The European Perspective on the Development of Ultra-Small Cell for 5G
A well-developed 5G network enables provisioning of very high bandwidth, low latency, and dependable ubiquitous connectivity to mobile users and objects. This allows the versatile development of an unprecedented set of services and applications that are expected to create new opportunities for individuals, industries, and governments.
Applications and services such as e-healthcare, smart cities, energy management, smart manufacturing, public safety, connected vehicles, UHD entertainment, and many more, not only improve the standard of living but also significantly contribute to sustainable economic growth. Therefore, 5G is one of the most important building blocks of the new economy and society. It is predicted by HIS Markit that in the next 10 years, 5G and its vertical will contribute up to 6.9% into the total global GDP annual growth, equivalent to $3.2 trillion that is the GDP of India in 2019 as the world’s 7th-largest economy.
In terms of technological impact, 5G is also a core enabler of emerging Artificial Intelligence systems by providing them ubiquitous access to real-time data collection and cloud/edge computing facilities. Ubiquitous access to data and computational power harnesses Artificial Intelligence potentials by enabling the distribution of computing and data storage across the 5G network infrastructure.
Among all the 5G NR technical requirements, the system capacity per unit area is directly related to the deployment of base stations to form ultra-dense networks. Therefore, timely deployment of ultra-small cells is crucial for delivering high-capacity, and increased coverage, as well as, advanced connection speeds of the 5G networks.
Deployment of Ultra-Small Cells
Nevertheless, deployment of a substantial number of brand new ultra-small cells introduces different and unprecedented challenges that can potentially decelerate deployment of 5G networks. Within a 5G high-speed demonstration zone in Shanghai, the plan calls for more than 50 small cells per square kilometre. For nationwide coverage at this level, 480 million small cells would be required within China, and over 500 million for the EU.
This ultra-dense level of 5G coverage is not required everywhere. This number is for illustration purposes only of course, yet this figure provides a quantitative insight on the scale of required developments to make 5G connectivity a day-to-day reality, specifically within the densely populated urban environments. While estimates vary, we believe it is safe to say that between 500,000 and 800,000 5G small cells are required over the next five years.
Challenges include, but not limited to, the constraining local and regional planning permits for new cell-sites, co-located sites, and co-existing 5G networks, concerns regarding the electromagnetic exposure limits of 5G base-stations affecting public health and safety (see our previous post on sabotaged Dutch 5G cell sites), and even physical appearance of 5G equipment. EU adopted a regulatory approach to address these challenges.
5G network will be provided in a competitive market and any regulations need to be carefully examined not to intervene with the market dynamics. Besides, for the 5G network, the EU is planning to unleash the full potential of this technology as one of the key enablers of the EU digital economy in the next decade. EU is also concerned with achieving socially desirable outcomes which are not necessarily the market’s priority, e.g., rural coverage. Other concerns are also important such as communities’ concerns regarding health, and an excessive number of unpleasant-looking masts.
The Regulation: Reflecting on the challenges and to facilitate the timely development of 5G deployment, EU Commission adopted a light deployment regime, where small cells should be exempted from any individual town planning permit or other individual prior permits. Permits may however still be required for deployment on buildings or sites protected per national law or public safety reasons.
On the 20th of July 2020, the EU Commission released its Implementing Regulation on small-area wireless access points. The main objective of this regulation is to help simplify and accelerate 5G network installations, which should be facilitated through a permit-exempt deployment regime while ensuring an acceptable level of oversight by the local authorities. The Implementing Regulation specifies the physical and technical characteristics of small cells for 5G networks.
The definition of a small cell in the implementing regulation includes a set of tight limits on the size and power of those installations. The regulation further allows for broader national measures in support of straightforward small cell deployment and foresees future amendments to incorporate the latest technological advances.
Coexisting 5G Networks: For multiple 5G networks which is the likely reality of such networks, the regulation also outlines the technical requirements which should be followed in cases of multiple adjacent or co-located small-area wireless access points.
Public Health: The regulation also ensures public health protection from exposure to electromagnetic fields in small-area wireless access points by adhering to strict Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC, which, for the general public, are 50 times lower than that of suggested by international scientific evidence.
Site appearance: To ensure wide public acceptance for the measure, the regulation addresses the visual appearance of small cells to avoid unpleasant visual clutter. It lays out the specifications for a coherent and integrated installation while providing national authorities with the means to oversee the deployment of small cells. The main concern to be addressed by the regulation is to make sure they should be either invisible to the general public or mounted in a visually non-obtrusive way onto their supporting structure.
Based on the newly adopted Implementing Regulation, the new 5G small cells should be less visible by either being fully integrated and invisible to the general public or, in case of visibility fits in a maximum space of 30 litres. Based on this regulation, small cells also produce lower electromagnetic emissions comparable with WiFi installations which is 50 times lower than what international scientific evidence would suggest as having any potential health effect. The regulation also drafts all the necessary regulatory platforms at both regional and national levels for the development of such networks.