A 5G forecast for 2023
By Dr. Marzieh Veyseh, co-founder & CPO of SiTune Corp.Electronics Wireless 5G cellular Editor Pick FWA Networks wireless
How small cells will usher in the true power of 5G
The world’s reliance on cellular networks is undeniable. There are more than 8 billion mobile subscribers globally, and the average monthly data usage per subscriber will increase from 15GB by end of 2022 to 40GB by end of 2027. With the increased demand both in terms of traffic and service quality, the world has been waiting for 5G to fulfill the promises of coverage and excellence.
5G provides faster speeds, greater capacity, better reliability, and lower latency. This is done through advancements in terms of radio access technology with wider bandwidths and higher frequencies as well as the new 5G core architecture with end-to-end network slicing and guaranteed quality of service. New applications can take advantage of what 5G has to offer and enable science fiction-like experiences such as self-driving cars, remote surgeries, factory cloning and robotic farming.
For service providers and the telecommunications industry, 5G deployments are a major and critical undertaking as they strive to increase market share with a more powerful and programmable network. This is done by deploying 5G SA architecture and supporting time-sensitive applications, higher capacity needs, and edge computing. Unfortunately, improvements have been held back by development issues in radio access network and applications. However, this is about to change in 2023 due to new advancements in hardware technology and ease of deployment of small cells and private networks.
In 2023, we will see the first implementations of 5G that will allow mobile users and enterprises to fully experience the power of the technology at scale. Increases in 5G small cell coverage will come with less cost, easier deployment, and lower energy consumption, prompting applications of 5G including special use cases and critical services.
What is a small cell?
A small cell is a mini wireless network base station with integrated RF and networking functionalities to provide cellular access to a smaller number of users in an indoor or outdoor setting. They are made to be small, compact, and unobtrusive. In the U.S. the FCC guidelines require small cells to be no larger than 3 cubic feet in volume. In addition, small cells must be deployed on structures less than 50 feet high, including their antennas. These structures can be no more than 10 percent taller than adjacent structures and cannot extend their existing structure to a height of higher than 50 feet or more than 10 percent.
5G for all
The 5G standard was designed to bring broadband capabilities to the widest possible user base; to bridge the gaps of zero coverage in places like rural areas, or scaling coverage to support massive numbers of users in high-density urban locations. While macrocells are the mainstream choice of deployment to provide mobile access and cover a large area with cellular signal, service providers face multiple challenges with this type of equipment. Macrocells are high-capacity radio equipment with high power signals that generally stand 200 feet or higher with strict requirements in terms of physical locations and regulatory laws. They are costly and consume hundreds of kilowatts of electricity.
High power macrocells also don’t send reliable signal to all areas. Moving from an outdoor area to an indoor building with thick walls generally leads to limited connectivity. This is even a bigger problem with high number of users in the indoor setting. Devices on the edge experience weaker signals. In congested areas, even if the user is not at the edge or in an indoor environment, the growing traffic and data demand leads to slower speed and higher latency, thus limiting the applications.
In the meantime, enterprises and businesses demand large scale data analysis tools where their information is kept secure and safe while the network equipment has the capability to support high traffic communication and utilize 5G enabled application. This simply cannot be done by macrocells.
Recent hardware technology breakthroughs are giving network equipment manufacturers the capability to develop energy efficient and cost-effective small cell equipment with better thermal management, smaller form factors and higher performance. These new, small cells make it possible to extend 5G coverage in hard-to-reach areas, indoor buildings, and highly dense environments. With comprehensive 5G coverage as the goal, in 2023 telecommunication industry and service providers will finally move to deploying small cells in larger volumes to address the coverage and capacity issues in 5G deployment.
Federal and regional governments have caught on to the benefits of how small cells can drive comprehensive 5G coverage. In 2022, more than 13 states in the U.S. proposed legislation encouraging the deployment of small cells. Laws and resolutions have already been enacted in New York, Tennessee, and Hawaii. These laws generally make it easier to get licenses and install small cells in each state, including streamlining applications to access public locations where small cells will be deployed, keeping costs to deploy low, and expediting licensing and processing for cell sites.
We will see practical applications of small cells in both the consumer and the business/enterprise markets in 2023.
Consumer fixed wireless access (FWA)
The first and the fastest way to get 5G to consumers will come in a small box available from your mobile service providers. Over 100 million FWA connections are forecasted by end of 2022. Indoor and outdoor Consumer Premise Equipment (CPE) will become widely available in 2023, beginning in India and parts of the U.S. CPE connections are the best way to extend 5G coverage in areas where cable and fiber installations are not practical. This includes rural areas and dense urban cities. Both small cells and macrocells complement each other to provide 5G signal to the end users including CPE boxes. Small cells are bridging the gap to cover the areas where macrocells either don’t have sufficient economic justification or are too difficult to deploy due to physical limitations.
5G – The Private Network Businesses
With the clear advantages of 5G cellular technology over legacy wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), private entities, enterprises, and organizations can deploy private cellular network and leverage the benefits in their controlled and secure setting using the new available small cell equipment. The cost and power benefits of the advanced hardware and software solutions make 5G private networks one of the early deployments of 5G.
The radio access equipment (small cells or private network access points) operate over leased licensed bands or unlicensed band (Citizens Broadband Radio Service, CBRS.) CBRS is a band of radio-frequency spectrum from 3.5GHz to 3.7GHz designated by the FCC for shared use. Edge devices or users need to have access to the allocated band either through subscription or a provided SIM card. This means that a private cellular network includes all the technology and the equipment necessary to deploy a functional wireless network.
2023 will be the year of small cells. Fixed wireless access and private networks will be the first real taste of the power of 5G. What can we look forward to in 2024?
In many ways 2023 is a stepping stone to the future of 5G with its full potential. The implementations we will see will likely happen regionally, dependent on government regulations and access. The fixed wireless and private network implementations begin regionally in the U.S., in some parts of Asia, and in India in 2023. In 2024 we should see more widespread small cell deployments across Europe.
On the technology side, many in the industry are looking to O-RAN, or Open Radio Access Network, to change the game in 5G. This will begin to happen in 2024, as service providers upgrade their 5G radio infrastructure with ORAN in mind. ORAN allows providers to virtualize the backhaul, giving them more flexibility to build faster programmable networks, with best-in-class equipment. ORAN is a must to achieve the vision we all want for 5G.