Innovative tools to advance site surveys and 5G deployments
The arrival of 5G brings with it many long-sought features. For example, speeds so fast you can download a two-hour movie in under four seconds1. Also, the Internet of Things, where millions of non-computing devices will be connected, leading to data analytics and efficiencies of scale we cannot even imagine now. However, the arrival of 5G also brings many challenges.
For these features to function, mobile network operators (MNOs) need to densify their networks with far more cell sites in a given geographic area than in an LTE network. As of 2019, there were nearly 400,0002 mobile cell sites in the US, with hundreds of thousands more needed3 for a 5G-blanketed country. While most sites were last touched during the rollout of LTE, a fresh view is needed to account for the additional hardware 5G requires. For every location having 5G added to an existing site or ripping out the existing hardware to put in new 5G equipment, there must be an audit detailing precisely what is physically present. This information will be used to determine what new equipment will be needed for the updated site. With hundreds of thousands of sites requiring surveying, that is a lot of time and money that will be spent.
The standard way to do a site audit is to send someone to the physical site armed with a clipboard, a pen, a camera, and 50-100 questions to answer. For example, what is the size of the room? What type of antenna is used? How much rack space is there? What is the HVAC usage? How much power is available? Then, take pictures of various features of the room. If done quickly enough, drive to a new site and repeat. Once the sun goes down, go to your hotel, fill out a spreadsheet with the information you acquired, connect to Wi-Fi, and upload the spreadsheet and pictures to a corporate site. Auditing one site a day was typical, and the return rate to a site where something was missed was about 10%.
With the number of sites that need updating in the coming years, the wireless industry needs to speed up the process. Auditing one site per day will no longer suffice. The methods for surveying an existing location and determining the equipment needed for the upgrade must be made more efficient. What is needed is to automate the process, reduce the error rate, and make the gathered information available in real-time.
TeleWorld Solutions has developed a smartphone app that takes the surveyor step by step through the questions that need to be answered at a site audit and prompts when a picture is required, time-stamping on the way. As a result, the app reduces the possibility of accidentally omitting needed information. Once done on-site, all data and images are uploaded to the cloud, immediately available for review by the home office. As a result, the return rate to a site has dropped from 10 percent to less than two percent, and the accuracy rate increased dramatically. Having this type of automation also enables us to expedite training of new technicians, allow us to quickly scale our resources. Perhaps best of all, the average number of sites a surveyor can do in one day has skyrocketed from one to 2.4, an immense saving of time and money.
Samsung and TeleWorld Solutions are in the midst of a nationwide program for a large MNO to replace one vendor’s hardware with Samsung’s line of 5G equipment. Using TeleWorld Solutions’ app, the MNO and engineers have immediate access to the site data, and the information is automatically aggregated with the results from other sites. This combined view makes it simple to determine what is needed in the network on a large scale. For example, each site might need six-foot-long coaxial cables. With the aggregated data, it is easy to see that 120 are required across the network, thus allowing a bulk purchase, saving more money.
Samsung’s broad 5G portfolio and TeleWorld Solutions’ innovative tools speed up site surveys will bring the next generation of wireless networks into our lives at an incredible, unprecedented rate, with the enhanced functionality already seen in early 5G deployments.