Macro towers in a 5G world
17 May 2019
With the ability to power self-driving cars, 8K television and smart household devices which ‘talk’ to each other, 5G will transform the market in the next few years.
Without 5G, it will be impossible to keep up with Australia’s extraordinary appetite for data. Data consumption in Australia is growing 40 per cent year on year. Australia’s unique geographic spread also means that having access to cost effective, super-fast internet in regional areas as well as the cities is a must.
The 5G opportunity
The excitement around 5G centres on its speed, low latency and reliability. What that means in practice is faster internet speeds (about a 10Gbps data rate) with a less than four millisecond delay on transmission. Unlike 3G or 4G, 5G will have the ability to support large numbers of devices which will be important for the ‘Internet of Things‘ (IoT), where multiple interrelated devices can be connected to the internet such as household appliances or machinery.
This unlocks some exciting opportunities for consumers as well as industry, with particular benefits for manufacturing, transport, healthcare and any segment which could benefit from automation.
With Australian consumers excited by the potential for the fastest data speeds and lowest latency ever, combined with two thirds of Australian businesses expecting to adopt 5G by 2020, the pressure is on network operators to invest in 5G.
Deploying on existing towers is a fast and cost effective way to roll-out 5G
For the network operators leading the charge in Australia on 5G deployment, it will require a significant investment into spectrum and infrastructure. The challenge for operators is justifying this investment, given the innovative use cases for 5G won’t be a reality for a while.
Therefore, to deliver a return on that investment and carve out market share, speed to market is a must. And that requires a fast deployment. By leveraging existing infrastructure and partnering with the right tower expert, network operators can ensure a speedy and less costly deployment with a lower initial outlay.
Towers will remain the backbone of Australia’s mobile network in 5G and beyond
Macro towers will continue to be an important part of the network topology. They provide a much larger coverage footprint and take far more traffic than small cells. They are the backbone of any mobile network, with small cells generally a complementary element.
Existing macro tower sites currently supporting 3G and 4G can be upgraded along with the addition of new macro tower sites to support 5G network densification.
While small cells will play an important role in network densification, the requirement for small cells has been overstated. Research commissioned by Axicom reveals that small cell deployments will be smaller and further out than originally expected – estimated to be 2,600 in Greater Sydney and 3,000 in Melbourne by 2030.
The end-to-end deployment cycle of small cells is also very expensive and difficult for network operators to justify financially because of the cost of additional fibre and equipment.
5G on shared towers will deliver a number of benefits
Deploying 5G on shared towers reduces the capital investment required to build and own site infrastructure and significantly increases the speed of deployment.
Leveraging existing macro towers also reduces the community impact. The more sites to be built contributes to further complexity and more community pushback, adding more time to deployment.
Effective stakeholder management will be essential
There are many components to a successful 5G deployment from property management or stakeholder management, to town planning, site acquisition, environmental planning and design (SAED) and engineering. Partnering with a tower expert with this expertise in-house contributes to a successful, speedy and cost-effective deployment.
A great tower partner will also work closely with the network operator on scenario planning, risk review and capacity planning. In particular, understanding tower capacity requirements is critical. These have been consistently under dimensioned. Even though each generation has promised smaller equipment, each has also required a substantial increase in capacity. We’re estimating that to support the 5G rollout we’ll need 50 per cent more capacity on our towers. To meet this need we are strengthening our towers to ensure all assets are utilised effectively.
What does the future hold?
With the first 5G handsets now launching in the Australian market, the pressure is on network operators to not just keep up, but to also be leaders in 5G. For network operators banking on Australia’s 5G future, a fast 5G deployment will create a significant competitive edge. Those that are first to market will have the most to gain from the 5G revolution.
Article based on Axicom’s presentation at the Comms Day Summit 2019:
 Data use in Australia is soaring, Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/australian-broadband-usage-telstra-2018-9
 5G mobile technology Are businesses ready to seize the opportunity?, Deloitte, http://1u0b5867gsn1ez16a1p2vcj1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Deloitte-5G-Mobile-business-readiness-report-2018.pdf