while still covering the same footprint, we won’t be able to rely on the existing placement of towers.
As many as 6x additional nodes will be needed on the 5G network. Additional cell towers will be built as a result, but running fiber optics backhaul is costly and time-consuming, not to mention the cost and process of buying or leasing real estate to install those towers.
For these reasons, many of the new nodes that are crucial in extending 5G coverage will come in the form of signal repeaters. Cell signal repeaters provide an easy and inexpensive solution that takes a fraction of the time and effort to install and deploy and are more efficient than a small cell.
The buildings interfering with the RF signals validate the need for a repeater to get signal into black-out zones, both inside and outside of the building. With an outdoor cellular repeater, the area without coverage—the ‘dead spot’ on the coverage map—would be eliminated or greatly reduced. Moreover, while mid-band signal has very limited ability to travel through building walls, the need for indoor repeaters will be just as urgent, if not more so.
Figure 2 Outdoor cellular repeaters will also help manage black-out zones in 5G networks. Source: Wilson Electronics
Perception disconnect between consumers, carriers and engineers
Carriers have been talking about 5G for years, which has gotten consumers excited, curious, and eager to adopt. However, from what I’ve noticed, consumers don’t always have the details straight about 5G. Now that 5G is undeniably here and carriers have made such large investments, talk is abuzz around how we will use cellular signals to power our businesses and change the way we do business. For carriers and engineers, describing what 5G means and how it applies to an average consumer may not be a bad idea.
And what might be next to bat for 2023 and beyond? High-band adoption, 6G, Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)? We can save those predictions for later and choose to focus on what’s right in front of us: mid-band, 5G, and fixed wireless for 2022.
This article was originally published on EDN.
Jon Mykrantz is VP of enterprise sales at Wilson Electronics.