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Rolling Out 5G – Part 1: Practical Challenges

Rolling Out 5G 1

The roll-out of 5G is progressing steadily across the globe but it is clear that 5G is proving particularly challenging in terms of achieving pervasive, broad availability. The latest generation of cellular technology is simply intrinsically more complicated compared to 4G and 3G. In the case of 5G, operators face a unique set of questions – unique physical and practical challenges, but also unique financial challenges.

In this two-part article, Netradar takes a look at the 5G roll-out challenges faced by MNOs around the world. Understanding these challenges helps explain why 5G the roll-out programme is progressing at a gradual yet unimpressive pace. In part one we cover the many unique, practical challenges of rolling out 5G.

Acquiring and managing 5G spectrum

Rolling out improved mobile data services depends on access to more spectrum. The existing spectrum MNOs have access to cannot fully deliver the most promising elements of 5G technology. Yes, MNOs can roll out aspects of 5G within the existing spectrum, but users won’t experience the full benefit of 5G.

5G requires a healthy mix of low and mid, as well as high-band spectrum to broadly deliver ultra-low latency and multi-gigabit speeds. Licensed spectrum is, of course, not cheap, and the fact that 5G spreads over so many spectrum bands only complicates the planning and utilisation of spectrum which, of course, must happen within fixed budgets.

The complexity of 5G networks

Spectrum is not the only complex aspect of 5G. Advances in cellular network technology have always required new network models and indeed new physical components, but 5G requires far denser networks too, and that requires significant changes in the way operators perform network planning.

The different frequencies at which 5G operates further complicates matters – down to the device level: not all 5G devices are capable of accessing all 5G services. It makes for a complex mix of hardware and software. Operators must carefully tread the line between overpromising on 5G’s performance potential – and real-world ability to deliver enhanced network access given highly complex network infrastructure.

Delivering consistent coverage

The coverage picture for 5G is very complex too. As a first consideration, indoor coverage is a hot issue for 5G given the fact that shorter wavelengths make achieving consistent indoor coverage more difficult. Operators need to consider carefully where and how they make promises around indoor performance, and indeed performance in the broad, in case the end user is unable to access enhanced services due to their location profile.

Coverage consistency also exhibits practical problems in terms of user density. Multi-gigabit 5G speeds are only practical in a dense environment such as city centres, given the network density required demanded by fast 5G – and the amount of equipment that it requires. MNOs are facing complex decisions around 5G capability and where to draw the line in terms of expensive to achieve network density vs. suboptimal 5G speeds.

Privacy and security

New technology inevitably brings new security threats. Yes, in some ways, threats increase merely because 5G brings a wider and more responsive data pipe. More data transmission brings more security risks. 5G falls under AKA, the authentication and key agreement system, but to a large degree, it is still up to operators to tighten security practices and to ensure that new equipment and network configurations are as secure as these need to be.

Arguably the biggest security threat posed by 5G is simply increased usage which in turn generates more opportunities for intrusion. Again, MNOs will have to focus on water-tight network security to avoid taking the blame for cybersecurity failures. Whatever the view on equipment suppliers as points of security failure, MNOs will also have to carefully vet the vendors that they deal with.

If you want to read Part 2 before publishing date, please email us at sales@netradar.com

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