Equipping lamp posts with 5G base stations will be key to enabling next generation technologies and smart cities says Dr. Jan Järveläinen, R&D Manager at Premix Group.
If there is a new wireless generation every 10 years, we should have a very mature 5G network in 2027. Have you ever thought about how this will change the cities, how it looks and how it functions? Because if there is an industrial revolution coming, it cannot go unnoticed.
Let’s start with technology and physics. One of the most tangible differences between LTE and 5G mmWave are the range and size of the base stations. While LTE cells can cover hundreds of meters, mmWave access points are limited to maybe 50m. On the other hand, traditional LTE antennas are as tall as an average NBA player, but mmWave antenna arrays will fit in your pocket. The short range of mmWaves, and the fact that almost anything placed between the base station and your mobile can kill the transmission, means that mmWave hot spots need a very dense deployment in order to function as planned.
And here’s where we arrive at the lamp posts. They are there already in vast numbers, can easily carry small base stations (or hide them inside) and, if asked nicely, they might even lend you some electricity.
Thus, 5G will adore lamp posts.
In fact, this is quite obvious, and not even very novel. Already in 2014, The Australian minister for communications, Malcolm Turnbull, suggested that every lamp post could be equipped with a 5G base station. Integration of LTE base stations into street lighting has been tried already in many projects, such as Philips SmartPoles. The step to using 5G instead of LTE is therefore not long at all.
But let’s look at it from the other side: why would lamp posts need 5G?
Looking at just a regular street light, there is probably no win-win on the horizon. We should therefore take one step backwards and have a broader look, momentarily forgetting about the 18th century réverbères in Paris and imagining a few decades ahead. If you use the term smart lamp posts instead of just lamp posts, this futuristic imagination might come more naturally. But what makes a lamp post smart?
Among numerous 5G-related projects, the Nokia-driven industrial collaboration LuxTurrim5G (Latin for 5G light tower) aims to build a smart lamp post platform, which enables business opportunities for digital service. The light poles will have integrated mmWave base stations as well as sensors and services related to surveillance, navigation, weather monitoring and advertisement. And light.
The novel applications and how they are funded are the key. This will allow the light poles to serve as a platform for gathering and sharing information for smart cities, renting their space to whomever wants their gadgets in the pole. The role of 5G is partly to enable the new applications, but also to transmit the gathered data to those hungering for it. And this is the essence of mmWave radios – their ability to direct the beam very accurately with relatively small antennas. So whatever information I want, the base station doesn’t have to spread the message to everyone within 10 blocks. There is just the one big question remaining: Do I want to pay for it?
Without a solid business case based on what 5G users are prepared to pay for, there is no incentive for building such a network of lamp posts. What’s still missing are the new, real innovations, which will bring the money.
When Nokia and Qualcomm asked consumers regarding their expectations towards 5G, people mainly wanted faster connectivity. And for what? Yes, you guessed it – for faster browsing and downloading.
If airplanes were just faster cars, they wouldn’t have revolutionized travel.
About the author:
Dr. Jan Järveläinen works as an R&D Manager at Premix Group, where he is trying to figure out how wireless applications and materials should coexist. Prior to this work, Jan worked as a post-doctoral researcher in Aalto University, Finland, where he studied mmWave signal propagation in future 5G deployment scenarios. Contact him on Twitter and LinkedIn.