By Dimitris Dernikas, Head of RAN Solutions, Support & Centre of Innovation

Part 1/3 of our 5G network design blog series

5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is the hottest game in town; it’s a market that is expected to explode over the next five years. FWA connections are set to rise almost threefold, providing broadband to over 800 million people by 2027, and reach US $88.5 Billion, with a compound annual growth rate of 99.3%.

What’s all the fuss about? It’s because 5G FWA will help meet the long-simmering, unmet demand for high-performance broadband in places where service isn’t currently available.  Typically, these are rural or newly built suburban areas, but some urban locations still lack high-speed connectivity as well.

5G FWA is a lower-cost alternative to FTTx and offers similar speeds. Instead of the costly and time-consuming process of digging trenches and laying fiber to each location, FWA uses radio waves to create a connection between existing cell towers and antennas located on or in customers’ homes or businesses.

The ‘Fixed’ in 5G Fixed-Wireless refers to the service being delivered to a fixed location – such as a home or business – as opposed to a mobile device; but the signal itself goes over a mobile network. Another benefit is that end-user devices, like laptops, tablets, TVs, and security cameras, don’t need special 5G SIM cards to connect, which makes it especially user-friendly.

With such high revenue expectations for 5G FWA, mobile operators are rushing to the gate. From a network planning perspective, FWA is a very different environment than what mobile operators typically design for – and getting it right will be especially critical for ensuring a good customer experience.  There are many new things to account for in the planning process, like: 5G customer premise equipment, new spectrum challenges, and customer KPIs. These add new challenges to the typical cellular planning scenarios.

As carpenters say – it’s best to measure twice, cut once.  In other words- plan carefully, or pay the price in launch delays, cost overruns, and poor network quality and customer churn. Network planning gets a lot more complicated with the introduction of 5G FWA, so we’ve highlighted five things that mobile network planners and engineers need to account for when it comes to this new service.

Five Network Planning Considerations for 5G FWA

  1. New Heights: In a traditional mobile network, it’s assumed every device is located approximately 1-2 meters above ground most of the time. This realm includes your pocket, desk, nightstand, car, and even your ear, and mobile signals have been optimized for this. Now that you’re planning service for an indoor experience, this could include connecting to an assortment of ‘fixed’ devices located in high-rise apartments and office buildings. It’s important to use propagation models that account for various antennae heights and building facades. And along the same lines, when it comes to creating ‘what-if’ types of scenarios, you’ll want to run your simulations in 3D to account for various heights. Unfortunately, most mobile network planning toolkits don’t have these capabilities today.
  2. New Hardware: Mobile operators haven’t had to account for much, if any, customer premise equipment when it comes to network planning and design. This is no longer the case with 5G FWA. Now there are rooftop antennas, routers and possibly small cells to account for. Planning tools need to be able to determine how many FWA CPE terminals are required per location and where to place them.
  1. New Spectrum: With 5G FWA an operator may have several spectrum options at their disposal. Mid-band is typically the spectrum of choice at present, but millimeter wave can also be used, and it’s especially good for urban settings – but it’s also a bit ‘particular’ and more challenging to work with. Operators need to know how service is impacted depending on which spectrum band is used. For instance, if the operator went with another frequency, what would that look like, and how will various CPEs perform with different frequencies?
  1. New KPIs: Mobile operators delivering high-speed fixed broadband will need to meet certain performance KPIs. It’s important to be able to analyze and view these on a map to help predict the user experience as part of the planning process. Planning engineers need to answer questions like, will we have strong enough / sufficient signal strength and signal quality? Do we have sufficient throughput? And can we analyze these KPIs by location and per CPE – to be sure we can deliver on our promises?
  1. New Customers: The primary allure for 5G FWA from an operator’s perspective is the potential to add a significant number of new subscribers – and new revenue. As interested customers reach out, customer care agents will need to answer questions about coverage and serviceability, which means they need access to accurate information. Customers should be able to call customer care or enter their address online and instantly see if FWA is available at their location.

Don’t let poor network planning ruin your 5G FWA rollout. 

Planning, configuring, analyzing, and optimizing wireless networks and their expansions are complex and resource-intensive tasks, especially with the introduction of 5G and new IoT devices and services.  TEOCO provides a full suite of network planning tools to help ensure a successful 5G FWA launch and meet your ongoing network optimization needs. Remember: measure twice, cut once.

You can learn more about ASSET’s capabilities across all technologies here, and be sure to check out the rest of TEOCO’s three-part series on 5G network design:

Part Two:
Seeing Double: How Digital Twins Are Being Used to Improve 5G Network Design

Author: Dr Nishita Hathi, Product Director, 5G Network Planning & Design Solutions

Part Three:
Intelligent Automation for 5G Network Design

Author: Dr. Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Product Management