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The 5G small cell opportunity for cable MSOs

Network infrastructure to support 5G roll-outs is a significant opportunity for cable companies, Dave Morley, director of 5G & Regulatory for Shaw Communications’ Freedom Mobile, said during a recent panel presentation.

Morley delved into the Canadian company’s approach to small cell deployments in both a 4G and 5G context. Fixed wireless access, Morley wrote in a technical paper on which his presentation was based, is a double-edged sword for the cable industry.

“FWA is an alternative to wired broadband services and represents a potential threat to traditional wireline providers including MSOs,” Morley wrote. “At the same time, FWA also provides MSOs with the opportunity to deliver broadband services in “brown-field” areas that are not currently served by the operator such as new residential markets and industrial/business parks. FWA can also be used to provide critical small cell backhaul in areas without existing wireline infrastructure.” He went on to add that “with access rights to millions of public Wi-Fi hotspots, often in prime ‘beach front’ properties, the cable industry is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity, either as a wireless player or a wholesale provider to existing MNOs.”

Morley said that existing cable infrastructure — aerial plant in particular — can be leveraged for rapid small cell deployment, and that it addresses the three key challenges of such deployments: site access, backhaul and power. Access, he noted, is “usually already covered by existing pole-line attachment agreements and both backhaul and power are available on the coaxial cable plant.” Freedom Mobile, he wrote, has installed small cells on aerial strand with distances between sites ranging from 175 to 225 meters, with 4G small cells that can be equipped to support up to three RF modules with 2×2 multiple-input multiple-output and up to 2×5 watts of transmit power.

Morley went on to write that although inter-site distances for Freedom’s outdoor site deployments were designed for LTE at 2.5 GHz, “comparable coverage can be achieved with 5G NR at 3500 MHz,” with InfoVista’s Planet 7 RF network planning tool showing that the “coverage is virtually identical for both bands.” He also cited that simulation studies of millimeter wave network coverage conducted by Qualcomm have also shown that “significant coverage” on the order of 50-80% is possible when co-locating mmWave equipment with existing 4G macro and small cell sites.” 

Looking at other testing work that has been done, Morley wrote, “in buildings with existing Wi-Fi access points … results suggest that coverage parity might be achieved with a one-to-one mmWave small cell overlay since inter-access point distances for Wi-Fi access points are typically much shorter than 4G small cells. Replacing existing Wi-Fi access points and/or 4G small cells with 5G equipment could result in substantial cost and time savings for 5G deployments.”

The full technical paper is available here.

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