Mobile 5G Will Be Dependent on Small Cells According to AT&T

Mobile 5G Will Be Dependent on Small Cells According to AT&T

    Mobile 5G Will Be Dependent on Small Cells According to AT&T

    With plans to launch mobile 5G across 12 U.S. cities this year, AT&T says the 5G protocol will be dependent mores on small cells deployed closer to the ground rather than the top tower radios that are used by LTE. The small cells used by the mobile 5G will use millimeter wave spectrum, which provides higher rates of capacity compared to the lower-band spectrum offered by top tower radios.

    Because millimeter waves don’t propagate as effectively over large distances, the radios need to be closer together than they are in LTE deployments. According to Hank Kafka, VP of network architecture at AT&T, “Millimeter wave is more associated with small cell-like ranges and heights…It can be on telephone poles or light poles or building rooftops or on towers, but generally if you’re putting it on towers it’s at a lower height than you would put a high-powered macrocell, because of the propagation characteristics.”

    According to Kafka, the 5G rollout will require a significant amount of permitting and zoning negotiations in the target cities, which have yet to be announced. AT&T has, however, announced 23 cities that will be receiving what it calls “the foundation for mobile 5G” in the form of it 5G Evolution infrastructure, with plans of adding this infrastructure to hundreds more cities over the coming years.

    While AT&T has also continued to develop trials for Project AirGig, which aims to bring continuous Wi-Fi to cities and rural areas, Kafka says the utility-pole mounted antennas and radios will not be included in the mobile 5G launch, but rather at a later date.

    AT&T’s effort to deploy small cells that support mobile 5G will be mostly independent of another of their major infrastructure initiatives planned for this year, the buildout of 700 MHz spectrum radios they will use to support FirstNet. In these cases, Kafka says tower crews may be able to add 5G equipment near the base of the same towers on which they’ll be installing 700 MHz radios on the top. However, the synergies between the two deployments are limited, as “there’s a difference between dealing with small cell sites and dealing with macro sites”, according to Kafka.

    In the cases where the dual integration isn’t possible, AT&T won’t necessarily need to send crews back to the same towers to then deploy 5G small cells, as many of the newest LTE radios being installed as a part of the 700 MHz buildout may support 5G at a later date when the software becomes available.

    “You’ll find that a lot of radios that suppliers are putting out now are going to be upgradeable to support 5G,” Kafka said. “Some of the radios we’re deploying now do have that capability in the hardware.”

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