High-quality aerial imagery can bring society closer to unlocking 5G networks

Mapping and geo services Insights

08.10.2018Michaela Neumann

5G is the next generation of wireless network technologies that will bring not only the network speed norm to 10Gb/s, but also radical improvements to network connectivity, reliability, and energy efficiency, to help build a more connected and sustainable world. However, for 5G to become a reality, significant and fundamental changes need to be made to current network set-ups.

Solutions utilizing data and data technologies have fundamentally changed our ways of living – just think of the extensive use of for example smartphones, wireless networks, E-solutions for learning, big data and cyber-physical systems.

Our usage of data has grown explosively in the last decade - 90% of all data that humanity has ever collected is from the last two years. Predictions are that data traffic in 2025 will be 1,000 times higher than in 2014.

Figure 1: Amount of data collected by humanity over time – illustrative -
source: http://systemtransformation-sdg.gesi.org/160608_GeSI_SystemTransformation.pdf

Except for the exponential growth in data traffic volume, digital solutions are expected to carry more social responsibilities for our future societies - improving people's quality of life, fostering equitable growth, and protecting the environment are some of the significant goals digital solutions are to help to achieve.

Data usage in such massive scale with growing social responsibilities calls for radical improvement to network speed, connectivity, reliability, and yet lower energy consumption. These goals are just impossible to reach with current technologies and architecture of 4G, as it is reaching its maximum capacity.

In short, 5G is the next generation of wireless network technologies that will bring revolution to mobile communication systems which will change the entire architecture of cellular networks.

Some of the main characteristics of 5G networks are:

  1. Very high speed
    5G networks will bring the norm of wireless network speed to 10Gb/s.

  2. Low latency and high reliability
    5G network will have no "blind spots" as we currently experience, e.g., when crossing tunnels, inside elevators. Better network architecture also means much lower latency – much fewer delays and lags.

  3. Device-to-device (D2D) communication
    Better network architecture creates better communication paths – the once centralized communication (everything passes through base stations) will be scattered allowing direct device-to-device communication. More devices can be connected without stressing central data traffic, which will be a significant step towards the Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber-physical systems.

  4. Higher energy efficiency
    One of the major improvement 5G networks are expected to bring is to decouple energy consumption from data volume/traffic through higher signal transmission efficiency and lower signal attenuation.

High-resolution spatial data is the foundation of Signal Propagation Planning

Telecommunication operators are working full speed with the ambition to bring 5G network to live already in the early 2020s. Most telecom operators are currently at a stage called “Signal Propagation Planning.”

To understand the vital importance of high resolution geographical 3D data sets, let's have a look into the characteristics of 5G.

To realize the benefits of 5G, it is necessary to amplify the spectrum and to operate primarily in the less occupied high-to-very-high frequency domains.

However, operating in high-frequency bands, especially when it comes to signal propagation, can pose challenges: 1) high-frequency signals are easily blocked by obstacles, especially (reinforced) concrete and 2) high-frequency signals attenuate faster over distance (attenuation proportional to the square of signal frequency).

A new antenna architecture lies at the foundation of successful signal propagation setup. Instead of centralized and expensive "station-like" antennas, scattered and agile antenna poles will be used to "guide" signal waves around obstacles and act as signal "pit stops" to decrease attenuation.

These active antennas will be much smaller than current antennas and outnumber them by hundreds of folds.

You will see 5G antenna poles everywhere – on buildings, at bus stations, or in your favourite shop.

In order to optimize signal propagation performance of this vast net of small antennas in function of obstacles, we need a current and detailed overview of our ground surface and terrain - Digital Surface Models (DSM, as-built surface information with buildings and vegetation) and Digital Terrain Models (DTM, processed surface information where all vegetation and structures have been removed). 

For up to 3G/4G, network operators have planned and implemented their network using relatively rough and simple Digital Surface Models generated from satellites with a spatial resolution of 5 x 5 metres or worse. This is simply insufficient for the planning of 5G network. 

Figure 2: Example of Digital Surface Model at 5m resolution

Currently, better datasets are only available "by pieces" and with inconsistent accuracy and specifications. Network providers would have to acquire a patchwork of inconsistent and expensive existing data or task themselves an costly data acquisition. Additionally, access to better datasets is often restricted and administratively complex.

Proposing a better approach

Since 2014, COWI has been, as a part of the Hexagon (HxGN) Content Program, active in acquiring a European-wide homogeneous aerial imagery coverage with a resolution of 30 cm, beating in its combination of geometric and radiometric quality and consistency, any commercially available satellite imagery.

The Leica cameras used within the program capture light in four bands (RGBI) – three visible bands for a colour image and the invisible near-infrared, which later can be used to detect vegetation automatically. This combination makes it well suitable for a wide area semi-automatic mapping task at high speed. 

Due to the continuous capture of the data in stereo models, we can calculate high-resolution terrain models, mapping all important obstacles in 3D. The digital surface models have a spatial resolution of 80 cm, almost an order-of-magnitude better than any satellite dataset used today for radio propagation. 

The HxGN DSM can be further improved by combining mapping with the height model and adding land cover information, e.g. the discrimination between buildings, type of buildings, vegetation such as forest and agriculture. The DSM will inherently contain the information of the height of buildings and vegetation which are both crucial information for 5G antenna planning. 

The resulting high resolution datasets may raise challenges for local data storage and management of larger area coverages which can be addressed through easy and secure cloud-based storage and access. 

Figure 3: Comparison of 5 m (left) and 80 cm (right) DSMs

Figure 4a (left): Digital Terrain Model 5 m resolution – detailed structures are generalised and disappear in the surroundings.  

Figure 4b (right): Digital Terrain Model 80 cm resolution – detailed structures are well expressed.

Thus, many of the 5G challenges can be resolved by

  • providing a very high-resolution 3D dataset
  • with all feature information,
  • ready for automation
  • covering entire countries or even regions
  • at an affordable price.

We expect that the availability of homogeneous and high resolution DSM and DTM products will be an essential step towards a successful 5G network implementation, which can help to unlock the business potential for utilizing aerial imagery technology to create a more sustainable society. 

Figure 5: HxGN Digital Surface Model at 40cm resolution

You can read more about HxGN Content Program HERE.

Meet the expert

As an educated geographer I am passionate about geospatial data and how it supports our understanding of the world around us.

Better understanding of the current environment helps cities and national governments better prepare for changes, protecting and improving the quality of life for citizens.

Our modern society needs to cope with the effects of climate change, natural disasters like floods and bush fires, but also needs to support more renewable energy and offer connected services to the citizens. Geospatial content and data is key to reach these goals and is the backbone for next generation Smart Cities and E-Government.

Working with my COWI colleagues worldwide helps me to contribute actively to make the world a better place, while allowing me to develop myself personally.

Our work today is vital for our children's future as we try to create a sustainable environment for the generations to come.

The journey never stops.

Get in contact

Michaela Neumann
Sales Market Director
Mapping Sales, Germany

Tel: +45 56400000