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Rural Broadband Mapping for an Effective 5G Deployment

Saad Lahrech 

Enterprise Account Manager

7 December 2020

Rural Broadband Mapping for an Effective 5G Deployment

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to approve the 5G Fund for Rural America totaling $9 billion. The funding is to support areas currently underserved by broadband services as well as to allocate money for precision agriculture. In Canada, the prime minister, announced an additional $750 million for the Universal Broadband Fund for broadband internet service countrywide with the objective of connecting 98% of the population by 2026 and 100% by 2030. A potential roadblock for each country: poor maps.

According to FierceWireless, the reason the FCC is taking action is because, “The 5G fund is replacing the Mobility Fund Phase II proceeding – which was a Universal Service Fund (USF) program intended to subsidize 4G LTE deployments that was scrapped after the process revealed carrier-submitted mobile coverage maps were severely flawed and inaccurate … One key aspect of the order is that the FCC will rely on new, more precise and accurate broadband data maps to determine what areas of the country are lacking mobile service and therefore eligible for funds, before holding an auction.”

In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will prioritize projects with faster speeds and lower prices in geographic areas in which service is furthest from hitting its universal objective of 50 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds, according to a report in the Financial Post. “Canadians living in rural and other underserved areas need high-quality broadband Internet and mobile wireless service to fully participate in the digital economy and to access health care, education, government and public safety services,” said CRTC chairman Ian Scott in the Financial Post report.

Why are accurate maps so important to 5G? The future of 5G is intrinsically and inevitably tied to location technology. 5G is not merely a vehicle for transmitting data albeit with some speed. But speed alone does not impart value. 5G represents a transformative ecosystem for connectivity. The value is in the data transmitted from billions of connected devices, sensors and people each located somewhere. Leveraging the potential of these data by myriad industries from marine shipping to smart farming to e-commerce will rely on 5G to flow information to analytical platforms that can process location-based data. As such, these industries will require the speed and connectivity that is expected from the increased volume of data collected.

A Race for Accuracy

Instead of relying on microcells with large coverage, 5G will leverage microcells using higher radio frequencies such as millimeter waves (mmWave) which will provide higher throughput but will then be more subject to signal attenuation. This will result in a smaller coverage area forcing the deployment of a larger number of mmWave microcells. This combined with the convergence of wireless, wireline and fiber networks also required for 5G, will induce a rapid network densification, hence requiring additional location intelligence and mapping for optimum regional coverage. Other factors will play a role: network specialization, which will require more granular and complex service qualification for instance, will increase the volume, data updates frequency and complexity of the geospatial processing.

The FCC funding will be awarded “based on new, more precise, verified mobile coverage data collected through the Commission’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection,” according to the FCC’s Fact Sheet for the 5G Fund for Rural America. Verified coverage maps will require location-based data collected directly from mobile devices and then geocoded. These geocodes would become the baseline data to recognize both the coverage type (4G, 4G LTE or other) and extents of coverage. The full coverage area could be impacted by impedances such as buildings and may require additional data to provide an accurate assessment. In addition, because of the volume of data that may be acquired from wireless devices, cloud native solutions utilizing high computing processes is likely to be needed.

A Race for Location Intelligence

For both speed and accuracy, geospatial technology will need to be used to produce signal coverage maps and to target the delivery of 5G broadband service to populations currently underserved. Geospatial technology can pinpoint these areas and demonstrate where funding is needed most to produce better coverage maps. Leveraging a comprehensive dataset of accurate addresses can help carriers pinpoint clients that are in areas currently underserved as well as future clients that live in fund-eligible areas. As such, carriers would have the necessary data to build new cell sites where needed and invest more efficiently based on the density and type of households.

A Race for Speed

5G technologies will also allow several new use cases in various areas affecting consumers, businesses and governments. According to Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G could produce up to $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services for telecommunication and other industries that will leverage these new capabilities.

To realize the benefit of 5G’s speed, the telecommunication carriers will have to make massive investments at several levels. From the acquisition of new 5G radio frequency licenses in the desired markets, to the deployment of new advanced antenna supporting 3D beamforming and massive MIMO technology to provide high throughput. Infrastructure investment will also be required to enhance the core network. Network slicing and edge processing will help lower latency within the different types of communications. Moreover, it will force investment in the fiber network which will serve as backbone for the rapidly increasing wireless traffic.

A Race to Get There Fast

Remote working, advances in precision agriculture, and the need to offer broadband services for remote learning for urban, residential, and especially rural communities has accelerated demand for broadband services. Provisioning broadband services to reach each of these constituencies is a question steeped in cost as well as providing the benchmark speed required to satisfy legislation. For example, in the past, rural areas have had limited broadband connectivity due to the high cost of construction. In addition, the lower population density has led to lower market potential. However, now with fixed wireless access (FWA) a more affordable option than brining fiber to the home (FTTH) is possible. As such, there is a need to scale the FWA process and to optimize the installation workflow including pre-provisioning and customer premise equipment (CPE) installation.

FTTH, FWA or mmWave antenna deployment offer certain benefits and constraints. But to the FCC, it’s not a matter of how to reach each customer but just that they reach them. Any delay will impede economic growth.

Deploy with Confidence

The carriers will need to utilize geospatial data and solutions to more efficiently support these new funding initiatives offered by the FCC and CRTC. We believe location intelligence will be key to overcome many 5G challenges and to obtain the necessary funds. Geospatial data will be required to establish the baseline level of broadband access and speed; the areas where high-speed access is lacking today; and the ability to establish the priorities to build the infrastructure necessary to offer services. If geospatial expertise, technologies or data are needed to ensure a fast and successful 5G go-to-market plan, Korem can be your trusted advisor to support your build-out plans as well as supporting your need to report compliance and future plans to the appropriate government funding agency.

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