If you’ve paid even scant attention to the wireless industry buzz over the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard murmurings about the promises of 5G.
Its ambitious goals tout very low latency, high bandwidth, greater availability, faster speeds, and more consistent coverage—providing broadband-like data speeds from anywhere, making content and data streaming nearly seamless, and opening the door to video consumption virtually everywhere, on any device, without a broadband connection.
5G’s qualities have the potential to almost triple the annual gain in wireless network capacity over the next decade versus the past 20 years—but not without overcoming some current challenges.
Indoor Coverage in 5G: A Stumbling Block
Most outdoor 5G tests today use millimeter wave frequencies—28 GHz and higher. Compare this with today’s mobile networks, which use various frequency bands below 3 GHz to provide coverage over large areas.
There are significant challenges associated with using such high frequency bands, especially indoors. In a nutshell, higher-frequency radio signals are less capable of penetrating obstructions, which presents an immense problem in indoor networks.
The key to effective indoor mobile cellular coverage and capacity is a far-traveling, uninterrupted radio signal. Modern buildings are unfortunately the perfect countermeasure against radio signals because of the materials with which they are built, such as treated glass, steel frames, and metalized insulation. It’s hard enough for some of today’s licensed spectrum to get through building walls, which will be further complicated by 5G’s high-frequency transmission.
The higher the frequency, the shorter the range. Even at the low end of projected 5G frequencies, the signal range will be very short; even standard plaster walls will block the signal, let alone the high-tech building materials used for modern construction.
Another Wrinkle: Current Indoor Connectivity Challenges
The problem of poor indoor cellular coverage already is widespread, with 74 percent of U.S. workers in industries from hospitality to healthcare and warehouses to enterprises, saying they “frequently” or “sometimes” have problems with connectivity. Mobile coverage is essentially another utility these days —tenants and employees expect it the way they expect the lights to always turn on and the water to always run, and when it doesn’t work well, people notice immediately.
Connectivity is only going to become more critical in the future to enable employees to complete their tasks using the technologies that help them work most productively, and ensuring those technologies are usable in the workplace. 5G will intensify in-building connectivity issues, impacting not just businesses within the buildings, but also CRE building and facilities managers who want to get top companies into their office space.
For businesses to meet current challenges of indoor connectivity, and be ready for true 5G, design engineers can specify a full-spectrum distributed antenna system (DAS) network, which best supports carrier aggregation features of today’s 4G and will be in the best position to support indoor 5G moving forward.
Overcome the Challenges with Full-Spectrum DAS
DAS comprises of cabling, small remote units, and antennas that are distributed throughout a building and linked to a central distribution hub, which connects to the RF source used by the mobile operators. Through a DAS, the operators’ wireless signal is distributed to all parts of the building.
Because the signal used to support a DAS is separate from outdoor cellular towers, capacity is dedicated to the building, unlike for users of repeaters, which take the capacity away from outdoor towers. Since it’s actually an operator-provided and supported cellular signal being brought into the building, users receive a guaranteed level of service, as opposed to unguaranteed performance of a voice-over-WiFi, for example. Calls can also seamlessly hand off from the inside to the outside network as users move from inside to outside the building.
Some DAS are capable of supporting all of the most common cellular and public safety frequencies at the first installation, with no additional hardware needed to add new frequencies or wireless operators. New technologies that take advantage of radio frequencies, like location-based services and Internet of Things (IoT) devices need no additional infrastructure either, greatly saving on costs over the lifetime of a system.
For a 5G-ready DAS, ensure the system has the following attributes:
- Facilitates the ways tenants and residents prefer to communicate now.
- Multi-carrier, giving access to everyone in the entire building, no matter what carrier they use.
- Full spectrum, so it can access all of the most utilized cellular and public safety signals as well as all of the frequencies available between 150 MHz and 2700 MHz on a single hardware layer.
- Supports simple, inexpensive upgrades to meet tenant and resident’s future connectivity and communication requirements.
- Uses a “one-and-done” approach to hardware installation, with the single original hardware layer able to support all carriers and frequency bands, along with new connectivity requirements in the future, without additional hardware.
- Fully fiber-based, instead of coaxial cable-based or a hybrid of cable and fiber, to ensure optimal performance now and in the future, to keep costs lower, and minimize installation time.
- Supports emerging technologies like 5G, IoT, and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications—all of which need stable and reliable cellular connectivity.
5G: The Future of Connectivity
The demand for strong indoor wireless connectivity is high now, and will only increase in the coming years. It’s not certain at this point where exactly indoor 5G would fall from a frequency point of view, so having an all-fiber-based solution that can support all frequencies with no additional infrastructure in the future is ideal from a future-readiness standpoint.
Design engineers have a responsibility to helping their customers select the tools and technologies that will set them up for success, especially as true 5G comes into being. The right DAS system will ensure a business has reliable indoor connectivity now—and is ready for whatever the future holds.