There may be no more widely anticipated technology than the delivery of 5G wireless to superpowered enterprises and consumers.
The breakthrough bandwidth and speed of 5G is expected to revolutionize mobile and edge computing and open the door to the next generation of analytics, automation, AI and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, IT industry observers say.
One of the leading telecommunications providers, Verizon Wireless, is working to ensure that its next-generation 5G wireless network plan translates into the physical world. To make this happen, the company is designing its own 5G Network Planning Platform (NPP) under the leadership of former CIO Lynne Cox and project manager Ashis Sarkar. The project earned Verizon Wireless a CIO 100 Award for IT Innovation and Leadership.
“We’re in the midst of rolling out one of our biggest investments — our 5G network — and this platform is an integral part of that,” said Sumit Singh, vice president and platform project manager, who calls NPP a network factory tool. “That’s how we decide how to optimize and how best to deploy the network, which starts with where to deploy it.”
The planning platform, which began in March 2021 and is now fully deployed, has been a major factor in helping Verizon Wireless roll out its Ultra Wideband 5G network to date.
Ultra Wideband is the trademark Verizon has given to the wireless spectrum it uses for C-band and mmWave spectrum, explains IDC analyst Darryl Skular. C-band, also known as mid-band, lies between 2.5 GHz and 6 GHz, but Verizon’s C-band runs in the 3.5 GHz range, he says, adding that the main bands of Verizon’s mmWave spectrum are 28 GHz and 39 GHz.
The company’s NPP is designed to help Verizon determine the optimal transmitter density, positioning and placement to maximize signal coverage and provide high-quality service while minimizing unnecessary capital expenditures, according to the company.
It is also designed to “increase efficiency, improve supply chain reliability and increase predictability of network services as 5G rolls out across the country” and to “eliminate costly manual processes and accelerate our ability to offer 5G services to new markets and customers,” says a company representative.
In developing NPP, Verizon built machine learning algorithms to generate long-term traffic forecasts for wireless sector coverage. He also created a machine learning solution to reduce the number of manual tests needed to evaluate signal strength.
A platform like NPP addresses a common problem that all mobile operators face when rolling out complex 5G networks, says IDC’s Skular. “5G, compared to previous generations, is more complex to build than older mobile networks due to the increased number of bandwidths and expected network use cases,” said Skular, vice president of IDC’s global telecommunications program.
“This means deploying more base station radios, better coordination between different network elements and an increased requirement for the network operator to understand the state of their network and the ability to optimize it quickly,” he says. “Verizon’s Network Planning Platform is one way the company can address the complexities of 5G while trying to minimize time-to-market for the network while managing capital expenditures.”
NPP provides Verizon Wireless with the extensive information needed to deploy 5G for maximum reliability, predictability and performance, says Verizon Wireless’ Singh.
“The platform starts with characterizing how millimeter wave propagates in a real-world scenario and brings in everything from building heights, trees, any obstacles we have at height, where we put our antennas, and then we can decide where we need to are placed [equipment] to get maximum coverage,” he says.
The NPP platform, developed with partners Forsk, NetScout and One Hundred Feet, uncovers optimal characteristics specifying where the network should be installed, taking into account multiple factors ranging from dirt quality to the power settings needed for optimal neighborhood performance, says Singh.
After the planning phase, Verizon Wireless takes all the input from its 5G NPP and makes decisions about where best to build the network.
“Deploying 5G is a capital-intensive endeavor characterized by a dense infrastructure deployment involving a large number of transmitters,” said a Verizon Wireless representative. “The business reality has created an opportunity to rethink our set of operational support systems for network planning – the core tools we use to design and build our networks.”
The platform also ensures that Verizon’s 5G deployment is capital efficient.
IDC’s Schoolar says Verizon Wireless is making significant progress and now offers 5G coverage to 100 million people with its C-band spectrum, and is expected to cover 175 million people by the end of the year — about a full year ahead of earlier estimates.
What Enhanced 5G Means for CIOs
5G networks are expected to offer advanced performance for a range of activities, such as continuous high-fidelity video conferencing on high-speed trains, enhanced augmented and virtual reality, real-time control of business processes, high security without sacrificing performance, and fixed wireless access in homes — eliminating of the need for cable boxes.
For example, 5G is designed to allow mobile devices like the iPad to travel up to 310 miles per hour and stay connected to the network. It also reduces device power consumption by as much as 90%, Verizon claims.
As a result of its high throughput and low latency, 5G is also expected to benefit enterprises in their automation efforts and in providing support for many more users and devices. In addition, 5G should provide CIOs with significant energy savings and faster data transfer speeds, which are critical for many enterprise applications.
NPP has enabled Verizon Wireless to deploy mmWave in 85 cities so far. Its C-band currently covers a “good portion” of the nation with a combined layer of the two 5G technologies in densely populated areas to optimize performance, according to the company. Verizon Wireless aims to cover 240 million points of presence (POPs) and 50 million households by 2025.
Enterprise CIOs eagerly await the completion of 5G for a myriad of advanced applications and business processes.
“From my perspective, 5G deployment is vital for the technology industry,” said Amish Patel, CTO of Elevance Health. “This will enable high speed, low latency and very reliable network capabilities. This will significantly improve the experience for our customers and enable more virtual and digital consumption of services.”
Public 5G will include improved security. But some CIOs are developing their own private 5G networks to optimize security.
“An ultra-secure, high-capacity, high-speed communications network is at the heart of running a clean, safe and reliable power grid,” said Ben Gordon, senior vice president, CIO and chief digital officer at San Diego Gas & Electric, which is building its own private LTE network , 5G-ready to enable a range of new features, including new wildfire safety technology that can cut power to downed power lines before they hit the ground. “SDG&E also sees this private wireless system helping us more efficiently manage the growing amount of renewable energy and grid-connected energy storage systems, as well as meet the growing demands of electric vehicle charging.”