What Are 5G Cell Towers and How Do They Work?

5G cell towers are completely different than previous technologies. They are not only more advanced, but they use much higher and more intense frequencies. (Which is why people are so concerned about the health risks, read more here.) 

The millimetre wave frequencies that 5G towers use are able to carry much more significant amounts of data but struggle going through obstacles such as trees, walls and weather events. 


How Do 5G Cell Towers Work?


 Thankfully, telecommunications companies will not have to start from scratch. Although 4th generation cell towers will not transmit 5G signals, 5G transmitters can be placed on old 3G and 4G cell towers.

And because the 5G frequencies are much higher than in previous generations, the wavelengths are a lot shorter. These shorter (millimetre length) waves carry more data but can't move very well through obstacles such as weather, concrete and plants. Experts estimate they will have to have 5G mini cell towers every 2 to 8 houses or, depending on the frequencies being transmitted and the obstacles potentially in the way.


How Does 5G Work


The Radio Access Network - consists of various types of facilities, including small cells, towers, masts and dedicated in-building and home systems that connect mobile users and wireless devices to the central core network.

Small cells will be a significant feature of 5G networks, particularly at the new millimetre wave (mmWave) frequencies, where the connection range is very short. To provide a continuous connection, small cells will be distributed in clusters depending on where users require a connection, which will complement the macro network that provides wide-area coverage.

5G Macro Cells will use MIMO (multiple inputs, multiple outputs) antennas with various elements or connections to send and receive more data simultaneously. The benefit to users is that more people can simultaneously connect to the network and maintain high throughput. Where MIMO antennas use huge numbers of antenna elements, they are often referred to as 'massive MIMO.' However, the physical size is similar to existing 3G and 4G base station antennas.


The Core Network 


This is the data network that manages all of the mobile voice, data and internet connections. The 'core network' for 5G is being redesigned to better integrate with the internet as well as cloud-based services. This includes distributed servers across the network, which will improve response times and reduce latency. Many of the advantages of 5G, including network slicing and network function virtualization for different applications and services, will be managed in the core. 


Who Decides Where 5G Towers Go?


As mentioned, 5G towers will use existing 3G/4G towers to their advantage. However, New towers will also be explored, meaning homeowners and farmers will be receiving requests to build new towers to help extend coverage. Many telecommunications companies are racing to be the first to expand small cell towers in major cities. When small cells throughout highly-populated urban areas are added, coverage gaps may be eliminated. Traffic lights, light poles, and public buildings would be ideal sites for small cells.

Many communities have worries concerning the health, privacy and security risks, and aesthetic concerns of a neighbourhood's appearance. Some city officials and residents are resisting proposed towers to protect the city landscape and any other negative consequences that could pop up associated with the growth of 5G.