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October 14, 2021

Hiding infrastructure: why stealth needs to be a key part of 5G strategies

As 5G becomes a reality, different priorities bubble to the surface. Yes, capacity and coverage are still critical, but they are accompanied by the need for concealment. This is somewhat new as a pressing concern when it comes to telecoms infrastructure. There has always been a ‘Not in my back yard’ attitude when it comes to telecoms equipment, but when we consider the scale of equipment needed to make comprehensive 5G coverage a reality, making sure it blends into the environment is now a key priority for operators.

Tom Kuklo, Global Product Manager Connected Cities
TAGS : 5G, CONCEALMENT

Why is concealment an issue now

Although there have been some efforts made to conceal 4G equipment, the range of reasons for 5G equipment concealment is considerably longer than the argument for disguising the network infrastructure of previous generations. There really will be that much more of it. 5G is bringing something new to the party and as a result when it comes to existing cell sites – rip and replace isn’t an option. We will still need 3G and 4G for years to come and so the risk of a forest of antennas is very real. Some things can be done, with making equipment more compact or increasing the functionality of antennas without altering the form factor. However, although this is an option on base station sites, it becomes more difficult as we move beyond the base station. 

The lower range of 5G means more small cell and repeater sites are necessary. As infrastructure creeps into more obvious locations the need for concealment grows for a variety of reasons. 

Consumer demand and public safety 

Firstly, to ensure comprehensive coverage, particularly for operators wishing to deliver 5G in mmWave frequency bands, more equipment is essential. Although it is consumer demand for data that is a driving factor for 5G, consumers typically do not want an antenna on every street corner. Or at least they do not want a recognizable antenna. By blending equipment into the surroundings so it becomes street furniture that draws your eye no more than a streetlamp or bench. 

Secondly, from a safety perspective, concealed equipment protects the infrastructure itself. 5G conspiracy theories make it a target for vandalism and so minimizing the visual presence it has in our cities works to protect it. This then enables municipalities to make the most of this connectivity for a variety of smart city functions all designed with public safety in mind. If the equipment is discreet and so not a target for damage, it can be relied on for uses from smart utilities management to crime detection, improving life around the town or city, without having a negative impact on the population. 

How do we tackle the issue? 

When we say it should draw your eye no more than a bench or streetlamp, we mean it very literally. Disguising equipment into a smart pole form factor is one of the simplest ways to deliver 5G connectivity in a way that is unnoticed by your average person on the street. To both deliver the connectivity and coverage required, and to work in a way that is not only acceptable to city planners making decisions about where equipment can go, but can enhance the environments they look after, concealment needs to be a priority. This is already proving to be a success in locations in the US, EMEA and APAC, and it is vital that to ensure 5G networks that are on a par with the best in the world, there is the concealment necessary to ensure the volume of equipment that is needed to make this possible. 

Conclusion 

As 5G moves from pilot scheme into a commercial reality, concealment becomes a more significant priority than ever before. It is vital for operators to get this right to prevent issues with 5G networks further down the line. This requires a different approach to previous network generations however, it is a change in mind set that if tackled correctly not only solves a problem but brings additional advantages in both delivering 5G and utilizing it.  

If you’d like to hear more about what RFS is doing to help operator customers with concealment of equipment, get in touch with Tom Kuklo, Global Product Manager Connected Cities at RFS.