There may be no more widely anticipated technology than the delivery of 5G wireless networking to superpower enterprises and consumers.
The breakthrough throughput 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 assert.
One of the leading telecommunications providers, Verizon Wireless, is working to ensure the blueprint of its next-generation 5G wireless network translates to the physical world. To make that happen, the company designed a homegrown 5G Network Planning Platform (NPP) under the management of former CIO Lynn Cox and project lead Ashis Sarkar. The project has earned Verizon Wireless a CIO 100 Award for IT innovation and leadership.
“We are in the midst of deploying one of our largest investments — our 5G network — and this platform is an integral part of it,” says Sumit Singh, vice president and platform project leader, who dubs NPP a network factory tool. “This is how we decide how to optimize and how best to deploy the network, which starts with where we should be deploying it.”
The planning platform, which got its start in March 2021 and is now fully deployed, has been a major enabler in helping Verizon Wireless deploy its Ultra Wideband 5G network to date.
Ultra Wideband is the brand name Verizon has given to the wireless spectrum it uses for C-band and mmWave spectrum, explains IDC analyst Daryl Schoolar. C-band, also known as mid-band, resides between 2.5GHz and 6GHz, but Verizon’s C-band hovers in the 3.5GHz range, he says, adding that Verizon’s primary mmWave spectrum bands are 28GHz and 39GHz.
The company’s NPP was designed to help Verizon determine optimal transmitter density, positioning, and placement to maximize signal coverage and ensure high-quality service while minimizing unnecessary capital expenditures, according to the company.
It was also designed to “increase efficiency, improve supply chain reliability, and increase network service predictability as 5G is rolled out nationwide” and to “eliminate costly manual processes and accelerate our ability to offer 5G services to new markets and customers,” a company representative says.
In developing NPP, Verizon built machine learning algorithms to generate long-term traffic forecasts for wireless sector coverage. It also built a machine learning solution to cut the number of manual tests necessary to assess signal strength.
A platform like NPP addresses a common problem all mobile operators face when rolling out complex 5G networks, IDC’s Schoolar says. “5G, versus previous generations, is more complicated to build than older mobile networks due to increased number of spectrum bands and expected use cases for the network,” says Schoolar, vice president of IDC’s worldwide telecommunications program.
“This means deployment of more base station radios, greater coordination between different network elements, and increased requirement for the network operator to understand the state of its network and the ability to optimize it quickly,” he says. “Verizon’s network planning platform is one way the company can address the complexity of 5G, while trying to minimize the time-to-market for the network while managing capex.”
NPP gives Verizon Wireless extensive information required to roll out 5G for maximum reliability, predictability, and performance, Verizon Wireless’ Singh says.
“The platform starts with characterizing how the millimeter wave propagates in the real-world scenario and brings in everything from building heights, trees, any obstruction that we have in elevation, where we are placing our antennas, and then we can then decide where we should be placing [equipment] to get the maximum coverage,” he says.
The NPP platform, developed with partners Forsk, NetScout, and One Hundred Feet, spits out optimal characteristics detailing where the network should be installed, taking into consideration numerous factors ranging from the quality of the dirt to the power settings required for optimal operation in a neighborhood, Singh says.
Following the planning phase, Verizon Wireless takes all the data output from its 5G NPP and makes decisions about where to best build the network.
“The 5G rollout is a capital-intensive endeavor characterized by dense infrastructure deployments involving large numbers of transmitters,” a Verizon Wireless representative says. “The business reality created an opportunity to re-imagine our Network Planning Operational Support Systems stack — the core tools that we use to design and build our networks.”
The platform also ensures that Verizon’s 5G rollout 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, with the expectation of covering 175 million people by year-end — about a full year ahead of earlier projections.
What enhanced 5G means to CIOs
5G networks are expected to offer advanced performance for a range of activities, such as uninterrupted, high-fidelity videoconferencing on speeding trains, enhanced augmented and virtual reality, real-time control of business processes, high security without sacrificing performance, and fixed wireless access within homes — eliminating the need for cable boxes.
For instance, 5G is designed to enable mobile devices such as iPads to travel up to 310 miles per hour and stay connected to the network. It also reduces power consumed by devices 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. Moreover, 5G should give CIOs hefty power savings and faster data transit speeds crucial to many enterprise applications.
The 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 dense 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 are anxiously awaiting the completion of 5G for a myriad of advanced applications and business processes.
“From my perspective, 5G rollout is vital for the tech industry,” says Amish Patel, CTO of Elevance Health. “It will allow for high speed, low latency, and highly reliable network capabilities. This will significantly enhance the experience for our clients and allow for more virtual and digital consumption of services.”
Public 5G will feature enhanced security. But some CIOs are developing their own private 5G networks to optimize security.
“An ultra-secure, high-capacity, and high-speed communications network is foundational to operating a clean, safe, and reliable power grid,” says Ben Gordon, senior vice president, CIO, and chief digital officer at San Diego Gas & Electric, which is building its own private 5G-ready, LTE network to enable a range of new functions, including new wildfire safety technology that can cut power off to broken power lines before they hit the ground. “SDG&E also sees this private wireless system helping us to more effectively manage the growing amount of renewable power and energy storage systems connected to the grid, as well as meeting growing demands from electric vehicle charging.”