EU co-funds an inception study on 5G coverage planning alongside transport corridors in the Baltics – explore the highlights

October 16, 2023

An inception study on 5G-coverage planning alongside important Baltic transport corridors was recently completed within the scope of an EU-co-funded project. The project’s main aim was to research technical solutions and provide a potential financial model for the required 5G deployment infrastructure alongside Via Baltica, Rail Baltica transport corridors crossing Estonia, Latvia, and on the border with Lithuania, as well as the Tallinn–Tartu-Valga and Valka-Valga Road (Latvia – Estonia) capable of uninterrupted cross-border 5G services.

Uninterrupted cross-border connectivity is essential for deploying various innovative solutions and using services such as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), FRMCS, and multiservice/multi-application 5G services. Thus, it’s crucial to research and analyze the needs and challenges of all stakeholders involved in cross-border 5G connectivity and provide potential solutions. 

Seeing the critical necessity of such research, the 5G Corridor Study for Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania (LATEST-5GS project) was conducted by the ECO of Latvia, Tallinna Tehnikaülikool (project coordinator), ELASA (Estonian Broadband Development Foundation), Telia Eesti, and Elisa Eesti. The project also identified use cases and target audiences that might be involved in the rollout of 5G coverage and the use of 5G services in later stages.

The 5G coverage modeling was performed in the 700 MHz and 3500 MHz frequency bands at signal level (SS-RSRP), where threshold values not lower than -110 dBm and -95 dBm were assumed. In addition, both the existing infrastructure and the necessity for new sites were considered.

The results

The LATEST-5GS project inception study revealed all the concerned stakeholders interested in the construction of the 5G network – the state, mobile network operators (MNOs), and users of future services. Since future services, such as CAM, based on the 5G network, will have higher technical needs, building and developing the 5G network demands significant investments. However, it is difficult or nearly impossible for MNOs to design and deploy 5G networks with only private investment due to the significant cost rise. 

Furthermore, it was detected that a rigorous assessment of each base station’s technical specifications is necessary as not all locations require the maximum levels of throughput, latency, and other technical specifications provided by the 5G network, raising base stations’ maintenance expenses.

MNOs invest and deploy their 5G networks mostly in cities and other densely populated areas, including some rural areas, to meet license requirements. It was found that due to the lack of anticipated business cases, certain MNOs will not focus much on providing continuous 5G coverage along major transportation corridors during the next five years. Additionally, the present 4G network and coverage are adequate to meet the current demand for data volumes and speeds for web surfing, streaming, or other use cases on roadways, such as smart road signs and more in the studied area.

Four different scenarios were used to carry out the network planning  with a specialized radio network planning software task for the said corridors:

  • The first and second scenarios concentrated on coverage planning using all of the towers, masts, and sites that are currently available while taking the 700 MHz and 3500 MHz frequency bands into consideration.
  • In the third and fourth scenarios, coverage planning considered newly proposed masts/towers and existing masts. In all four cases, a minimum signal level (SS-RSRP) threshold of -110 dBm and -95 dBm was used for network planning.

The network planning exercise for Estonian data revealed the following:

  • With the current infrastructure, deploying 5G technology along the Tallinn-Ikla and Tallinn-Tartu-Valga corridors in Estonia at a signal level of -110 dBm can achieve 97.2% and 94.6% coverage, respectively. These corridors are located in the 3500 MHz frequency band with a channel bandwidth of 100 MHz.
  • About 53.9% of the Tallinn-Ikla transport corridor and 44.4% of the Tallinn-Tartu-Valga transport corridor can be covered by raising the signal intensity to -95 dBm.

The network planning exercise for Latvian data revealed the following:

  • The use of 5G technology in the 3500 MHz frequency band with a channel bandwidth of 100 MHz along the Valka-Valga (Latvia) and along the Via Baltica corridor in Latvia at a signal level of -110 dBm has the potential to achieve 89.6% and 80.8% coverage, respectively, with the current infrastructure.
  • Approximately 71.6% of the Valga-Valka transport corridor and 62.6% of the Via Baltica (Latvia) transport corridor can be covered by raising the signal intensity to -95 dBm.

NB! Since simulations were run using different assumptions and settings, the findings could differ from actual scenarios.

As the LATEST-5GS project team concluded, planning a sustainable 5G network infrastructure must take into account the existing infrastructure and the 3500 MHz frequency spectrum. As a result, 5G coverage can be initially built based on the 700 MHz frequency band, where all current mobile communication node points must be connected to the optical fiber cable network connection. In the long run, that provides the opportunity to connect additional mobile communication node points to the optical fiber cable network infrastructure for using the 3500 MHz frequency band without significant investments.

According to the study, there are a number of ways to lower the cost of 5G deployment within the said corridors, such as infrastructure sharing and strategies to draw in more private investment. However, the most crucial would be the presence of mature use cases that would yield a return on investment. 

One of the greatest obstacles to cross-border communication might be thought of as roaming. Even for crucial CAM applications, improved roaming protocols in 5G may enable seamless network switching while crossing borders. 

In Europe, where legislation mandates that communication in the visited PLMN (Public Land Mobile Network) be at the same price as at home PLMN, roaming, from the end user’s point of view, expands the service area of its home PLMN. Roaming is required in the case of CAM applications to maintain service continuity in cross-border parts.  A great deal of attention should be given to the Inter PLMN handover, in which a mobile device from one MNO moves to an MNO in another country, in the context of cross-border network handover.

For a deeper insight into the project results and the overall conduction of the study, read this open-access article, carried out within the study: Cost-Efficient Network Planning for the Cross-Border Baltic Corridor–A Study.

The project’s context

In Q4 of 2022, the European Commission announced granting financing to 15 projects to accelerate the implementation of 5G connectivity infrastructures along the major transport routes across Europe. The announcement followed the first call for proposals for the Connecting Europe Facility Programme – Digital (CEF Digital). The LATEST-5GS project was among the 15 funded projects.

The aim of the allocated funding, in general, was to enable connected and automated mobility for road, rail, inland waterways, and multimodal transport. It also aimed to accelerate the implementation of 5G infrastructure along cross-border 5G corridors and guarantee service continuity, helping to connect various European areas. 

The project “5G Corridor Study for Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania” (21-EU-DIG-LATEST_5GS), ID No. 101094532 received co-funding from the European Union. The European Union is not responsible for the content of the article.