How tower companies can sharpen wireless investments

By Mark Giles
Mark Giles, Lead Industry Analyst at Ookla, shares his insights into how telcos can sharpen their wireless 5G investments, by using the right data

Telcos understandably want to talk about 5G. Customers care about the increased speeds that the next generation of cellular networks bring, and operators are bullish on new network use cases for enterprises.

This talk is being matched by rollouts of 5G networks at an impressive scale across the world. Underpinning these rollouts, however, is the less talked about rush to install wireless infrastructure across cities, towns, and rural areas.

5G networks are made up of wireless infrastructure – but this infrastructure also stretches further. It makes up the towers and satellites that support the use cases anticipated by many, including the UK government which is developing its own Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. In a call for evidence last November to inform said strategy, it was predicted that wireless networks will become “woven into the fabric of life in the UK”. Statements like this signpost the significant role that wireless is going to play in cutting-edge networks of the future.

The role of wireless infrastructure

With 5G roll outs well under way across the globe, we’re seeing increased demand for new wireless infrastructure that will make good on 5G’s promise of improved network performance, supported by a wider range of spectrum bands and increasing network densification. 

For Tower Companies (TowerCos) serving operators, this presents an opportunity to pick out network coverage blind spots, determine where assets to improve connectivity can be deployed, and then make the right investments to enhance their proposition. All of this, made possible by leveraging data on the performance of mobile networks.

To collect and harness this data, infrastructure providers need to conduct testing. Historically, drive-and-walk testing – where network performance is assessed in a specific geographical area using handsets – has been used to identify the areas that would benefit from increased network coverage and capacity. Controlled and repeatable testing of this kind is ideal to gauge the capabilities of networks with the devices widely used by consumers. However, drive-and-walk testing is just one piece of the puzzle needed to assist in attempting to replicate the lived experience of consumers. 

To establish the optimal understanding of network performance, wireless infrastructure providers can use drive-and-walk testing to complement crowdsourced data and network intelligence.

A unified approach

While drive-and-walk testing is used to measure network performance in a specific area, crowdsourced data provides a real-time view of user experience on a network. Based on individual consumer-initiated network tests, crowdsourced data is an effective tool to identify areas that may need improved network coverage, and help TowerCos prioritise their efforts accordingly.

TowerCos can break this data down by KPIs including wireless service quality, RF measurement, user density and data usage to determine which operators need to improve network coverage, performance, or quality in key locations. For example, providers can pinpoint congested sections of metropolitan areas with poor network quality and offer to improve an operator’s network coverage in this area by installing Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS).

In addition to breaking consumer-initiated tests down by these KPIs, the data can be disseminated by connections to specific operators’ networks. TowerCos can gain insights into the performance, quality, and accessibility of individual networks to supply tailored solutions to help operators optimise network performance in key areas.

Fundamentally, crowdsourced data paints an accurate picture of a consumer’s lived mobile experience. Consumers paying a premium to use a 5G network rightly expect a fast service that isn’t plagued with latency issues and is a marked improvement on 4G LTE. Mobile operators are aware of this, and TowerCos can capitalise by offering solutions to operators that are informed by crowdsourced data.

TowerCos can also learn more about their competitors through network intelligence data. Solutions can be put in place to analyse competitors’ sites and establish which operators are being served by them. Paired with data on an area’s network coverage, providers can establish a clear picture of the competitive landscape and prioritise investment in areas with network coverage blind spots. 

A joint effort to benefit consumers

The rush to install modern wireless infrastructure is well underway. TowerCos who marry together crowdsourced and drive-and-walk test data are best placed to understand the true network experiences of consumers and target investment where it is needed most. Establishing this understanding and using it to guide investment decisions is valued by the operators who wireless infrastructure providers serve. And in turn, it is key to meeting the high expectations customers have of their 5G connection.

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