Application Notes

Testing RF Cables in Cellular Networks Combining LTE and 5G Technologies

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Application Note Testing RF Cables in Cellular Networks Combining LTE and 5G Technologies Introduction 5G technology is now becoming commonplace in cellular networks globally. Network operators are increasing capacity and opening up new business opportunities such as massive Internet of Things (IoT) to connect billions of devices to the internet and low latency private networks to enhance manufacturing and logistics processes. As 5G networks are rolled out, it is interesting to note that the use and need for legacy cellular standards remains strong. Operators continue to expand LTE networks to improve coverage and capacity and even General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) networks maintain a position in many markets where long term contracts have been sold using GPRS modems. Each country and operator has unique requirements that mean there is no single implementation of a 5G network. Some of the challenges of 5G networks centers around the physical positioning of the new antennas. The 5G standard allows for standalone networks which use 5G technology for call setup signaling and data communications and non-standalone networks which offload the call setup and signaling to the legacy LTE network. Early expectations for 5G base stations (gNB) was to use active antennas with massive MIMO implemented by an array of typically 64 antenna elements in a single housing. This technology offers advantages including very high data throughput and simple installation that only requires two physical connections, a fiber for the data plus a power line. In many instances, the active antenna is the best solution, but other considerations and driving approaches include tower load or space and the need to support multiple LTE bands and 5G at the same location. It is often necessary to minimize the weight of the cellular infrastructure mounted on a transmitter tower knowing that active antenna arrays can be too heavy to add alongside legacy antennas. It is increasingly common for operators to select multi-band integrated antennas that support two or three cellular bands such as 800 MHz and 1900 MHz LTE plus 3.5 GHz 5G. The radio hardware can then be located in an equipment room at ground level, which reduces the load on the tower. Even for rooftop installations, it is common to see jumper cables from a 5G radio to an antenna array. Another consideration is that many operators are achieving an early 5G roll out by supporting 5G technology in existing sub 2.5 GHz bands using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). DSS technology dynamically allocates spectrum resources between LTE and 5G technologies in an LTE frame structure. DSS technology can often be implemented with a software update to existing LTE radios and antennas. These network deployments usually implement traditional base station and antenna architectures with RF cable feeds between the two components. The result is that many operators continue to deploy multi-band, multibeam massive MIMO hybrid antennas. These antennas are fed by RF cables from the radio and depending on the network, a single hybrid antenna may have 16 or more RF connector and cables feeding it. The overall performance of the network requires these cables to be low loss and all connectors, bends and clamping brackets to be formed and installed correctly.

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