How to Save Billions of Dollars and the Environment in 5G
5G is around the corner, that’s for sure, but certainly not without considerable investments. With the right material, you end up saving money and energy plus gaining coverage. And as for the material choices, we might have a couple of aces up our sleeves.
Building a totally new infrastructure for 5G in a moderately sized city like London would cost an order of one billion Euro. This is based on predictions by Timotheus Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, saying that covering Europe will require investments of 300 to 500 Billion €. To scale this up in to global capital investment would result in, well, you do the math.
Partly, these costs are due to the many new frequency bands in 5G, the majority of which are mmWave bands. Looking at the global 5G spectrum allocation, different continents are targeting slightly different bands although the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands will be used worldwide. As a part of the publicly funded Luxturrim5G project, we have had the great joy of witnessing how each new frequency band created a dozen new challenges, especially on the hardware.
Billions of antennas
Having all these new bands, we predict that the number of mmWave base stations deployed will be in the millions already in 2020. Actually, a good proxy would be the CCTV cameras in London, about 500.000 per 1600 m2. This is also in line with Ericssons prediction with 5G payment plans.
The cost for each of the base stations roughly comprises material and assembly, deployment, energy consumption and maintenance. Of course, it is in everybody’s interest to minimize the associated costs. As a material supplier, our role is to help minimizing the total material costs, energy consumption and maintenance costs during the entire product lifespan.
Billions of dollars
So, what can material choices do?
A simplified approach would look at only the minimum requirements for a given product and try to achieve them with the lowest price. From this perspective a much better product is not worth the money since the extra performance does not bring any additional value. However, you have to look at the costs in the big picture.
But first, let’s look at the small things. And by that, we obviously mean mmWaves!
When choosing materials for mmWave equipment, you need to pay attention to the material properties, especially the dielectric losses. At traditional bands below 6 GHz the material losses will also play a role in the total performance of the base stations, but they are not a show stopper. However, when we go to frequencies closing in on 100 GHz, material losses can really change the game. The main question boils down to performance versus costs: using lossy materials is justified if you gain in mechanical properties and price.
Looking at the costs in the big picture is not to frown on the price tag of a single base station, but to evaluate the investment for covering an entire city and running the network for a decade.
Some months ago, we measured a few materials with a 24 GHz radar to see how much the materials will weaken the signal. We found that a competing material had 0.7 dB more loss compared to our own. This 0.7 dB might seem like nothing, until you notice it’s equal to 17%. This means that by choosing the more lossy material the base station coverage is that much smaller, and you need 17% more base stations to cover your city. And when you have covered your city, you still need 17% more power to run your network. Let the graph below sink in for a while.
Who in their right mind would pay similar price for base stations with 17 % less coverage, 17 % more energy consumption or even both!?
One key megatrend in the world is sustainability. In short, this means that citizens and thus legislators are demanding material and energy efficiency, zero halogens and heavy metals as well as recyclability. This pressure in turn pushes the OEMs to choose sustainable solutions for their designs. Not choosing them will be detrimental for sales as no operator will be willing to take the heat from the public.
In addition to pushing OEMs to use materials able to withstand public scrutiny, operators are demanding the best performance for minimal capital investment as well as operating cost. Who in their right mind would pay similar price for base stations with 17 % less coverage, 17 % more energy consumption or even both!?
The winners in the billion-dollar 5G epoch will be companies choosing the right technological solutions and the best-fit materials. Let’s not only make a good mix, let’s make the best mix!
What would you like to read next?
Is there anything else you'd like to read about 5G? Leave us a comment below and we'd happy to take up the challenge! And if you plan to join the EuMW 2018 in Madrid, be sure not to miss our booth B115 or our 5G presentations at MicroApps!