On my daily walks, I often look up at the streetlights and think about the potential they hold for deploying many different technology solutions, whether for environmental monitoring, surveillance, or for enhancing network infrastructure. So it was no surprise to see this week’s announcement from Movandi and Ubicquia of their partnership to develop and deploy mmWave streetlight repeaters to enhance 5G and fixed wireless access coverage.
Under the terms of their agreement, Ubicquia will use Movandi’s technology to create an mmWave smart repeater that plugs into a streetlight’s photocell socket in minutes — the system is said to be compatible with 360 million existing streetlights worldwide, to accelerate broad 5G mmWave coverage and FWA deployment. These would install in just minutes and lock onto host RAN signals automatically to ensure repeater–to–repeater connectivity without the need for fiber connectivity to the core network. The mmWave smart repeater also integrates with all major RAN/Open RAN technologies, including Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and Samsung, and supports all global mmWave spectrum bands.
The streetlight repeaters, expected to enter test and deployment in 2023, meet utility power, protection, metering, weight, and wind loading requirements, and can ensure optimal outdoor coverage and user experiences by extending the range of 5G mmWave gNBs and redirecting signals around obstacles. They feature Movandi’s mmWave 5G RF technology and reference design platforms including RF semiconductors, custom phase array antenna modules, algorithms, and software including cloud APIs for management, control, and AI/ML data analytics.
Ubicquia’s mantra on its website is to “turn streetlights and utility poles into smart assets that deliver data driven insights.” The company has a track record in doing this already, having earlier this year worked with Ericsson to deploy the latter’s street radio small cell by plugging into existing streetlights, utilizing a National Electrical Manufacturers Association standardized connector. The device is virtually unseen from street level, sitting just above the streetlight shield next to the light itself and allowing it to blend into the existing infrastructure. The installation can typically be completed within just 15 minutes, transforming a streetlight into a low– or mid–band 5G site.
In an interview with EE Times to announce the latest partnership with Movandi, Ubicquia CEO Ian Aaron said, “We are a unique company, with one foot in the utilities sector and one foot in mobile (many of our engineering team are from Motorola).” This, he said, made the company and its partnership with Movandi an ideal alliance to make mmWave 5G a reality sooner.
By using existing streetlights and their persistent power, 50 meter spacing, and 8–10 meter heights, this makes millions of site–ready locations available at a fraction of the time and money than building new poles for 5G radio base stations (gNBs) and pulling fiber to them. Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, highlighted in a recent white paper, “Streetlight Mounted mmWave Radios Transform Coverage Economics,” that streetlight mounted repeaters present an “incredible opportunity to dramatically speed up deployment schedules, streamline many regulatory and installation approval steps, and save money.”
“In our assessment of a small city requiring 950 new 5G mmWave radio base stations (gNBs) for full coverage, we found that using 100 streetlight mounted gNBs and 850 repeaters reduces 10–year TCO [total cost of ownership] by over $13 million or 35% and by $89 million or 80% compared to a gNB only utility pole configuration,” Madden said.
Ubicquia CEO Aaron said, “The only way mobile operators can deliver on the promise of mmWave 5G in any reasonable period is to leverage existing streetlight infrastructure. Our goal in collaborating with Movandi and integrating our IP and work developing streetlight solutions for public WiFi, public safety and carrier small cells, is to help mobile operators not just deliver 5G mmWave services to dense urban areas but make 5G mmWave services a reality for cities of all sizes.”
Maryam Rofougaran, CEO and co–founder of Movandi, told EE Times, “We had been approached by multiple companies to help enable this sort of outdoor mmWave coverage improvement. We came to the conclusion that this team is strong, understands the challenges and know how to deploy an easy to install solution.” She added, “Our collaboration with Ubicquia leverages Movandi RF semiconductor and software technologies to deliver an innovative streetlight–based 5G mmWave repeater that transforms operator economics, accelerates broad global 5G mmWave coverage, and unlocks an expanded portfolio of high speed and low latency services and user experiences.”
Rofougaran explained the two companies are working closely together to make the box and create a market. “This will really change the game, whether its for fixed wireless access or for hotspot coverage. Once this is ready, it will be a huge volume opportunity.”
Aaron added, “There is a pent–up demand for fixed wireless access. I see this really scaling throughout the next year.”
Analyst Madden concluded, “Our conclusion: streetlight deployment is absolutely the way to go. The cost savings are significant, but more importantly, the radios can be on the air extremely quickly. Maybe the biggest benefit is avoiding those boring city council meetings!” The latter remark refers to the bureaucracy and time of city councils that can take weeks and multiple meetings to get approvals for the alternative solutions. The proposed streetlight repeater doesn’t require these planning approvals.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, streetlights have huge potential to deliver more to cities, and Movandi and Ubicquia’s partnership to enhance mmWave 5G coverage is just one example. I am sure we’ll see integration of more capabilities in these boxes that plug into streetlights; not just sensors, but a lot more connectivity, vision, and intelligence. Don’t underestimate the humble streetlight.