5G networks will bring considerable changes to smart cities, thanks to AI, automation, and IoT improvements. They will enhance services like traffic management systems, essential communication services, and city-wide surveillance schemes. Enhanced communication can boost both the economy and the environment, helping, e.g., power grids increase or reduce power supplies more accurately.

The rise of IoT with 5G will also mean more devices connected and a larger amount of data produced. Smart cities will then need networks able to handle a higher volume of data to achieve full potential.

5G can also enhance public safety. From communications systems used by the police, fire and rescue service, and paramedics to surveillance systems integrated with an AI that can, e.g., improve facial recognition technologies.

This was a small overview of what can be achieved with 5G in smart cities. Now, let's have a look at its infrastructure and requirements. An analysis made by McKinsey about the 5G infrastructure grouped what will change its requirements in three categories: enhanced mobile broadband, IoT, and mission-critical applications.

I took this photo while visiting my ex-girlfriend in Sydney, Australia. I had come just in time for the Vivid Lights festival, and took this long exposure shot of the cityscape of downtown Sydney.
Photo by Hugh Han

Since many components of 5G are built on 4G networks, mobile operators could at the beginning, e.g., upgrade their existing 4G macro network either by acquiring more spectrum or reframing a part of the 3G and 2G spectrum. By doing so, they will evolve to LTE-and LTE-Pro features, delaying investments in 5G. When the upgrades are no longer enough, the operators will need to build new small cells or macro sites.

McKinsey also identified some trends for all network domains. Regarding the spectrum, its race will continue across high and low bands. Mobile providers have tested a spectrum between 2.5 and 80 gigahertz for 5G, but most of them want to acquire 3.5 gigahertz bands over the short-to-medium term, followed by 26 and 28 gigahertz bands. Of course, operators will need to deal with certain propagations limits if they keep a 3.5 gigahertz spectrum. Antennas and radio interfaces will also need to be improved to increase the efficiency of a new spectrum.

To satisfy urban capacity, operators will shift toward small-cell solutions. This will be necessary for all high populated areas due to the traffic concentration and the use of higher spectrum bands. Another trend that will become essential is a fiber-only transmission which is essential to support small-cell deployment in urban areas. Last but not least, the core networks evolved from circuit and packet switching toward converged structures, benefitting from broader IT advances like software-defined networking.

What is inevitable is the increase in infrastructure costs. As we said before, it is possible to delay a little bit 5G investments with network upgrades. But sooner or later, operators will need to increase infrastructure spending due to the growing traffic. Between 2020 and 2025, small-cells, macro sites, and 5G layers will be the main cause of network spend.

It is necessary to develop strategies to cope with this growth. Already with the launch of 4G, we have experienced significant infrastructure investments that opened mind-blowing opportunities. Apart from cost-saving efforts, mobile operators need to consider other approaches like network sharing and new revenue models to find out the best strategy that suits their needs.

For Forbes, 2021 will be a year of transition of 5G infrastructure to SA (standalone) rather than NSA (non-standalone) that depends on a 4G infrastructure, which cannot completely satisfy people’s expectations for 5G. There are features like network slicing, which are not possible with an NSA.

5G will be a long-term revolution, as 4G was. While there could be cheaper solutions or upgrades at the beginning, sooner or later, every telecommunication provider will need to have a SA 5G network if they want to maximize the user experience.

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