C-Band Concealment Applications

C-Band Concealment Applications in the Second Phase of 5G Rollout

With the continuing roll-out of 5G expansion and improvement, C-band has become a critical factor in the success of integration  — and so has C-band concealment. C-band has become so important to the success of 5G rollout that 21 companies spent a combined $80 billion bidding on C-band licenses in February of 2021. T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T were the top bidders for licensing.

In a press release about the final results of C-band frequency allocation, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated, “This auction reflects a shift in our nation’s approach to 5G toward mid-band spectrum that can support fast, reliable, and ubiquitous service that is competitive with our global peers. Now we have to work fast to put this spectrum to use in service of the American people.”

Why is C-band important enough to generate billions of dollars in investment from the nation’s top telecom companies? What is its relevance in 5G roll-out? How will cell site infrastructure change to accommodate the expansion? In this paper, you will learn the answers to these questions and more, including:

What is C-band?

The wireless industry refers to C-band as “mid-band” on the electromagnetic spectrum because it sits in the middle between the traditional “low band” of 600 – 2100 MHz and “high band” also known as mmWave signals (24 GHz wireless si and above). In a recent white paper titled “Concealment Material Performance,” C-band is defined as, “the range of frequencies from 3.70 to 3.98 GHz, a 280 MHz block of spectrum that is divided into fourteen 20 MHz TDD channels.”

The “mid-band” provides a good balance of coverage with increased bandwidth (capacity) allowing for more users and faster user throughput compared to “low-band”. High-band, by contrast, has excellent capacity but often-frustratingly poor coverage. Low band, on the other hand, has great coverage but only works well in areas with lower demand. That is why C-band has become so important to providing the ubiquitous coverage for successful 5G implementation by the wireless operators.

Prior Users of C-band

C-band is not a new frequency. According to PCMag, C-band is “the most popular 5G band in the world.” In fact, C-band was the first frequency established to facilitate commercial applications between satellites. If you have ever watched a TV show on a satellite-dependent station, tuned in to an amateur C-band radio show or used satellite communications in Asia or several other regions outside the United States, you likely relied on C-band.

As broadband demand and access have expanded, the need to begin utilizing other segments of the spectrum has also increased. Users not only expect excellent coverage, they need excellent coverage to perform their jobs, communicate with their families and entertain themselves. Additionally, users need coverage that allows them to communicate effectively in both minor emergencies, like a car breaking down on the side of the road in an isolated area, and major emergencies, like a blizzard or wildfire.

The responsibility for achieving this level of coverage lies in the hands of wireless providers. Over the years they have developed new methods and infrastructure for expanding user coverage and improving the quality of service offered to their customers. C-band has become the latest – and most necessary — implementation in the process.

How does C-band Support 5G and Wireless Providers?

As noted in the previous section, C-band offers a mid-band spectrum for communication companies to rely on to meet the quality, capacity and coverage requirements of 5G implementation . How does C-band help wireless providers improve service for their customers and expand options for development in their competitive space?

● C-Band Increases Coverage Areas

Rural wireless customers have long been left behind in the expansion and improvement of speed and connectivity. This has a negative impact on rural communities and the wireless users who are visiting or passing through the area. The reasons for this limited coverage may vary, but cost and infrastructure are the most common factors.

Expanding the necessary infrastructure required to facilitate wireless coverage in rural areas can be cost-prohibitive. The expense of creating infrastructure in isolated rural areas can far exceed the return on investment because there are so few people to pay for and utilize the service.

C-band allows providers to expand their coverage in these areas providing beneficial wireless service to underserved communities while also improving connectivity, speed and reliability for customers who are just passing through the area. A 2019 article at FierceWireless.com noted that service providers who serve these communities, such as Midco and others, have stated that C-band is imperative to the success of rural roll-out.

● Fills in “Holes” in Coverage

Holes in wireless coverage are a frustrating issue for wireless providers. Wireless customers expect their service to perform at all times and when coverage fails, it can create negative brand connotations and a poor customer experience. If a customer lives in the gaps, the wireless provider will lose their customer to a company that can ensure reliable connectivity without sacrificing quality, data or speed.

Gaps in coverage can occur due to a variety of factors. One of the most common gaps in coverage is typically caused when the customer travels in a location that falls between the maximum transmission distance of surrounding towers. C-band has become imperative to filling in the blanks in coverage that could hinder 5G implementation.

C-band allows providers to fill in these gaps utilizing smaller cellular infrastructure to maintain coverage. In large cities, for example, small cell sites can be installed on light poles or building rooftops. They improve building penetration and, as outlined below, street-level deployment. C-band has become imperative to filling in the blanks in coverage that could hinder 5G implementation and harm providers’ bottom line and overall user experience.

● Increases Street-level Deployment

C-band has increased the opportunities for wireless providers to expand street-level deployment, resolving the aforementioned coverage issues and expanding quality coverage in densely populated areas. Providers can now seamlessly install equipment on existing infrastructure like street lights, to create a smooth transition as the user navigates their community.

This equipment can be blended in with the environment to adhere to city or county aesthetic standards and rely on existing power supply to operate. This means minimal impact on the visual look and feel of the area where it is placed and easier installation without destruction to city infrastructure.

Street-level deployment is important to providers, who must account for all of the complexities of operation in an urban environment. Small-cell sites help providers work around or with issues like PIM, gaps between macro sites and city construction codes.

As you can see, there is a reason that the FCC decided to launch a C-band auction to distribute more than 5,000 licenses in the beginning of 2021. The importance of a shift to 5G to improve speed, coverage and capacity cannot be understated. Neither can the necessity of C-band in facilitating 5G implementation.

C-band Concealment’s Impact on 5G Infrastructure

C-band concealment’s impact on 5G infrastructure will be significant. As telecom companies fill the designated blocks that are to be cleared by the FCC through 2024, the amount of equipment needed to function will increase as well. This equipment creates new challenges for companies involved in 5G deployments, such as:

Integration with City Aesthetic Requirements

Many cities require that functional infrastructure be designed to blend in with the city surroundings. Considering the densification of 5G small cell sites required to maximize the benefits of the C-band spectrum, that is hardly surprising. Cities with distinctive architecture or a unique aesthetic are particularly wary of filling their communities with C-band antennas, wiring and other infrastructure.

In Scottsdale, AZ, for example, a 2021 CNN article noted that 5G rollout will require C-band antenna concealment and other 5G concealment solutions to make the new sites fit with the city’s stringent aesthetic codes. Scottsdale is not the only city creating such restrictions. With the sheer number of sites required for the second phase of 5G rollout, every city will have concerns about concealing equipment. Wireless providers will need to seriously consider 5G concealment and C-band concealment solutions as part of their rollout strategy.

Blending Aesthetics without Hindering Performance

One of the key concerns about adhering to the standards in the previous section is blending aesthetic needs with practical performance. The entire purpose of the expansion into the C-band range of frequency is to increase and improve coverage. If the new infrastructure cannot support the wireless network due to complications caused by concealment, the wireless site will be aesthetically pleasing, useless clutter.

Wireless providers will need to leverage reliable concealment solutions as part of their rollout strategy if they want to expand coverage while remaining in compliance with regional requirements. For example, a modular screenwall system for rooftop sites or an antenna shroud can blend C-band infrastructure into the surrounding environment without sacrificing or interfering with connectivity and strength. Rooftop concealment products also reduce PIM interference.

Upgrading Macro Sites for C-band Inclusion

The new distribution of C-band licensing will also require the need to update macro sites for C-band implementation. This includes additions to low-PIM macro site concealment materials. Macro sites (also called macro towers) have been the workhorses in previous iterations of broadband coverage. In the expansion of 5G coverage with the addition of C-band, they will still have an important role to play. However, older towers will need to be retrofitted to accommodate the new equipment required for C-band.

As noted in the discussion on rural deployment, existing macro towers will be instrumental in getting 5G to rural communities in a cost effective way. Fitting these established towers with C-band 5G radios will ensure that notoriously underserved rural communities will no longer lose out when it comes to speed and data.

While macro sites will need updates, there are many benefits to updating existing towers. For example, macro sites are already placed in optimum locations for maximum function. Second, infrastructure such as power, access and wiring are already established to power the site in its previous form. Last, these towers have already been approved by the county or city government, making transition updates to equipment less likely to be declined and easier to conceal in compliance with municipal regulations.

Modifications to macro sites will include upgrades to climate control, the addition of PIM mitigation measures and scalable add-ons that can allow the site to grow with demand. C-band retrofit panels and mid-band retrofit panels are designed to work with existing sites and improve their performance upon completion. Due to the nature of C-band frequencies, potential for interference and density required, it is safe to say that PIM mitigation will be a top priority as wireless providers move into the new phase.

Resolving PIM and Other Outside Factors in C-band Applications

Wireless operators will be deploying these new C-band networks by either co-locating with, or in close proximity to, existing low band networks. Interference within C-band networks by passive intermodulation (created by combinations of the low band frequency transmitters) can be a significant concern to the C-band network’s coverage and capacity. When deploying C-band networks wireless operators will have an opportunity to make site modifications at minimal cost to reduce the impact of PIM interference.

Final Insights on C-band Performance

C-band has become imperative to filling in the blanks in coverage that could hinder 5G implementation. The benefits to providers are numerous, from expanding coverage areas, data speed and quality to rural customers, to advancing densification, building penetration and street-level deployment in urban environments. While C-band increases opportunity, it also comes with its own unique challenges that must be resolved with 5G concealment solutions. These challenges include adhering to community aesthetic standards, reducing visual clutter, protecting equipment from vandalism and disguising equipment at the street-level. Providers must also account for PIM when designing and implementing infrastructure, particularly in urban environments, where the opportunity for interference increases with every structure that can interfere in the RF path.

By implementing mitigation strategies in site deployment, providers can prevent problems before they occur, ensuring a smooth transition into the new 5G era of communication.