The Benefits and Challenges of Deploying 5G Small Cells on the HFC Strand Network (2023)

By Cameron Gillis, Samsung Electronics America; Riley Lehecka, Enersys; Charles Chapman, EnerSys

Cable / Multiple System Operators (MSOs) offering mobile phone services are some of the fastest growing mobile service providers in the US Market. The two largest MSOs, Comcast and Charter, have a combined total of over 12 million mobile subscriber lines as per their latest quarterly earnings reports. The MSOs are buying spare capacity from existing mobile operators to serve their subscribers, which labels them Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). These MSOs have a key advantage over other mobile operators in that they can now utilize new technology to leverage their existing hybrid fiber coax (HFC) network to overlay a 5G mobile network. Comcast, Charter and Cox invested a combined $1.1B in Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) licenses in 2017 as part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Auction 105i. They can now use those frequency licenses and their HFC network to surgically target areas to build out their own mobile network that will coexist with the network capacity that they are buying from existing mobile operators to make them a Hybrid Mobile Network Operator (HMNO). Strand-mounted 5G small cell radio can be deployed directly on the HFC aerial strand available in many cities in the United States. Attaching this small cell radio to the existing HFC network solves some of the biggest problems a mobile network operator faces when deploying a new greenfield network: • Site acquisition - hanging on the strand requires no permissions or pole attachment fees. • Power - the strand-mount small cell radio derives its power from the existing coax infrastructure. • Backhaul - the strand small cell utilizes an embedded Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS®) cable modem (CM) for backhaul. While offering many benefits, deploying a small cell on the communications strand roughly 20 feet above the ground comes with some engineering challenges. This paper will detail the functional components which make up a strand-mounted small cell radio and how those components are packaged together to meet both cable network and wireless network engineering considerations. Cable network engineering considerations include: • Optimizing power consumption for maximum performance. • Supporting flexible cable modem frequency splits across different MSOs. • Preventing ingress / egress / spurious noise to isolate DOCSIS coax RF from wireless RF. Wireless network engineering considerations include: • Antenna design, form-factor, and gain. • Wireless coverage and capacity planning. • Utilizing optimum radio network components to maximize data offload performance. This paper will give the reader an understanding of what needs to be considered as part of designing a 5G wireless network using strand-mounted small cells. It is the goal of this paper to provide a comprehensive guide for the MSOs to refer to as they move forward into expanding their respective convergence portfolios to include MVNO data offload with a strand small cell HMNO network.

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