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5G's Unusual Challenge (It's not technology)

If you had to name some of the biggest teams within a mobile provider what would you say? Information Technology? Radio Frequency? Sales? Marketing? One department I’ll bet that did not come to mind is Real Estate. One of the biggest challenges for mobile device development is procuring property for cell towers.


The real estate acquisition group at a cell company must locate and procure property to deploy cell sites and antennas. This may include property purchase or lease options. The property must also be located in specific locations within the range of other supporting cell sites. Therefore, there are specific geographic locations where cells must be located in order to provide the ubiquitous mobile service that we all expect.

The property department must not only find property, but find property in a relatively small geographic range. The challenges here are many. If available property is scarce in a particular location, the price of acquisition or lease will be high. Local regulations may also impact the ability to build a cell site in certain areas. Many suburban areas restrict the deployment of cell sites in their area. Coincidentally, these suburbs are also noisy complainers about spotty cell service in their neighborhood.

Ranges of cell sites vary for a variety of reasons, but here is an order of magnitude comparison between 4G and 5G sites. A general range for spacing of a suburban 4G site is 2400 meters to 3200 meters. The range for 5G small cell sites is about 500-800 meters. You can see that on a large scale deployment, there are many more sites that need to be built for broad development of 5G services. The mobile real estate groups will be very busy in the coming months and years.

The good news is that 5G cells are much smaller and less obtrusive. This should help with the “not in my backyard” objections. 5G sites can be placed on existing poles and locations that are better hidden. So, even though there will need to be many more sites, they will not have the same negative aesthetic as the legacy towers.

Backward Compatibility

Because there are billions of dollars already invested in legacy 4G cell towers, 5G technology will need to be backward compatible with existing technology. A 5G device that happens to be near a 5G cell may work well at promoted speeds and latency. However, in many cases, 5G phones will be operating on 4G and LTE cells throughout the transition.

In addition to maintaining mobile conversations, call set-up, tear-down, cell-to-cell movement and billing all need to be managed between both 4G and 5G sites. Mobile providers are using network visibility products such as TAPs and Packet Brokers to monitor traffic and separate mobile conversations (payload) from call set up data (signaling). Through constant monitoring, mobile providers can send accurate call data to remote computers for billing without impacting the actual conversations. Accurate monitoring is also critical for future bandwidth and cell site growth planning.

Faster Speeds Challenging Legacy Tools

As speeds increase with the addition of LTE and 5G sites, many legacy monitoring tools are struggling to keep up with the load. Speeds from cell towers to mobile phones are generally manageable. However, as payload and signaling information from millions of devices aggregate to switching center trunking the bandwidth needs grow dramatically.

SmartNA-PortPlus HyperCore™ Addresses Mobile Market

Network Critical has been working with mobile providers through early generations of monitoring technology. They recently released innovative visibility technology that allows massive bandwidth monitoring for 4G, LTE and 5G services. The powerful new SmartNA-PortPlus HyperCore™ provides a full range of visibility services at all speeds ranging up to 400Gbps.

Powerful features such as aggregation, filtering, port mapping and load balancing allow maximum flexibility with links and tools. Mobile operators can leverage existing legacy tools using load balancing to bring in high speed 100Gbps and 400Gbps links efficiently distributing that traffic to multiple lower speed tools. Considering the enormous investment providers are making in cell sites, saving CAPEX on monitoring tools throughout the network is a welcome advantage.

Closing with the real estate thread, the SmartNA-PortPlus HyperCore™ provides a generous 32 ports of non-blocking 400Gbps bandwidth in one single rack unit. Providing 12.8Tbps with flexible expansion to 25.6Tbps using supporting products in the PortPlus family, the bandwidth per rack unit of space required is unmatched in the industry. The real estate department can concentrate on cell site acquisition knowing that rack real estate is being utilized to its fullest.

The SmartNA-PortPlus HyperCore™

For more information on the new SmartNA-PortPlus HyperCore™ and the SmartNA-PortPlus™ Packet Broker please contact us at





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