5G NR and mmWave Frequencies – A Game Changer for RF Planning Geodata

The 3GPP release of the 5G NR non-standalone standard late last year and its stand-alone release this June had significant implications for RF planning software and its supporting geodata vendor community. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) there were 134 operators in 62 countries in April that have demonstrated or are testing/trialing, or have been authorized to start field trials, of “5G-enabling and candidate technologies.” While the level of 5G activity globally tilts to a few major operators, there is no doubt that 5G is a topic of consideration for everyone in the wireless ecosystem. For those involved in wireless planning, one crucial consideration is the frequencies being considered and what the knock-on effects are for their RF planning and by extension – geodata– processes.

Since the creation of the first RF planning software in the early 1990’s for the launch of 2G digital systems, each successive generation of wireless technology has introduced advances to the industry. Operators, along with the equipment vendors and system integrators that support them, typically update their geodata prior to the launch of a new wireless system. It makes sense if you are a proponent of RF simulation and the planning software that enables it. The more accurately your geodata represents the environment you are intending to model, the more likely the RF simulation will translate into the real world.

Two technological advances, in particular, have had dramatic impacts for RF planning and geodata in 5G NR systems: millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies and Massive MIMO (M-MIMO). mmWave frequencies, which range from 30 GHz to 300 GHz (as well as centimeter wave frequencies from 3 GHz to 30 GHz) are being considered for their widespread availability around the world. These frequencies can carry larger amounts of data but their propagation characteristics are dramatically impacted by their physical environment. While 3D buildings were typically required ONLY in dense urban environment planning for 4G systems such as LTE, 3D buildings AND vegetation layers will be required for all 5G planning at mmWave frequencies.

Understanding the exact location of buildings and trees along with various heights of the tree canopy is required for 5G RF simulation at frequencies above 3 GHz. It is also a requirement to get the most out of planning and utilizing M-MIMO antennas being developed for 5G NR. M-MIMO is a truly innovative technology that could see a single site replace 3-4 “traditional sites.” They are particularly useful in serving a vertically or horizontally dispersed set of subscribers; but to prove their value they have to be utilized in the right locations.  To model a 128-antenna M-MIMO site requires precise understanding of the buildings, the roads and the vegetation – as well as an RF planning software that is up to the challenge.

It is still early days in the migration to 5G. Infovista’s Planet RF software and geodata teams have been working with key vendors and operators long before the 5G NR standard was finalized. Through many trials – along with some successes and failures – our team has the recipe required for 5G geodata for optimal planning of mmWave frequencies and M-MIMO. Contact us to learn more on the specific geodata requirements of your 5G network.