Germany’s first fibre optic-connected streetlamp shines a light on 5G urban connectivity
Utilising urban micro-infrastructure, namely street furniture, will have a significant impact in realising the 5G vision in densely populated urban environments. Telefónica Deutschland / O2’s fibre optic-connected streetlight offers an insight into that future.
As 5G deployments and device uptake accelerates faster than expected, urban deployments are critical for realising its full potential. According to an update from 5G Americas, 79 million 5G connections were added globally between 4Q20 and 1Q2 alone, with 5G wireless subscriptions outstripping new 4G LTE connections by two and a half times.
Nine new 5G networks also went live in the first quarter of this year, bringing the total number to 172, according to TeleGeography. The research group also forecasts 273 live 5G networks by the end of this year, and 313 by 2023, while the number of 5G devices commercially available, as of June 2021, stood at 511.
5G coverage requires a proliferation of urban small cells
However, in order to take full advantage of this rapid growth and consumer interest, operators and service providers need to ensure adequate coverage, particularly in densely populated and built-up areas. Of course, 5G masts can be up to 25m tall (the UK Government limit) and have faced a barrage of criticism from consumers and lobbyists around technological ‘fears’ and their obtrusive nature.
It means that in urban areas, operators will need to densify their networks through micro-infrastructure, most notably as small cells – the obvious contenders being street furniture, such as lighting, benches, advertising displays, phone boxes, and so on. This is essential to provide the coverage density required to deliver the full performance capabilities of 5G full SA.
Already, equipment manufacturers, such as Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, have all been working to ensure that their 5G radio equipment supports as many functions and standards as possible, with a compact and lightweight form factor.
The reasons for this are two-fold. First, the lighter the equipment, the quicker and easier it is to install, reducing labour demands and costs for operators. Secondly, because some cell towers support multiple networks (2G, 3G, 4G and 5G), there is a physical limit to the amount of equipment a site can support. Lightweight, compact, multi-functional equipment significantly reduces demand on space.
Another key 5G tower consideration is the availability of fibre, as there’s no point in having ultrafast radio speeds if the backhaul isn’t there to support it.
Street furniture connected to the fibre optic network
That’s why a recent announcement from O2 is a welcome one, representing another step on the road towards blanket urban 5G connectivity. Telefónica Deutschland and O2, in cooperation with energy provider Mainova, recently installed Frankfurt’s first smart 5G streetlight.
The innovative streetlight offers O2 customers robust 5G coverage within a radius of about 250m – in addition to providing existing 2G/3G/4G mobile coverage. Initially, O2 customers will gain faster and more stable speeds for data-intensive applications but, in future, the aim is to support real-time applications, such as connected driving.
“On the way to our 5G full coverage of the population by the end of 2025, we are investing massively in network expansion throughout Germany. In doing so, we are also focusing on innovative initiatives and solution approaches that accelerate the targeted roll-out of 5G in Germany,” said Mallik Rao, CTIO of Telefónica Deutschland / O2, on its release.
Adding: “The first 5G streetlight in Frankfurt am Main is a smart approach that sensibly combines two infrastructures that are needed in urban environments anyway and makes efficient use of the scarce space in densely built-up areas.”
Notably, the light is connected to the fibre optic network. It carries the active antennas needed for 5G coverage in its head at a height of about 10m and is connected to the Frankfurt fibre optic and the lighting network of Mainova’s subsidiary, SRM. There are over 70,000 streetlights on 55,000 masts in the city, offering huge potential for 5G coverage.
Telefónica Deutschland / O2 expects to have 30% of the German population covered by 5G by the end of the year and, from Summer 2022, will launch a pure 5G SA network that will enable ultra-short response times of a few milliseconds enabling the potential for applications such as connected driving in real time or augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).
Lunch in the park with 5G
Of course, this is not the first innovative use of street lighting to enable 5G coverage within urban areas. Providers, such as our friends at Strawberry Energy, have been developing smart city solutions for some time.
Their smart assets – designed to be seamlessly integrated into the urban environment – include public benches that provide local Wi-Fi hotspots and recharging points using solar energy wherever possible, offering another solution to the 5G small cell conundrum.
They also offer commercial opportunities – businesses can sponsor an installation, using it as part of a community commitment, for brand promotion and for CSR investments, while cities can use them to bring amenities closer to their citizens.
In future, we can expect even more innovative ideas. 5G-enabled traffic lights for automated vehicles, and even charging and connectivity capabilities built into roads and pavements.
Street furniture is clearly going to play a significant role in urban 5G connectivity, and it’s exciting to hear of the innovative solutions that are being developed and deployed in order to realise the 5G – and 6G – vision.