Charting the Course: The Critical Role of Accurate Propagation Modelling in 5G RAN Design

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By Nishita Hathi, RAN Product Management, Aircom

Imagine that you are visiting a big city for the first time and you need to drive across town. Simple right? Just turn on your GPS and it will talk you through each turn until you arrive at your destination. But things weren’t always so easy.  For those who are old enough to remember, we used to spend far more time getting lost and asking for directions. And along with the frustration and four-letter word tirades were the missed meetings and wasted time and gas. It’s amazing how new tools and technologies can change our everyday experiences.

The realm of modern Radio Access Network (RAN) design and planning is much the same. Accurate 3D ray tracing propagation models hold immense significance for today’s mobile networks. Much like a car’s GPS, these models play a crucial role in designing a path for the radio signal to follow – one that optimizes the route between a transmitter and any given location. By using ray tracing to calculate a signal’s path loss (the power reduction of a signal as it travels through space) operators can determine how to design around the various obstacles that get in the way of radio signals.

In years past, these calculations were much simpler as networks operated at lower frequencies and narrower bandwidths. But things have changed. Now, with increasing data demands and limited spectrum availability for 5G services, operators are held more accountable than ever for utilizing spectrum more efficiently. And today’s wireless networks are more complex. Often there are multiple frequency bands to account for and each one must be specially tuned for its surroundings. At some 5G frequencies, even slight variations in building facades, lampposts, or shrubbery can result in gaps in the network.

The accuracy of RAN propagation models directly impacts network planning and optimization activities. And when they’re wrong, operators pay the price – in both time and money. Precisely modeled path loss helps engineers avoid creating costly, over-designed networks with unnecessary site builds that don’t necessarily enhance network quality – and under-designed networks with coverage gaps that can impact subscribers.

Given the demands of 5G network designs, it’s no surprise that today’s RAN planning tools have become highly complex. They often need to utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence due to the sheer number of parameters that must be ingested and analyzed, including high-resolution 3D map data to predict wireless coverage. But the right tools can determine with incredible accuracy the optimal model for balancing both cost and performance.  The wrong tools, however, can have a costly impact.  Mistakes, especially at this scale, can be catastrophic.

At Aircom, we continue to lead the way in network planning and design with the industry’s most advanced planning suite. We recently introduced a new 3D ray tracing propagation model within our ASSET platform, The ASSET Propagation Model (APM).  APM takes individual building and vegetation footprints, heights, terrain, and ‘clutter’ into account to predict signal power at any given location – providing the most accurate network coverage information available for small cell, microcell and macrocell layers.  And as we know, greater accuracy translates into well designed, more cost-effective, and better performing radio networks.  In fact, APM’s low standard deviation beats the industry averages, providing our customers with highly accurate network modeling that can handle even the most complex urban environments. This can create significant CAPEX savings for operators, optimize valuable spectrum and reduce the risk of overbuilding or underbuilding the network.

Today’s RAN planning tools have a much bigger impact on capacity performance than ever before. Networks are growing –new technologies are being deployed on new sites or on sites built for older technologies, whether through co-location or site sharing – and the demands of network expansion are mission critical to your customers’ and your business’ success.  Now is the time to make sure your network design tools are up to the task.

To learn more about ASSET APM, or any of our other network design solutions, visit our RAN planning page or contact us today.

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