Best way to deploy 5G mmWave? Use repeater tech, says Mobile Experts

5G blue lines
Verizon is one U.S. operator utilizing repeaters to help extend the reach of its 5G mmWave network. (Getty Images)

What’s the best way to deploy a high capacity 5G millimeter wave network? Incorporate a mix of commercially available repeater tech, according to new research by Mobile Experts, which found operators could cut costs by as much as 52% compared to traditional base station-only deployments.

Mobile Experts modeled three case study scenarios for a high density Dallas neighborhood covering 1.4 square miles. The baseline scenario used only 5G base stations (or gNodeB’s), the second employed a chain of wired repeaters, and the third a mix of wired and solar-powered smart repeaters.  

Repeater technology helps expand network capacity from one location and spread it across a bigger area.

RELATED: Verizon adds more repeaters to its 5G repertoire

Only 10 mmWave base stations handle far beyond expected customer capacity needs of the neighborhood in 2024 (estimated to grow from 31 GB per second of peak-hour traffic today to 61 GB per second), according to the Mobile Experts white paper. But while 5G mmWave sites offer high bandwidth, limited range means that figure wouldn’t be able to handle data needs based on coverage.   

So the mmWave network has to be deployed based on coverage, not capacity, the report says – and concluded roughly 95 base stations would be needed to meet coverage demands (with the assumption that 70% of data traffic indoors). However, that would provide 1,140 GB per second peak capacity – which study author Joe Madden categorized as overkill. Not to mention pricey.

“Deploying 95 gNodeB units (with the required fiberoptic cable and DC power on streetlights or utility poles) can get expensive,” wrote Madden, chief analyst and founder of Mobile Experts. “Counting the initial CAPEX as well as ten years of OPEX, the total cost of the mm-wave network would be about $12.5 million, just in this one neighborhood.”

RELATED: What’s next after mmWave networks? - Madden

Comparatively, to achieve the needed coverage and capacity of the same neighborhood with 5G mmWave, it would cost around $6.6 million over 10 years using ten 5G base stations at 28 GHz and 85 wired repeaters, for a cost savings of 48%. The cost savings increased to 52% in a scenario with 10 gNodeBs, 60 wired and 60 solar mmWave repeaters – which came to a 10-year total cost of $6 million.

Part of the cost is the equipment itself. Mobile Experts pegged the price of radios between $35,000-$40,000, compared to just $3,000 or less for a repeater. Other costs associated with digging up streets to lay down fiber, and challenges related to siting or getting permits for power or fiber to each site bring added complexity, the report notes.

More sites are needed when solar repeaters are in the mix, but Madden wrote that the approach saves on permitting and installation, particularly related to power – citing the main benefit of solar repeaters as providing a way to get the mmWave network up running quickly.

RELATED: SureCall: Repeaters give 5G mmWave a much-needed boost

“We believe that a combination of wired and solar repeaters will be the best way to implement a high-capacity mm-wave network layer. The gNodeB by itself can offload some traffic from the sub-6 GHz network, but the capacity for each gNodeB is too concentrated to be fully utilized in most cities,” Madden wrote.

“Instead of the ‘overkill’ of large numbers of gNodeB radios, a chain of repeaters can be a very effective way to satisfy both coverage and capacity,” he continued.

In the U.S. Verizon was an operator that took a mmWave-first approach to 5G, and deployments have largely been limited to select parts of major cities.  Results from network testing companies have shown that connecting to a mmWave 5G signal in the U.S. is still uncommon.

RELATED: Verizon in a millimeter wave groove, CTO Malady says

But by 2024 Mobile Experts expects U.S. operators to “need a robust mm-Wave layer” – as increasing data traffic means even newly deployed C-band spectrum will be filled within the two-year time frame, according to the research firm.

Movandi, an Irvine-based tech startup focused on 5G chipsets and advanced repeater technology, put out its own press release Tuesday touting the Mobile Experts white paper.

“This study confirms our own findings that illustrate how the use of our technologies can dramatically reduce the complexity of millimeter-wave deployments while enhancing the end-user experience in reducing overall cost by more than 40%,” said Reza Rofougaran, CTO and founder of Movandi, in a statement. “We believe that only through the use of a new network design model can millimeter-wave frequencies be used cost-effectively to achieve 5G’s lofty goals.”

RELATED: Verizon taps Movandi for mmWave know-how

Verizon is notably using 5G mmWave repeater tech as part of its strategy to extend its Ultra Wideband network both indoors and out, including from Movandi, as well as Pivotal Commware and SureCall.

“Our benchmarks with multiple mobile operators reveal that the costs of permitting, fiber, and power to a millimeter-wave network can be significant,” said Madden in the release. “The use of repeaters to ‘spread’ the RF capacity throughout an urban area can effectively cut the operator’s cost dramatically."