As smartphone penetration deepens around the globe, digital media becomes ever-richer, and consumer expectations skyrocket, competitive, customer-centric network operators around the world face the challenge of upgrading their networks to 5G.
This generation of networks offers greater capacity by opening up the use of higher frequency bands than previous generations. And that will drive the need for significantly greater use of small-cells than ever before. Their advantages to operators are clear: the compact antennae used by small-cells significantly reduce regulatory headaches. With 5G, operators can provide greater capacity and better service without the hassles involved in tower construction that have burdened previous-generation networks. But for backhaul planners, the challenges of 5G are considerably greater.
Whereas the provision of a 4G network to a city might require no more than a few thousand macro cells, a 5G network operating in a tens-of-GHz band for the same area might comprise 10,000 small cells or more, with highly concentrated areas of deployment — in downtown precincts and shopping strips, for example. The implications for network planners are considerable, as the backhaul networks for these kinds of deployments will be increasingly complex.
The backhaul network connects each cell site to the central exchange. Not only does the bandwidth requirement for this network increase with every generation, but the sheer step change in the number of cells in a 5G network adds to the intrinsic complexity of the backhaul network design problem.
That problem is intensified if you’re using a traditional network planning approach — where a Radio Frequency (RF) planning team determines where to put the cells to capture demand, and then a backhaul network planning team subsequently plans the connections from each cell tower to the exchange. With this approach, the planning of 5G networks looks to be significantly more time-consuming and costly than previous generations.
At Biarri, we have a unique solution to the problem, borne out of our innovative system for designing FTTx networks.
Flipping the script
We believe that the traditional approach isn’t the best way to plan a 5G network that’s both cost-effective and better serves the end user. Why not? Well, if you’re going to increase the number of cell sites by an order of magnitude, you don’t need to be as judicious about where you put those cells. You just need enough cells within an area to absorb the anticipated demand. Near enough is effectively good enough for the radio transmitter point location, especially if, for example, it negates the need for an additional costly road-crossing.
Instead, we see the first task in planning a 5G network being the backhaul network, as this will drive efficiency, quality and cost to deploy the network overall. So, when you step up a network’s cell density by an order of magnitude, the logical end-game is to design based on an optimized backhaul network.
Biarri’s expertise lies in the planning of point-to-multipoint networks. Our experience planning optimized FTTx networks — including some of the largest fiber networks across the United States — using our unique Fibre Optic Network Design tool, or FOND™, has already seen us help operators around the world achieve significant efficiencies. They’re achieved through the automated design of networks that are algorithmically optimized to serve the network demand while simultaneously accounting for constraints due to physical variables, such as local terrain and existing infrastructure.
The same capabilities are critical to designing the optimal backhaul network for a quality 5G deployment. Suddenly, what appeared to be a highly complex planning task can be automated, saving not just planning time and effort, but construction times and costs across entire projects.
What’s the secret?
The key to Biarri’s unique ability to plan optimized networks is FOND™. This is a world-first innovation: a digital tool that automates the planning of the most efficient FTTx network for any location. Of course, the “x” in FTTx could be a radio transmission site for a small-cell network just as it could be a home or business, or other network end-point.
Our FOND™ software uses geospatial data, along with pre-defined architectural and business rules, to algorithmically automate and optimize the design process — right from concept and high-level design through to construction pack delivery. Biarri works closely with network operators to ensure the right business rules are defined at the beginning of the project, and the latest local GIS data is employed. These inputs are essential to creating the most efficient network design — including 5G deployments.
What kind of efficiencies are we talking about? Biarri recently developed a multi-million premise FTTH deployment with network planning and design provider ONUG Communications in North Carolina. The use of FOND™ for the design process helped reduce engineering time by 30% and build cost by 40%, while delivering a cost reduction to ONUG’s customer of 30% per premise passed.