5G has dominated the headlines in 2019. From promises of industries revolutionized by the technology, to the logistics of how to deploy a secure 5G network, there has been no shortage of debate on the best way to tackle making 5G a reality.

Operators are expected to spend $1.3 trillion on mobile networks over the next 5 years according to the GSMA, however, the investment will be in vain if the approach isn’t right. 4G posed problems when it came to roll-out, and these become amplified when it comes to 5G. So, what do operators need? A combination of innovation and stealth.

Stealth 5G

Stealth 5G is simple. Creating a complete 5G network without significantly increasing the visual or weight impact, and without adding network complexity. Consumers want it all when it comes to 5G, the enhanced connectivity that the technology promises, but with a “not in my back yard” attitude to the infrastructure needed to make it a reality. 5G is set to offer higher speeds, increased capacity and lower latency. A simple way to achieve this would be to build a forest of antennas. However, the eyesore this would create means operators need to think smarter, they need to introduce 5G by stealth. That means introducing 5G without significantly increasing the footprint of network equipment. But, how?

Great design is transparent

The concept of 5G by stealth is completely contingent on innovation when it comes to the design of next generation telecoms equipment. Form factor has never been more important, and innovation is at the heart of designing solutions to address the challenges around weight, space and sight restrictions. The equipment for 5G needs to be emotionally transparent for consumers.

A 5G antenna is seen at Deutsche Telekom stand on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 26, 2018. PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

“Transparent” infrastructure is designed to be truly capable of fading into the background. It allows operators to stealthily increase capacity by using equipment that blends through concealment or integrating with existing structures such as street lamps. This is the vital when it comes to city deployments where 5G offers some of the most promising use cases. Operators need a way of making sure coverage can penetrate the dense urban environment to deliver capacity, without creating an eyesore. It is no longer an option to choose functionality over form, operators need both and without them, 5G cannot reach its full potential.

Consolidating is key

Keeping the form factor “emotionally transparent” is essential, but it is not enough. Operators and equipment manufacturers need to concentrate on reducing the footprint they need to roll out 5G. Next generation networks have to absolutely deliver more than their forerunners, and they have to do so in significantly less space. Look at base station sites. They are already at capacity when it comes to antennas, so how can operators support 5G and continue to serve their 4G customers who are going nowhere? The answer again lies in innovative design and the solution of consolidation. 5G requires completely different equipment, however, rather than add this to cell sites, operators need to focus on integration. They need to work with equipment designers that can integrate 5G functionality into existing equipment. The benefits are clear; increased capacity without a growing footprint. Operators that introduce 5G by stealth in this way will face far fewer headaches when it comes to making 5G the reality that is being promised.

Getting 5G right

When investing in 5G infrastructure, it could not be clearer that operators need to be careful and clever in the equipment they pick. More needs to be done with less; more capacity, higher throughput, but in less space with lower visual impact. Unless operators can achieve this, there is the risk of impending 5G launches falling flat as they fail to live up to promises.

From a logistical perspective, there is no bigger challenge than the limits service providers face around space and visual impact, and so, packing significantly more functionality into the same form factor of existing equipment is paramount. Those that focus on innovative approaches to network infrastructure, combining technical performance with emotional transparency in a way that allows 5G to be introduced by stealth will see the greatest returns and come out on top.

Peter Raabe is strategy director at RFS, a provider of wireless and broadcast infrastructure products and solutions.