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The Foolproof Guide to 5G Cell Site Selection for Telecom Operators

September 13, 2018
Technology, telecom
By: Vivian Nguyen

US telecom operators are expected to invest around $275 billion in developing 5G infrastructure. Is their money going in the right direction?

It’s easy to think that the next-generation wireless network, or 5G, is all about having access to lightning-fast internet on smartphones. But in reality, 5G technology is poised to have a far-reaching impact on several areas of the economy. In particular, time-sensitive sectors like energy and utilities, transportation, public safety, etc., are expected to benefit greatly.

So much so, management consulting company Accenture is convinced that 5G cell site deployment will boost the United States economy by $500 billion and create up to 3 million new jobs.

Clearly, the world as we know it is projected to change with the launch of this high-speed wireless internet technology, which is why all major service providers in the country are preparing aggressively for a 5G network launch. The first 5G rollout will happen in select US cities by the end of 2018, but nationwide 5G coverage is not expected before 2020.

This is because a robust infrastructure is central to effective 5G deployment. And this new kind of infrastructure mandates that telecom companies divorce their old approaches toward infrastructure development.

5G Cell Site

What Makes 5G Infrastructure Different

The new small-cell technology that powers 5G does not rely on the enormous wireless network towers of the past. The main equipment required by 5G is no bigger than the size of a shoebox, with an accompanying hardware container roughly the size of a refrigerator. We’ve seen this hardware used by 4G before, but that was on a much smaller scale. The density of the network required by 5G cannot be compared to 4G or 3G because for it to function optimally, 5G necessitates 10 to 100 times more antenna locations than 4G or 3G.

Think of 5G as a retailer. Instead of having one central warehouse serving to a broad geographic area, it divides its inventory between various small dispatch centers. This approach not only makes sure that people are served faster, but it also increases the capacity to serve. So, in case of a natural disaster, if one cell site becomes incapacitated or experiences too much traffic, other cell sites can chip in to meet the demand.

Choosing a 5G Cell Site

Choosing sites is no small decision since, as mentioned earlier, 5G technology will cost US telecom operators around $275 billion in infrastructure development cost alone. Municipalities could, in fact, charge thousands of dollars in annual fees for each 5G node. And the US needs 300,000 of them.

With the stakes so high, it becomes imperative that the site selection process is impeccable, which begs the question: How should a wireless carrier choose a 5G cell site?

A location intelligence platform can help a telecom business to search for 5G cell sites based on highly-specific criteria. Here are some examples:

Population Density

5G signals do not travel as far as current radio frequencies do. Therefore, in order to maximize the network coverage, it is advisable to install antennas in places which have a huge population. A location intelligence platform gives a clear picture of that, in addition to population growth trends to help future-proof their plans.

Existing Customers

In addition to population density, a wireless network provider needs to map existing clients to make sure the new technology is offered to the maximum number of customers in the shortest span of time. Having access to accurate location data makes this process a lot easier and helps the network provider boost customer satisfaction and improve brand loyalty.


As is the case with every new disruptive technology, consumers will want to jump on the 5G bandwagon as soon as it becomes available. If a telecom operator provides 5G services in an area which houses an affluent population, it can expect to attract clients from the competition too. A location intelligence platform helps to easily identify these hotspots of high median income to help dictate an effective rollout strategy.

Points of Interest

Does an event venue in the suburbs regularly play host to music festivals that draws in thousands of people? Is there a popular street where most Friday night Instagram stories are posted? Forward-thinking telecom companies can visualize points of interest on a map to factor in these kinds of areas with high demand while selecting their cell sites.


While deploying 5G equipment in areas that contain a high concentration of buildings and people, the importance of having uninterrupted access to the 5G cell site cannot be emphasized enough. A location intelligence platform can help a telecom company evaluate all viable, 24×7 ingress and egress options through which their crew could access a cell site.

Zoning Laws

Does the site allow installations for commercial use? Does the site fall within a historic neighborhood which may have special laws to keep the beautification of the landscape intact? A location intelligence platform can provide network operators with a clear understanding of the zoning laws pertaining to a particular site and help them make informed decisions.

Annual Fees

Cities and municipalities have different fee structures when it comes to hardware installation in public spaces. AT&T told the New York Times that three California cities asked the telecom company to pay fees ranging from $2,600 to $8,000 for each installation. At scale, such variances in the fees could make a huge difference in the total capital expenditure. Overlaying this data digitally on a map could provide a clear picture of the projected investment.

Being 50 times faster than today’s fastest LTE network, 5G is set to become a game-changer for the US economy. By leveraging a location intelligence platform loaded with rich content for prudent 5G cell site selection, a progressive telecom company like Starry can zoom ahead of the competition and become the early bird that catches the 5G worm.

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