Granular Information a Necessity for Network Planning Changes in the 5G Era

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By Dean Tan | 4Q 2021 | IN-6375

Granular Information a Necessity for Network Planning Changes in the 5G Era

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Mobile Network Planning Optimization in the 5G Era


In the deployment of mobile networks, mobile network operators (MNOs) need to design and plan their resources (e.g., spectrum and radio equipment). 5G has introduced new market opportunities in the enterprise space as well as new higher frequency bands (>3x GHz bands and millimeter-wave) for mobile network operators. Based on ABI Research’s studies, it is expected that 5G outdoor mobile infrastructure annual shipment units for radio (both macro and small cells) will reach about 14.7 million by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 37.7% from 2021. For mobile network operators an important step is to perform network planning prior to its deployment. Network planning helps to set the optimal allocation of resources (e.g., number of cell sites) based on a set of criteria (e.g., capacity and/or coverage). Network planning has more commonly work based off metrics such as the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR), often with static geospatial datapoints. In the 5G era, with the advent of new technologies, network Radio Frequency (RF) planning will need better capabilities to optimize their resources and derive maximum performance.

Multi-Path Propagation and 3D Beamforming and its Effect on Network Planning


In the 5G era, there are at least two key trends which affect the way network planning works. The first is 3D beamforming capabilities and multipath propagation. This results in more dynamic beams being formed using complex antenna arrays (i.e., Massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO)). As beams are being formed from different neighboring cell sites, it is necessary for the network RF planners to know how this could influence the performance of the network. The second is the use of higher frequency bands such as the C-band or millimeter-wave (mmWave). With higher frequency bands, there are different propagation characteristics due to attenuation and impact of obstructions between access point and the end-user devices. In addition, for mmWave, which normally deploys as small cells, the intercell site distance reduces to typically less than one km away from one another. The closing in of distance will also require greater granularity in geospatial data points to accurately model the performance of the network. Therefore, there is a need to shift the workings of network RF planning compared to earlier generations where network performance was less dynamic and less dependent on multi-dispersive characteristics of radio channels. 

Network planning ensures that resources are allocated optimally based on the estimated traffic patterns and users’ consumption profiles. This is especially true in the radio frequency world where propagation can be obstructed by objects. As such, for network planning, information of the environment where the cell sites are located is crucial and network planning should gravitate towards 3D planning rather than 2D-based planning.

3D Planning Readies Mobile Network Operators for the Future


When it comes to 3D planning, there are two crucial components that will help mobile network operators achieve an optimal RF planning scenario. The first component is geo-spatial information, which includes that of the weather, the spatial details (e.g., height) of the buildings or objects in the area, and its materials. These factors will impact the performance of the network and should be accounted for in the RF planning stage. The second component is the availability of an accurate specification sheet, in particular that of antennas. With the higher frequency bands, factors such as Line-of-Sight and signal attenuation affect the performance of the network much more significantly. For example, signal attenuation in higher frequencies is about 10 dB to 18 dB, compared to lower frequencies which is about 5 dB to 10 dB.

High quality mobile networks start with effective planning with accurate information. To optimize the mobile network with these new technologies in the 5G era, mobile operators would benefit from using a network planning solution capable of operating in a 3D environment with up-to-date geospatial information. Given this outcome and objective, there are two groups of companies which the operator should be taken note of: Antenna Manufacturers and Location Technology Companies.

Securing a detailed antenna datasheet from the antenna manufacturer is a crucial piece of information for RF planners. It informs RF planners of the performance characteristics of an antenna and within the datasheet it contains the radiation diagrams. Typically, radiation diagrams are presented in the form of a 2D polar plot with an Azimuth Cut and an Elevation Cut. A 2D polar plot has worked sufficiently in earlier cellular generations but not so much in the 5G era due to the advent of beamforming and other key technologies (e.g., Massive MIMO). For antenna manufacturers, it is important to recognize the advantages provided by a 3D antenna radiation pattern for mobile operators and to make the most of this analysis. For example, Huawei will be providing 3D pattern data for their new antenna products starting in 2022. With a 3D polar plot, mobile operators can more accurately model the various deployment scenarios with multi-dispersive propagation and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the deployment.

The other group of companies are the Location Technologies companies, for example, HERE Technologies. The geospatial information and capabilities which location technologies companies have are a good complement to bolster mobile network operators’ capabilities in RF planning. The role play by location tech companies is to provide up-to-date and accurate geospatial datasets in greater granularity. As discussed earlier, using higher frequencies increases the importance of sub-meter geometric and spatial precision which can be provided by these companies. Not only can more precise information be obtained from location tech companies, but also periodic updates will be available as these companies refresh their map databases. This is crucial as any changes in the environment will affect the way the mobile network performs.

For mobile network operators to ensure 5G service quality, accurate design and planning of the mobile network is necessary. Identifying a suitable cell site relative to the other adjacent cell sites is a complex process. Without proper planning and optimization, it will be costly in a number of ways; costly in equipment purchase as the required number of radios are not derived accurately, costly in quality of service which can result in a higher churn rate, and costly in needing RF planners and other specialists to spend additional time to ratify the issue of coverage and capacity post deployments. As such with more accurate geospatial information and a 3D polar plot for antenna radiation, mobile network operators stand to benefit from an enhanced mobile network by mitigating these challenges.



Companies Mentioned