2020: The year of the 5G base station

As operators across the globe look to deploy millions of 5G base stations in 2020, we look at the impact of network densification on the GCC’s next generation mobile networks
5G, Base Station, Network, Telecoms


The Middle East, and the GCC in particular, is no stranger to innovation, and has long prided itself on being home to some of the most ambitious and ground-breaking technological initiatives in the world.

With this in mind, it came as no surprise when the GSMA tipped the Middle East’s band of telcos to lead the world on 5G.

“Backed by proactive government support, mobile operators, particularly in the GCC Arab States, have been quick to establish the foundations for global leadership in the deployment of 5G
technology, moving rapidly from trials to early commercialisation,” said John Giusti, chief regulatory officer at the GSMA, in a statement last year.

“It is imperative that the region continues to create an environment that allows 5G to flourish… so that businesses and citizens can fully enjoy the innovative new services that 5G will deliver, as well as the resulting socio-economic benefits.”

Fast forward six months from when that statement was made, and it is clear to see that the GCC has done just that, entrenching its position as one of the pre-eminent global destinations for next generation connectivity.

A whole swathe of operators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain launched their initial 5G services in 2019 and will look to expand and densify their networks over the coming 12 months. The GCC nations are relatively unique, in that they all house densely packed, urban populations, surrounded by huge, sparsely populated areas of dessert. This means that there will be enormous demand for capacity and availability on those networks in the city, as well as some very specific challenges to overcome.

In order for consumers in the region to be able to access the 1Gbps and above download speeds, ultra-low latency and almost infallible network availability that true 5G can deliver, operators will need to set about densifying and building out their networks by deploying base stations and small cell technology at a considerable rate of knots.
Away from the GCC, the industry’s network equipment providers have gone into production overdrive as more than a hundred mobile network operators across the globe look to launch their own 5G networks at scale.
In China alone, mobile network operators are reportedly planning to deploy over one million 5G base stations, in what will surely be the world’s most ambitious telecoms deployment ever. 

As the world’s biggest vendor of 5G network equipment products, Huawei will certainly have a busy year as it looks to ramp up production of its 5G base station units.  Speaking last year at a media event in Shenzhen, the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, said that his company would look to ship 1.5 million 5G base stations to the global market in 2020 alone. 

“In August and September, we will undergo a run-in period before we can mass produce these new versions. So, we can only produce around 5,000 base stations each month during that period. Following that, we will be able to produce 600,000 5G base stations this year and at least 1.5 million next year. That means we don’t need to rely on US companies for our survival in this area,” he said.

With all this in mind, 2020 may well turn out to be “the year of the base station” as operators look to take their 5G offering to the next level,  both here in the GCC and further afield in markets across the globe. 

Expanding cutting edge connectivity in the UAE

Few countries in the world can be said to have been more proactive on 5G deployment than the UAE. The country had its 5G networks up and ready for service before almost all of its competitors, and has been quick to make 5G handsets available, allowing consumers to actually take advantage of the new services as soon as they were launched.

With the epic spectacle of Expo 2020 just around the corner, it is little surprise that the UAE wants to showcase genuine cutting edge connectivity this year, and much of the country’s future economic growth and development will leverage the cost saving synergies and increased productivity provided by its 5G networks. 

Huawei has been instrumental in facilitating the country’s push to roll out best in class 5G networks, having been a key launch partner of both du and Etisalat. With this in mind, CommsMEA caught up with the Wireless Marketing and Solution team at Huawei’s Carrier Network Business Group, to find out how the company expects to rise to the challenge of densifying the country’s next generation networks. The population distribution and recreational habits of the country’s 9.5 million
inhabitants will pose some key challenges, according to the Huawei spokesperson.

“In the 5G era, we estimate that 70 per cent of new services will occur indoors, such as cloud-based VR and AR applications, home entertainment, smart manufacturing, telemedicine, and more. These new services pose higher requirements on the 5G indoor coverage experience. Across the region, there are also many dense urban areas with high-rise buildings, and busy central areas such as shopping malls, airports and stadia. Often times, outdoor macro sites are not sufficient to fully optimise 5G penetration and provide connectivity to all people and businesses in these areas. Hence, 5G small cell technologies like Digital Indoor Solutions (DIS) are increasingly important to the digital society,” they said.

As previously mentioned, Expo 2020 will be a tremendous opportunity for the UAE to showcase a whole range of smart city, connected vehicle, virtual reality and artificial reality use cases. However, the logistical demands of providing the requisite level of connectivity to the Expo 2020 sites will be a key challenge.

“With 5G networks now a commercial reality, we are looking at both the expansion of coverage as well as the development of 5G ecosystem innovation.

“In terms of coverage, just look at massive events like EXPO 2020 as an example. Hundreds of buildings will require an indoor coverage solution to fully benefit from 5G connectivity. Huawei is already partnering with Etisalat and du to provide advanced small cell products, consulting, and systems integration services to ensure a truly remarkable customer experience on the EXPO 2020 site.

“We are also boosting 5G and IoT services throughout the UAE. Our recently announced 5G and IoT Joint OpenLab, launched with the TRA, will be an important cross-industry platform for operators, third parties, and vertical industries in the UAE to innovate within the 5G arena,” they said.

New technology moves maximum speeds beyond 1Gbps

By the end of 2019, Ookla speed tests showed that 5G customers in the UAE were averaging download speeds of 334.27Mbps, compared with speeds of around 59Mbps on its 4G networks. While this represents a huge improvement (with average speeds on the UAE’s 5G networks almost twice as fast as those in the UK, for example), there is still huge scope to boost those speeds. 5G promises peak download speeds in access of 1Gbps over a mobile connection and industry watchers will expect download speeds in the UAE to start quickly ramping up throughout 2020, as operators rollout new technology.

“Today’s advanced small cell technology, such as the Huawei 5G Small Cell. features multi-antenna 4T4R and optical cable technologies, enabling the peak download speed of 5G terminals to reach as high as 1.8Gbps. That is 24 times higher than the traditional distributed antenna system (DAS) 1T1R system.
Unlike passive DAS, the digital architecture of DIS provides a more reliable network, as it does not have VSWR and PIM issues. Furthermore, Huawei’s DIS also provides end-to-end visualised and manageable capabilities, enabling operators to refine their management of indoor networks to ensure higher reliability,” the Huawei spokesperson said.

In addition to dramatically increasing the maximum download speeds, advances in small cell technology will also help to lift the minimum speeds encountered by consumers, providing a more consistent service across the board.

 As both du and Etisalat continue to densify their 5G networks in 2020, more base stations will inevitably mean higher download speeds and greater network availability as the UAE looks to continue its leadership position on next generation connectivity. With Expo2020 just around the corner, 2020 promises to be a busy year for telcos and vendors alike.

This article was first published in the February issue of CommsMEA. Click here to check out the rest of the issue.  

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