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This post provides an introduction to radio access networks (RAN) before discussing 5G RAN challenges, solutions, and use cases.
5G cellular technology is used for internet of things (IoT) deployments and operational technology (OT) automation across many different kinds of organizations, including city governments, global logistics companies, and healthcare providers. 5G access is provided by a radio access network (RAN) using mobile towers and small cells, but deploying these networks is challenging due to numerous factors, including poor public opinion. This post provides an introduction to radio access networks before discussing 5G RAN challenges, solutions, and use cases.

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What is a Radio Access Network (RAN)?

A radio access network (RAN) is the portion of a cellular network that connects smartphones and other end-user devices to the internet. Information is communicated back and forth between smartphones and the RAN’s transceivers via radio waves. Those wireless signals are translated into digital form, passed to the core network, and then to the global internet.

What is 5G RAN?

Every cellular generation has its own associated RAN technology. 4G RAN was the first generation based entirely on the internet protocol (IP) rather than older circuit-based technology. The newest generation, 5G, supports faster speeds, great capacity, and lower latency than previous generations. However, there are significant challenges in the way of 5G implementation.

5G Radio Access Network (RAN) challenges

There are three major hurdles to 5G implementation:

  1. Public opinion – Thanks in part to misinformation and conspiracy theories, there has been a lot of resistance to 5G implementations. While many people already use smartphones with 5G technology, they tend to balk at the idea of giant cell towers and masts going up in their town or city.
  2. mmWave limitations – Wireless frequencies in the mmWave (millimeter wave) spectrum provide the speed and capacity required for 5G, but they have a shorter range and difficulty penetrating walls. That makes 5G tricky in industrial settings and office buildings.
  3. Remote recovery – A 5G RAN typically operates in cramped spaces without a continuous human presence, and administrators monitor and manage the equipment remotely over the cellular network. However, if that cell link goes down due to equipment failure or natural disaster, teams are cut off, and a truck must be rolled to fix the issue, adding significant costs and downtime.

Addressing these hurdles is complicated, as the solutions often create additional challenges. For example, the first two points can be addressed with 5G small cell technology. Small cells are typically compact enough to deploy on top of buildings or street furniture to extend 5G coverage into densely populated areas without a full-size mobile mast. This makes 5G small cell networks more palatable to city officials and the general public alike. However, small cells are still subject to planning restrictions, and the absence of a common 5G small cell framework makes the application process difficult and time-consuming.

In addition, some small cells are tiny enough to deploy indoors, improving 5G propagation and coverage in buildings. However, operators would need to deploy dozens or hundreds of small cells to achieve the speed and reliability needed for industrial IoT and high-tech use cases. Each one requires significant power resources as well as a fiber or wireless backhaul, and due to a lack of standardization, operators may even have to submit many individual planning applications. Plus, a small cell network of that size is complex to monitor and manage, requiring additional hardware and software solutions that add even more costs and complexity.

Addressing the third point requires an out-of-band network connection to 5G RAN deployments. For example, a 4G/LTE serial console provides an alternative internet connection so teams can remotely access RAN equipment during 5G outages. A serial console directly connects to radio access network infrastructure so remote administrators can do things like reboot a hung device or refresh DHCP even if the local network is down.

However, many serial consoles suffer from vendor lock-in, meaning they don’t connect to all devices or support third-party management, troubleshooting, and recovery tools. This either limits an administrator’s ability to remotely recover from outages or forces them to deploy additional hardware and software solutions to gain all the remote functionality required, adding to the expense and complexity of 5G RAN deployments.

A new approach to 5G deployments

The upgrade from 4G to 5G is proving to be more fraught than previous transitions between generations, so it’s clear that a new approach is needed. Small cell technology is a good start, but a lack of standardization severely hampers its adoption. Help is on the way, though – a group called the Small Cell Forum (SCF), which is made up of wireless leaders like AT&T, Cisco, Qualcomm, and Samsung, is working to establish a set of common definitions and recommendations to help the industry standardize 5G small cell networks.

In their definitional report, the SCF highlights the need for vendor-neutral hardware that’s customizable and swappable for various 5G use cases. Architectural design and planning applications are simpler when all of a small cell network’s equipment supports the same common 5G interface. Multi-functional devices combining networking, out-of-band access, and third-party application hosting significantly reduce expenses and management complexity.

Let’s examine some potential 5G use cases that could benefit from this new approach.

Smart cities

A smart city is the ideal use case for a 5G small cell network. Since wireless clients are packed into densely populated areas, an array of 5G small cells should provide sufficient coverage without the need for a full-sized mast. Deploying a small, vendor-neutral, multi-functional device like the Nodegrid Mini Services Router alongside small cells provides flexible backhaul options, out-of-band remote management, and application hosting. Installing small cells and Mini SRs on streetlamps, parking structures, and other public infrastructure gives teams everything they need to remotely monitor, operate, and recover 5G smart city infrastructure without adding more complexity to the network.

Global asset tracking and logistics

The internet of things (IoT) makes it possible for large, global enterprises to streamline asset tracking and supply chain logistics. Organizations use IoT-enabled devices to handle inventory management, fulfillment, shipment tracking, quality control, and more. 5G small cell technology provides the necessary speed, coverage, and bandwidth, but the sheer number of devices – and their global distribution – creates a lot of management complexity.

All-in-one solutions like Nodegrid reduce the tech stack by combining networking, management, and application hosting in a single box. Plus, Nodegrid provides a centralized management platform that can unify all connected devices, apps, and services in a single place. Administrators get a single pane of glass to monitor, control, troubleshoot, and automate the entire global architecture, reducing costs and streamlining operations.

Building automation

Many large property management companies rely on building automation systems that use operational technology (OT) to control door locks, lighting, HVAC, and more with very little human intervention. 5G’s improved speed and lower latency open up even greater automation capabilities, especially in warehouses and manufacturing plants.

Nodegrid’s compact, vendor-neutral solutions give remote operators a reliable, out-of-band connection to automated building systems to keep businesses running 24/7, even during 5G outages or LAN failures. You can deploy the Mini SR in cramped or semi-outdoor spaces to extend monitoring, security, and management coverage to every part of the 5G deployment. Nodegrid enables end-to-end building automation and makes 5G networks more resilient to failure.

Simplifying 5G with Nodegrid

A 5G radio access network (RAN) provides internet access to 5G-enabled systems, such as smartphones and IoT devices. While 5G deployments are proving complicated and fraught with issues, these challenges are overcome using small cell technology and vendor-neutral, multi-function devices like Nodegrid. Nodegrid’s integrated services routers deliver all-in-one networking, out-of-band management, backhauling, and application hosting capabilities to simplify 5G deployments without compromise.

Learn how Nodegrid can help deliver simplified 5G with out-of-band management!

Request a free Nodegrid demo to see how vendor-neutral solutions simplify 5G radio access network (RAN) deployments.

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