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Case Study: Building a 5G small cell network in Dublin

Case Studies Featured Case Study News 14, May, 2019

Case Study: Dense Air – Building 5G dense neutral host small cell networks

Dense Air Ireland have designed and built a trial 5G small cell network in Dublin City. The ‘Neutral Host’ small cell network will enable Private LTE, Wireless Backhaul, and IoT connectivity throughout the Smart Docklands area, to the benefit of building owners, occupiers, Mobile Network Operators and ultimately their subscribers.

Dublin City Council (DCC) through its Smart Dublin program, strives to be at the forefront of smart city technology innovation and is leading a number of collaborations and innovative procurements to achieve this.

Preparing for 5G

Consider a future where 5G connectivity is embedded in nearly everything.  5G technologies will integrate and enable the full potential of mobile technology, big data, IoT, and cloud computing while supporting digital transformation across numerous sectors, including healthcare, smart vehicles, smart home and industrial automation.

To support such growth in the demand for data and the number of connected devices, 5G networks will be required to be significantly denser (deployment of more sites) when compared to current mobile networks.

The majority of additional 5G sites will be deployed with small cell technology.  Enhancing coverage and capacity where it’s needed most, closer to the end user; through the deployment of dense small cell networks. Providing high-capacity/high-performance networks will require the use of higher frequency spectrum, such as the 3.4-3.6GHz band recently auctioned in Ireland.

Mobile Network Operators, in general, provide coverage in-building with an ‘outside-in’ model. Where radio signals from a macro site outside the building, penetrate inside the building to serve indoor users.  Whilst the outside-in approach works well with lower frequency spectrum (sub 1GHz), higher frequency spectrum does not propagate as well and will not provide sufficient coverage or capacity inside buildings.  This is generally exasperated with modern buildings, that are constructed of materials that reflect the radio signals, particularly with higher frequency spectrum. Given these characteristics, an outside-in approach is not appropriate to provide indoor coverage.  Equipment will need to be installed directly inside buildings to ensure mobile coverage is available within the buildings themselves.

Similarly, for Mobile Network Operators to deliver the required outdoor performance, higher frequency spectrum will be required for small cell deployment.  Small cells will be required to be deployed in high footfall areas and installed on city infrastructures such as lamp-post and traffic lights.  However, these are generally challenging locations where site acquisition, power, backhaul and civil works are by far the most dominant costs in deployment.

This means, at scale it will be prohibitively expensive for Mobile Network Operators to build their own infrastructure, independently. Having efficient, affordable, scalable and repeatable processes are key factors in deploying 5G small cells networks, where densification and improved performance will require access to city street assets at a cost-effective rate.

Dense Air Neutral Host Wholesale Service Model

Dense Air complement and enhance the services provided by Mobile Network Operators, focusing on the delivery of a managed wholesale small cell service. The proposition is centred around dedicated licensed high-frequency spectrum that Dense Air own and neutral-host small cell infrastructure that can be used simultaneously, by multiple mobile network providers, simplifying the small cell installation process; This is a game changer in terms of how networks are densified to cost-effectively enhance the services provided by Mobile Network Operator’s.

The partnership with DCC looks to address the deployment challenges that will be experienced through the introduction of 5G networks.  Dense Air offer a multi-operator, neutral host 5G small cell connectivity through its wholesale service; providing benefits to the city, mobile operators and citizens.  By making use of DCC assets, Dense Air can minimise the time and cost required for the deployment of 5G small cell infrastructure.

A key objective of this partnership is to determine all the potential challenges and create a process template for industry and/or city engagements for future small cell deployments, with consideration for the following:

  • Planning – regulatory impact and future proofing solutions.
  • Access and provisioning of power from utility providers.
  • Surveying – existing equipment clutter, line of sight and access for maintenance.
  • Asset type – structural integrity and material construction

Dense Air has completed the first phase of deployment and by the summer will have successfully deployed a small cell neutral host network within the Dublin Docklands and city centre areas. This deployment will put DCC as one of the first cities to deploy a neutral host small cell network, providing pervasive LTE coverage, 5G NR (once available) and support for IoT, benefiting the city, industry and local community.

5G Delivers Benefits to Local Authorities

Local Authorities are in a prime position to benefit from 5G and the concepts of Neutral Host, given their localised focus and ownership of street assets which can be used to mount the necessary equipment. It also addresses the common concerns of citizens and stakeholders of retaining money in the local government for public benefit in return for deployment of 5G Neutral Host small cell infrastructure, rather than the large intrusive deployments for independent MNO gain.

The principle of Neutral Host is fairly simple. Dense Air provide this service to all mobile operators/service providers as a wholesale service. This service is complementary to its service and is transparent to the end user.  Dense Air enhances the service offering of the mobile service providers in an economic way that will fundamentally drive the deployment of 5G service for the city.


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