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The latest on 5G by KTL’s Technical Lead, Dom Mackinnon

5G is the fifth and latest technology standard for mobile and fixed Internet access at broadband speeds of 10 Gbps – 100 times faster than the current technology LTE.

5G Enables

  • The transportation of much larger volumes of data more quickly.

  • Reduced response time (or latency) i.e., the time it takes to transmit a packet of data. 4G latency ranged between 60ms (milliseconds) and 98ms, but 5G aims for under 1ms. This enables use cases where near-instantaneous responses are required, such as gaming and the control of machines in factories, Internet of Things (IoT) applications and process control (Blackman and Forge, 2022).


“Since the initial 5G spectrum auctions in 2018, there has been a further sale of spectrum in the 700MHz and the 3400-3600MHz range. This means that the deployment of new radios, to cover those spectrums is now underway,” said Mackinnon.

Non-Standalone 5G vs. Standalone 5G

Non-Standalone 5G provides customers with higher data transfer speeds by pairing a 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) with the LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC). 5G RAN remains reliant on the 4G core network to manage control and signalling information and the 4G RAN continues to operate. It provides a transitionary platform for carriers and customers alike (Cohen, 2022).

Standalone 5G does not depend on an LTE EPC to operate. Rather, it pairs 5G radios with a cloud-native 5G core network. The 5G core itself is designed as a Service-Based Architecture (SBA) which virtualizes network functions altogether, providing the full range of 5G features enterprise needs for factory automation, autonomous vehicle operation, and more (Cohen, 2022).

“As 5G technology progresses, the radio equipment is diversifying and the use of 5G Standalone (SA) will become more prevalent.

5G SA allows operators to build ‘in-fill’ sites without the need to build the 2G, 3G, and 4G services in tandem.”

“Until very recently, the rollout of all 5G sites have been the NSA (Non-Standalone) type builds, meaning a 4G site has to be in place also acting as the control plane. To enable ‘proper’ 5G, the latency needs to be optimal, and this will only work with SA implementation.”

“Once 5G SA is implemented, operators will be able to leverage this technology to enable more features and increase sales of things such as IoT services.”

Massive MIMO

5G hardware is becoming smaller, cheaper, and more energy-efficient, particularly with Massive MiMo. MIMO technology is key to improving spectrum efficiency. Massive MIMO uses a very large number of service antennas (hundreds or thousands) that are operated in a fully consistent and adaptive fashion (5G Observatory, 2022).

“An example, since 5G inception, the standard 64T64R MaMiMo initially a default unit weighed in at 50Kg and would consume approximately 1.5KW per unit. There are now 32T32R units available which are less than 60% of that weight and power usage.”

Operator Challenges

5G particularly SA requires complex builds and a longer time to completion. When additional technologies are added to each site, it means more space and power are required. This means added complexities in the positioning of sites where acquisition and rights are needed before designs can progress.

“Bigger builds = Bigger budgets. The financial constraints limit the number of potential site builds in the current mould but as the technology progresses there will be opportunities to reduce the NSA requirement and build more sites.”

“Global material shortages, slowing the rollout of the 5G programmes. KTL have a broad supply chain to mitigate and source the materials needed to deliver 5G for our clients.”

Local Planning Authorities have multiple MNO requests for new site acquisitions. “KTL has established relationships with the LPAs to try and understand their concerns and requirements so that we can work together with them and unblock sites which are in busy towns or cities.”

KTL Services

KTL offers technical expertise to support operators’ demand. Whether that be from a design, planning or build perspective, KTL can define the ‘art of the possible’ when it comes to complex or difficult deployments Mackinnon commented. The KTL team has deep, proven knowledge and skills needed to offer full turnkey solutions in this area.”

The future

Global 5G connections are forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2025, according to GSMA, largely based on the successful implementation of NSA 5G.

“We will start to see more inner-city small cell deployments. Operators are using street furniture, old telephone boxes, telegraph poles, operator shop fronts and other clever means to install small cells currently. The demand for 5G services will increase and more options for deployment locations are needed to improve the coverage.”

Open RAN is a collaboration of equipment makers and telecoms in various working groups to solve this interoperability problem by creating standards. As long as equipment meets open RAN standards it should be compatible with gear made by any other vendor whose gear also meets the standards (Gold, 2022).

Open RAN is a developing technology that will allow operators to mix and match components from different suppliers in their towers and base stations. This will allow for more innovation and options for the operator and could assist in the speed of 5G rollout. “RAN technology will be used more and we will see an increase in 5G innovations, as more smaller companies are given opportunities to provide services.”



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