Tower-mounted Amplifiers’ Expanded Role in the 5G Network: Part 2

In the final part of our two-part TMA series, we’ll take a look at how TMAs can also support mobile operators’ efforts to adopt more sustainable technologies.

Tower-mounted Amplifiers’ Expanded Role in the 5G Network: Part 2

In the first part of this two-part blog series, my colleague Steve Musgrave discussed the continued, if not increased, importance of tower-mounted amplifiers (TMAs) in today’s next-generation mobile network. For over 30 years, TMAs have been used to compensate signal losses in the uplink. Installed between the radio and antenna, TMAs boost signal levels to the antenna to improve the overall signal-interference-to-noise ratio (SINR).

Reducing noise in the receive path improves the uplink budget, bringing downlink and uplink signals into balance. The result is improved overall cell coverage, efficiency and performance. As adoption of 5G-enabled applications such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), virtualization and machine learning (ML) increase, so does the need to fine-tune the delicate balance between uplink and downlink.

While there is a clear case to be made for TMAs based solely on their ability to enhance signal strength and improve coverage, they are hardly a one-trick pony. A thoughtfully designed, carefully engineered solution can do a lot more than boost performance. In this blog, I will share how TMAs can also support mobile operators’ efforts adopt more sustainable technologies.

Click-to-tweet: Do you know a green evolution is arriving through 5G? Find out how tower-mounted amplifiers can also support mobile operators’ efforts to adopt more sustainable technologies in Part 2 of the CommScope’s TMA series.

Value beyond performance

5G enhanced performance is achieved through network densification and drive an increasing demand for power, therefore one of the biggest challenges MNOs are facing is how to build an energy efficient 5G network.

Technology is closely linked to the improvement of our world. As the need for greener efficiencies increases, technology systems must improve their power consumption. Such changes are usually introduced through new evolutions – and in the mobile world, that green evolution is arriving through 5G.

Many MNOs have committed to achieving carbon neutrality in the coming decades and they are looking at circular economy as one route that involves their supply chain and more than one has committed to achieving a net-zero carbon footprint in their own operations. A common theme among operators is a laser focus on energy and resource efficiency when building future networks and designing technologies. No opportunity, regardless of how small, is overlooked, including every component in the radio access network.

How TMAs can help

TMAs can enable operators to immediately reduce environmental impact by boosting network performance. As stated earlier, the role of the TMA is to address the imbalance between the weaker uplink and stronger downlink signals. There are two ways to solve this issue: strengthen the phone’s transmission capabilities or increase the radio’s receive sensitivity. Since the transmitter in a mobile phone cannot be easily modified to transmit stronger signals, TMAs are used to increase the SINR at the tower.

Improving the uplink not only improves coverage, but it also enables the user’s phone to transmit at lower power. The slower a battery discharges, the longer it lasts. As environmental services group Greenspector recently noted, “The more the number of cycles increases, the more the remaining capacity decreases. This wear leads to the end of battery life. Current technologies allow up to 500 cycles.”

After that, the lithium-ion batteries find their way into the landfill. The takeaway? How well a TMA performs has a very real and significant effect on the environment.

This suggests that, at the very least, well designed TMAs can help extend mobile battery life and slow the increase of environmental degradation. But the industry can and must do better than that. So, what are some aspects to consider when looking for a TMA? Here are just a few.

Responsible production

In today’s wireless market, virtually every OEM, contractor and vendor touts the environmental sustainability of their solution or services. Perhaps the best way to confirm whether those claims are sincere is to look at how they operate. How do they go about their own business? This includes analyzing the types of materials used in their products and packaging, the energy types and volumes that drive their manufacturing, product turnover cycles and more. Take the time to dig into the potential partner’s Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) efforts. If there is no available documentation, this may be a red flag.

Obviously, the need for good due diligence when sourcing products holds true regardless of the product—TMAs, antennas, radios, power systems, etc. Now, let’s drill down to the TMA itself and how it can aid an MNO’s green initiatives.       

Design, customization and consolidation

The key to producing a greener TMA that also enhances network performance is the degree of customization. Think of off-the-shelf TMA solutions as a rough approximation of the final product. A stock TMA covers a range of low-, mid- and high-band frequencies. It offers a good starting point but must be adapted to match the operator’s specific frequency combinations, size/weight limitations and RF environment. It is during the customization that a TMA can go from good to great, to great and green.

During customization, the base TMA is largely deconstructed, redesigned and fine-tuned to eliminate any components and materials that do not serve the specific use-case requirements. The resulting product is optimized from an RF performance standpoint; it is often much smaller and lighter than the base product, meaning less materials and a smaller carbon footprint.

In some cases, the smaller TMA can also integrate the functionalities of other RF components, enabling operators to reduce environmental impact even further. A good example is the integration of interference mitigation filters (IMFs) and/or combiners inside the TMAs. The ability to eliminate these stand-alone components from the RF path not only reduces material use, packaging, and energy consumption, but it also ripples through the manufacturer’s supply chain—raw material sourcing, component manufacturing, distribution etc.—shrinking the impact and resources needed to produce the final integrated solution.              

Future-ready and longer-lived

Lastly, operators should look to TMAs designed for a longer serviceable life. Product longevity has a few different aspects, some of which were covered in Part 1 of this blog. We’ll just hit the highlights here.

First, it must be vendor agnostic. In other words, anytime you switch RAN vendors or equipment you don’t have to toss your TMAs. By the same token, it must also be technology agnostic, able to support both current and emerging frequency bands. Finally, it’s got to be tough as nails, regardless of the environment and wear and tear. This implies serious testing under brutal conditions.

It’s not as hard as you may think

The good news is that replacing older, less sustainable TMAs for new greener ones represents low-hanging fruit that can begin to yield immediate results. It can be done with minimal service interruption as it does not require a full-scale rip and replace. The better news is that there are TMA solutions available that fulfill all the requirements listed here.

For the last 30+ years, tower-mounted amplifiers have played a critical role in the continued development of the wireless industry. Going forward, the stakes are higher and the TMA solutions more advanced. Good thing, too, because they must not only protect your network investment; they also have a role in protecting planet Earth.

CommScope is proud to play a key role in that effort. Our portfolio of customizable and future-ready TMAs combines verifiable network performance improvements and a global commitment to sustainable engineering, manufacturing and supply chain practices. The result for our MNO partners is a stronger bottom line that’s greener in more ways than one.