5G: The Density Question

High-band 5G, which Verizon has labeled "true 5G," promises gigabit-plus speeds but at the expense of coverage and signal penetration. Now, we're starting to get some idea of how carriers will have to densify networks to support propagation in 5G millimeter wave networks.

Notably, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has been comparing the coverage of prospective 28GHz 5G small cells and unlicensed 4G Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) 5GHz small cells, which don't offer as much transmit power as traditional 4G macro cell deployments. The chipmaker finds that mmWave networks will offer 96% of the coverage of the 4G networks if the 5G small cells are deployed at a range of around 100 meters to 200 meters apart, said Peter Carson, senior director of product marketing at Qualcomm.

Recall that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has previously said that its 5G fixed wireless tests have shown downloads of more than 1.4 Gigabits per second to nearly 600 Megabits per second at a distance of up to 1,000 feet. At distances of between 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet, the download speeds drop to just below 1.4 Gbit/s down to just above 400Mbit/s. Beyond connection ranges of 2,000 feet, the top download speeds are listed at just over 1 Gbit/s. One thousand feet to 2,000 feet correlates to 300 to 600 meters, although Verizon was testing with fixed connections, while Qualcomm was looking at mobile usage. (See Verizon Says 'Up to 5' Fixed 5G Markets Will Go Live in 2H18.)

As I've reported before, mmWave can suffer propagation issues with energy-efficient glass and certain types of building materials. This led T-Mobile US Inc. 's CTO Neville Ray to recently say that the operator will use the high-band spectrum in urban, outdoor areas, rather than try and deal with "outside-in" propagation issues. (See Could 5G Have Found Its Glass Ceiling? and T-Mobile Walks a Fine Line on 5G Spectrum.)

As Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) Vice President Tod Sizer said back in November: "We can't change the laws of physics." (See Nokia Bell Labs & Verizon Stretch Fixed 5G to the Home.)

So what does this mean for mmWave small cell networks in the future? Qualcomm's Carson thinks operators will need to double the density over 4G LTE to get the same coverage. (See 5G in the USA: Where We At?)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

Gabriel Brown 2/23/2018 | 8:54:28 AM
Re: Fiber to every other pole? There's a good video from Mike Thelander on testing he's done on two 28GHz cell sites in Houston. Would be nice to see some actual numbers :)

DanJones 2/21/2018 | 3:21:02 PM
Re: 5G Density on pirlo tv Line of sight? NLOS?

Number of terminals on the network?

Tricky details to nail down right now, I know.
gregw33 2/20/2018 | 9:54:31 AM
Fiber to every other pole? 100 to 200 meters is roughly an antenna on every other pole (~100m/300ft) or every 4th pole.  If fiber is that close to the home, might as well go FTTH.  Future proof and secure and noise/hype aside, about the same price as wireless.  
Phil_Britt 2/19/2018 | 11:24:36 AM
Re: 5G Density This is a typical challenge for telecom. From 2.5G on, the best speeds were limited to those in the right areas, with the right supporting infrastructures.

jimrochny 2/17/2018 | 9:57:17 PM
5G Why? The achilles heal of 5G is range and penetration.  That's what has killed Sprint and they are only at 1.9 GHz.!  We need to get away from radio as we've known it for 100 years where a cell site just blasts out signals ad-hoc, and move to a modern technology where signals are pinpointed to each subscriber, resulting in a 50x thruput, hence, www.artemis.com and pCell. (I have no relationship with Artemis, only common sense).
Mark Rewers 2/15/2018 | 7:06:41 PM
5G Density Great article.  Just as FYI Huawei and NTT DOCOMO have just completed field trials for 5G at 28GHz which delivered 4.9Gbps UL and 1.5Gbps DL at a distance of 1.2km...this was through -10dB glass.,..So many numbers and sceanrios to play out
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