5G is becoming a reality, but the roll-out has been slower than some hype would suggest. The high frequencies that 5G depends on are easily blocked by solid objects, and in any case don’t propagate as far as lower frequency 4G signals do.
Ericsson, a multinational company that deals in information and communication technology (sometimes shortened to ICT) in partnership with service providers, reports that there are currently 19 live 5G networks across four continents (at the time of this writing).
The first live 5G networks on four continents. Modified image from Ericsson.
Many more cell towers will be required, however, before 5G is truly adopted around the world.
To minimize expenses, providers must measure signal penetration to all covered areas. Otherwise, all those new 5G phones that consumers are shelling out big bucks for will end depending on existing, old-fashioned 4G coverage.
Verification of the coverage, performance, and operation of 5G networks will be critical. So how do these companies measure how wide their 5G net extends and how well it's performing?
Measuring 5G Penetration
You as an engineer may think of test and measurement company Rohde & Schwarz and immediately think of oscilloscopes. In reality, however, the company also has a hand in broadcast media, radiocommunications, and cybersecurity. With this background, it makes sense that Rohde & Schwarz has supplied mobile network testing tools for measuring drone-based network coverage. The performance and operation tests will be managed by Ericsson, a global force in network infrastructure.
The operational team for the project was based in Jorvas, Finland. It was led by Ericsson’s 5G Readiness Program RAN Technical Lead Richard Wirén. Together with Centria University of Applied Sciences and Tampere University, they developed a system for testing cellular mobile network coverage. This system employs mobile network testing scanners and smartphones from Rohde & Schwarz mounted on a drone that can be programmed to execute tests automatically.
Image from Rohde & Schwarz
The airborne, automated system can be programmed to follow a specific three-dimensional route. This third dimension and they repeatable positional accuracy gives the system a distinct advantage over traditional walk and drive tests.
The System’s Components
A Rohde & Schwarz TSMA6 network scanner was mounted on the drone was employed to verify LTE and 5G NR coverage metrics. These include the reference signal received power (RSRP) and the signal-to-interference plus-noise ratio (SINR), both in accordance with 3GPP standards.
The TSMA6 autonomous mobile network scanner. Image from Rohde & Schwarz
The R&S QualiPoc Android smartphone-based optimizer enables IP trace. Measurement of application QoS (quality of service) metrics such as serving cell parameters are also possible.
The QualiPoc Android handheld troubleshooter. Image from Rohde & Schwarz
The combination of these devices, along with the drone system, makes for an effective solution for mapping and measuring 5G networks.
Results to Date
More than 20 successful measurement flights have been conducted so far. The flights lasted for different lengths of time and covered various routes and altitudes. They’ve shown results that are exceptionally repeatable.
Air traffic control and authentication have, in the past, presented significant challenges to the development of drone-centric systems. One of the hallmarks of this regime is that these tests were conducted over cellular networks. This eliminated the usual requirement for line-of-sight connection between the drone and its pilot.
According to Ericsson’s Wirén, 5G Readiness Program RAN Technical Lead from Ericsson, says, “For 5G to realize its promise, field verification of operation and quality is essential, and this development is a pioneering way to ensure our customers receive the network performance they require.”
Plans for Further Development
Ericsson will focus on testing critical 5G applications centering on public safety and machine-type communications for Industry 4.0. Testing in urban environments will also be important, as will extending the frequencies of interest to the millimeter wave bands.
More information is available for mobile network optimization solutions by Rohde & Schwarz.
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