LIST is at the forefront of 5G research with several projects running in parallel focusing on different aspects of the telecommunications technology. One of them, named 5G-EMIT is currently supporting the deployment of 5G in Luxembourg, but also has an objective of using the Grand Duchy model as an example to possibly apply to other countries in the future.
But what exactly is 5G-EMIT? Project leader Sébastien Faye from LIST’s ITIS (IT for Innovative Services) department explained. “The idea is to provide a decision support system to help the deployment of 5G networks, and beyond. The specificity of this system is to consider core deployment constraints that are related to 5G, with a focus on RF-EMF (radio frequency electromagnetic fields) exposure”.
Indeed, 5G-EMIT aims to propose and validate a data-driven network planning solution to recommend optimal network deployment strategies, while considering RF-EMF limits and the various features provided by new 5G technologies. This decision support system will aim at facilitating the deployment, compliance and sustainability of 5G in Luxembourg.
In order to explain the project further, Sébastien took a step back to talk about the history and background of the cellular sector. “All humans moving around wireless communication systems are subject to exposure to an electromagnetic field. We can talk about Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular communications – this is a huge debate, and something known for years. In the case of cellular communications, it’s a bit more complicated because it is regulated. So, as an operator if you want to deploy a 5G or 4G or other cellular communication antenna, then you need to match the regulatory framework. For instance, the framework may allow the deployment of an antenna but with certain limits. This is challenging because of course we are dealing with new communication technologies that behave differently, so we need to make sure we can still match these limits”.
In some cases, in a few countries, limits were set extremely low, making it impossible to deploy 5G antenna due to RF-EMF exposure and interferences being saturated.
“So what the operator had to do was just decrease the power of the 5G antennas so that it reduces exposure, but then of course this reduces performance,” continued Sébastien. “This is a complex problem, already existing before with 4G, 3G, 2G and so on, but this was easier to manage because with the previous generations of cellular communication, most of the antennas were passive so the behaviour was constant and always emitting a signal in the same directions, with same power and so on”.
With 5G the novelty is that all the antennas are entirely active, which means that they are dynamic in time and space. Instead of having a unique beam covering a lot of users there are very small beams targeting specific and different users, meaning that if you applied the exposure assessment methodologies used for older generations, they will simply not work with 5G – or lead to an overestimate.
Returning to the 5G-EMIT project, Sébastien stated, “we cover many aspects of this topic in what I would call EMF-aware network planning and design. The objective is to specifically consider the new technologies that come with 5G, and then to see how best to match the regulatory framework, and provide optimised recommendations”.
Sébastien explained that this project is supported by Proximus Luxembourg, owners of the Tango network, as sub-contractor.
“Proximus is supporting us with deployment, experimental aspects and requirements. So for instance we recently delivered a report summarising RF-EMF exposure assessment methods, the regulatory framework and many aspects that are connected to the background of 5G-EMIT. Proximus reviewed this report and are really supporting us. They are acting as network provider for the project”.
The project will also collaborate with other entities in Luxembourg and was funded by the Department of Media, Telecommunications and Digital Policy from the Luxembourg government in a call for projects launched two years ago. It will most likely work with other projects that have been funded. Within these projects, one is run by SnT at the University of Luxembourg which the 5G-EMIT team is already in communication with.
So, what exactly does the platform offer? The idea is to have a graphical user interface which will have a dashboard with maps showing different base stations and 5G installations, and for each of them the objective would be to have a system to assess in real time their compliance. Most importantly, the platform will offer the ability to virtually deploy new antennas, by using a combination of simulation, emulation, and data analytics.
“If I’m an operator and I want to deploy a new antenna, what would be the best choice and how to do it? I have to consider many restraints, I have to consider the RF-EMF level, that there are certain places I can’t deploy antennas, but at the same time I need to consider the coverage, the performance, so many indicators and this tool will be a way to recommend best deployment options to the operators, based on configurations and deployment sites’ characteristics. This is something they are currently doing in Luxembourg but mostly manually,” explained Sébastien.
Out of the five phases of the 5G deployment life cycle (see figure below), the project will mainly be focused on the planning and design phases. The three other phases, i.e., deployment, operation, and maintenance, are more the responsibility of the operators in the context of this project.
“From a scientific perspective, the objective is to go further than what exists today. This methodology would be quite unique in Europe so then if we have a similar situation in Belgium, or France, or any EU country we could export this methodology,” stated Sébastien before concluding, “What we want to do is use new methods that might be based on artificial intelligence, optimisation, but the objective is to assess what the exposure of this particular antenna is, under a certain set of circumstances, and support its optimal deployment to meet a particular application – such as connected mobility.”.
For more information about 5G-EMIT visit the project page.