The demand for fast connectivity is here to stay and as our ‘always on’ culture continues to intensify, the levels of bandwidth we use will also multiply.

As the trend and subsequent population growth in urban communities continues, the demands on infrastructure is on an ever-increasing curve upwards.

Smart cities, autonomous vehicles and the emergence of Internet of Things to underpin this new dynamic, humans, machines will now be connected to this new environment.

Ubiquitous connectivity will be the normal operating model and will ensure that demands on infrastructure can be managed in a “do more with less” model.

As these environs emerge in the 21st Century, this means that physical infrastructure such as roads, rail and pathways become a pivotal asset in ensuring this can be achieved.

This next generation of mobile and connectivity will be delivered by 5G technology – the enabler for higher quality, content-rich data services.

Challenges associated with this evolution are already being felt by Service Providers as growing bandwidth pushes access networks to the limit.

With 5G requiring an immense amount of small cells compared to existing technologies and the number of IoT connected devices over the next five years expected to increase to 20 billion, this challenge will only become more substantial.

5G and similar small cell wireless technologies will be the primary connectivity delivery model for next-generation applications to operate.

5G differs from previous wireless technologies in two fundamental ways. Firstly, it is faster, delivering reported speeds of between 1-10Gbps.

Secondly, the area and range within reach for 5G base station coverage is significantly less. The net result of this is that many more new 5G base stations will need to be deployed to match the coverage of existing networks.

The most notable difference between 4G and 5G will be that 5G will act as a gateway for IoT applications delivering the scale and breadth of connected users (human and machine) that can be met on a global scale.

Up to this point, mobile network upgrades have essentially involved new faster radio base stations being installed onto the existing mast infrastructure. While this is an oversimplification of the process, it has been an evolving mechanism to upgrade the existing infrastructure since the mid-1980s.

5G, on the other hand, requires a brand-new infrastructure, with many more new base station sites and high capacity links to be able to connect base stations back to the operator and service provider core networks.

A traditional new build approach would require significant new infrastructure – poles, masts for antenna arrays, civils, new cabling and power installations to connect antenna arrays. Plus, all the permissions, wayleaves, landlord consents, roadworks and associated disruption and cost.

So how can the industry cost-effectively and efficiently deliver this next era of connectivity?

An alternative approach for 5G deployment is through managed service partnerships with the public sector.

5G small cell systems can be cost-effectively deployed through existing infrastructure such as traffic signals, street-based CCTV, passenger information devices at bus stops and other roadside information devices.

These various existing devices are already connected to local data networks to mount 5G antenna arrays and connect them to service providers’ local points of presence. In many cases the connectivity to these roadside devices is already powered by fibre and can, therefore, provide additional capacity to support the new 5G equipment.

In cases where the roadside devices are connected using the established cable technology, new fibre can still be pulled into the existing cable ducts to connect the 5G equipment.

In comparison with alternative street deployment options, such 5G solutions offer competitive delivery of services and commercial models and allows for the undertaking of projects at scale.

Of course, local authorities who allow their street assets to be used in such a way should not be expected to do so for free. This can be addressed via an annual rental fee which would subsidise infrastructure expense incurred for telemetry, management, maintenance and other system costs.

The local community would also benefit from enhanced mobile coverage, the enablement of smart technologies and new services such as smart roads and autonomous vehicles.

As 5G moves from concept to reality, it is vital to assess emerging and developing technologies to ensure that the technology benefits can be mapped against business requirements and demands can be met.