Why You Need Location Intelligence for 5G Deployment Success

It’s no secret that recent technological advances have been astronomical – and that they won’t be slowing down any time soon. With all this progress, the exploding demand for bandwidth should come as no surprise.

Think about the streaming platforms we love for television, movies, music, and more. Or the smart devices we’ve come to depend on within our homes (like speakers, doorbells, thermostats) and on our bodies (like smartwatches that help us stay healthy and motivated). Then, you have connected vehicles that transform the way we travel, and internet of things (IoT) sensors that provide us with crucial insights.

The commonality among them all? A demand for fast, powerful connectivity – when and where consumers need it most. And today, the “when” and “where” are more frequent and widespread than ever before. Ultimately, these smart devices are only as powerful as the 5G infrastructure supporting them, and that means the pressure’s on for telecommunications organizations.

5G telecommunications technology can help ensure these products and services reach their fullest potential, providing users with the highest return on investment (ROI). Over time, this expectation of an ROI has evolved from a “nice to have” to a “must have,” and there isn’t much tolerance for anything less than stellar performance.

So as telecom companies strive to keep up with that consumer demand, what about their own ROI?

The 5G infrastructure required needs to be built out rapidly and efficiently – which means investing in expensive, new equipment. Not to mention, 5G technology presents unique challenges that make tower placement even more critical.

With all this considered, telecommunications companies have three linked goals here:

  • Optimize existing and future 5G investments
  • Provide sufficient coverage
  • Stay in budget – and remain profitable

What’s the key to accomplishing all of the above? The smart use of location data and advanced analytics.

5G deployment: barriers and solutions

Before we explore the impact of location data and analytics in more detail, let’s look at a couple of important facts for context.

  • 4G simply won’t cut it anymore. This will become even more amplified as consumer expectations continue to grow. The corresponding demand for 5G bandwidth is expected to be especially high in urban centers.
  • The 5G infrastructure market could reach $9.3 Billion by the end of 2023 at an estimated CAGR of 48.2%, according to Orbis Research. Changes in consumer behavior, increases in software implementation on wireless networks, and the expanded use of machine-to-machine communication are prime drivers of this surge.

Now, the explosive demand for 5G presents tremendous opportunity. But as mentioned, there are also some unique challenges that need to be taken into consideration. Even on a foundational level, 5G telecommunications technology varies greatly from its predecessors.

A key fact to note is that tower locations must be determined using geospatial data and advanced analytics. Why?

5G is a line-of-sight (LOS) technology. As the name would imply, that means that the smartphones, vehicles, and other devices that rely on it need direct, unobstructed, LOS visibility to the towers. This typically amounts to a need for numerous 5G towers, especially in dense urban areas.

When it comes to placing all those towers, network service providers (NSPs) need to take a more strategic approach in order to provide fast and reliable connectivity that’s also cost-effective, ensuring continued profitability.

That’s where the geospatial data and advanced analytics come into the picture.

When researching potential cell tower locations, data-driven insights will be critical to NSPs looking to provide top-tier connectivity while boosting their bottom line. Location intelligence (LI) dives deep into the details that NSPs need to know about the buildings themselves (locations, sizes, elevations), along with information about the surrounding landscape (other structures and natural features).

How does this all play into meeting customer needs while staying profitable? Telcos can take this geospatial data and use it to calculate an individual viewshed for each potential tower location – designing an optimal 5G network that’s fast and reliable for users, and profitable for the business.

5G Optimization in Action: A Data-Driven Approach

The best way to design and optimize 5G networks comes down to easy visualization and analyzation – and for that, you need technology that grants you the ability to generalize data in a spatial context.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what that process should look like:

  • Gain an understanding of potential barriers to line-of-sight visibility in your target area. Determine coverage areas for ground, buildings, and vegetation using a map of LiDAR elevation data and surface analysis.
  • Identify locations that will be your starting points for choosing potential tower sites. Using geospatial analysis, overlay those results from step one with road intersection data, mathematically derived local maxima, and viewshed analysis to create a 3D surface plot (converted from a resulting geospatial model).

With that surface plot, you’ll be able to easily identify the points with a greater elevation value relative to the immediate surroundings – in other words, your starting points for tower locations which have the potential to cover larger areas without line-of-sight visibility obstacles.

  • Perform spatial analysis to minimize redundancy and ensure customer needs will be met. The final step involves taking those ideal tower locations and overlaying them on a street map to perform a complete spatial analysis. Engineers should take specific parameters like tower heights or coverage radius to lay out a viewshed map that avoids redundancies caused by overlapping viewsheds.

Coverage Optimization and Beyond: The Many Benefits of Geospatial Analytics

Advanced geospatial analytics technologies hold the solution to the many common challenges of infrastructure planning. And the idea of a data-driven approach to network design and optimization is nothing new.

After all, if this approach can help you work smarter instead of harder, why wouldn’t you want to start on that path?

With all the unique challenges of 5G, it’s important to keep in mind that the benefits of a data-driven approach extend beyond just coverage optimization. LI also helps optimize efforts to tackle top-of-mind challenges, like maintaining compliance with strict regulations and increasing 5G deployment in rural areas.

Let’s dive into each of those a bit more:

  • Adherence to shifting regulations: It’s no secret that telecommunications is a closely regulated industry. Companies within the field need to be aware of how network specifications can be impacted by federal regulations, like Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Form 477 reporting. Robust location analytics can provide the critical context that telcos need to ensure compliance.
  • Rural area deployment: As network design decisions become increasingly entwined with government programs for rural area deployment, additional pieces are added to the infrastructure puzzle. With location intelligence, engineers can more easily plan and deploy network infrastructure while addressing these requirements and others.

While telecommunications companies may all be feeling the pressure of 5G deployment, those that will be able to outpace the competition and overcome common roadblocks like these, are the ones that adopt a data-driven approach.

Robust geospatial analytics is key to success throughout countless priorities in the 5G deployment journey, including:

  • achieving locational accuracy and assessing the need for network densification
  • maximizing coverage and preventing subscriber loss, thanks to a flexible deployment architecture
  • conducting accurate cost benefit analysis – weighing tower location costs with the network coverage benefits they deliver

Ultimately, telco companies need to adapt in order to survive. Infrastructure projects are massive, notoriously tedious, and risk-prone projects with extremely high stakes. As new tech continues to emerge, the pressures surrounding these builds will only become more amplified. Consumers simply won’t settle for slow, unavailable, or unstable connections for the smart devices they continue to invest in, and telcos shouldn’t settle for the methods used historically.

Simply put, companies that apply older, ineffective approaches to new technologies will become irrelevant. To optimize rollouts, reduce risk, increase customer satisfaction, and stay ahead, the time to take action with a data-driven approach is now.

Clarence Hempfield, SVP – Product Management for Location Intelligence at Precisely

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