One of the biggest challenges faced by cellular carriers in the 5G era has been winning public approval for the numerous “small cells” required by ultra-high speed millimeter wave networks. The cells tend to look like plastic pizza boxes or backpacks and often need to be placed every 600 feet in urban surroundings. Now T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom has come up with a solution: Make the cells attractive enough that people will actually like looking at them.
In cooperation with materials company Covestro and the Swedish Umeå Institute of Design (UID), the carrier has created two examples of artistic 5G antennas: the Bird and 24h5G, a clock. While the Bird has a cartoonishly plump shape and glossy opaque magenta housing with 5G antennas nestled inside, 24h5G uses a thermally managed translucent housing that appears to emit light while serving as a millimeter wave transmitting station.
“In the design project with Covestro, we were able to place our technical requirements early on and work together with the students on their design ideas,” explained Deutsche Telekom small cell head Dr. Thomas Jansen. “Together, we have developed powerful 5G solutions that can be harmoniously integrated into the cityscape.”
While Deutsche Telekom isn’t the first to tackle the challenge of making 5G visually palatable for cities, its solutions are certainly the most charming. Ericsson and Philips thoughtfully created Zero Site, an antenna housing inside a street lamp, and carrier Vodafone worked with Ericsson on 5G antennas that could be hidden under manholes or in barrels at ground level. By contrast, the Covestro/UID designs could actually beautify or inexpensively add functionality to a city while simultaneously bringing the highest-speed 5G service to millions of densely packed residents.
The collaboration is a pilot program and will likely lead to additional designs that either stand out or blend into urban settings. Covestro is showing off the designs today at the K 2019 plastics and rubber show in Düsseldorf, Germany and expects to begin distribution “in the near future.”