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How Should Building Owners Be Preparing for 5G?

We’ve heard a lot about 5G over the last several years, but what is 5G exactly? And what difference will it make to building owners and occupants? How should we be preparing?
Per Qualcomm, “5G’s design leads to a unified, more capable platform that will not only elevate mobile broadband experiences, but also support new services such as mission-critical communications and the massive IoT.”
As 5G solutions are still in development, the elevated mobile experiences and potential new services have not yet been fleshed out or defined entirely. However, answering a few basic questions should help a building owner or integrator in preparing for 5G coverage over the next five years or so.

What is 5G and what is different?

First, it is important to understand how 5G gets delivered, and what the planned use cases are. It is not actually one thing, but is instead a variety of related services that gets deployed. It takes several years to iterate. When preparing for 5G in your building, it is important to have a clear understanding of the technologies and time frame you are planning for. The first fundamental distinction is the frequencies over which 5G gets delivered. Either < 6 GHz or mmWave (28+ GHz). It promises major bandwidth increases for data and new service delivery. 5G can be viewed as a platform that enables technology manufacturers and developers to dream up new solutions.

5G mmWave – does a building owner need this technology?

Although not always made obvious, a large part of the global marketing around 5G is specific to mmWAVE technology. 5G mmWAVE technology operates in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum. 5G is able to deliver extremely high data rates to end users, using very sophisticated network equipment. But there is a down side. Higher frequencies have extremely poor propagation characteristics, requiring a very dense “line-of-sight” infrastructure. Outside-in coverage will not be practical.
In response to the cell density requirements, the carriers would need to install many more large and small nodes, each requiring backhaul. Given local siting requirements and regulations, and the cost and time required to deploy, don’t expect that massive infrastructure rollout in the near term. Most of the near-term solutions getting delivered with this technology are IoT focused.
Building owners need to ask themselves how they would use 5G mmWave specifically. Also, what level of service they hope to deliver to building tenants, employees, or customers. 5G mmWave is all about new applications. The advanced services that leverage 5G mmWave technology are for very specific segments. Like remote surgical equipment or driverless vehicle infrastructure. This is not to exclude projects like Verizon 5G Home, that uses 5G consumer premise devices (CPE) and in-home antennas to deliver home internet. But will not require or leverage in-building infrastructure. Which new applications are you planning?

5G Sub-6GHz – what is the timeframe?

When discussing the cell network for the end customer, 5G in bands below 6 GHz are much more relevant to building owners. Although we expect 4G LTE to remain the dominant coverage technology for end customers’ voice and data for the foreseeable future, operators today have spectrum in < 6 GHz and they will migrate some of this spectrum over time to 5G. As 5G rolls out in <6 GHz, some existing in building cellular infrastructure should be able to similarly support the new features and devices. By 2020, customers will start to have phones that realize these benefits.

Sensible 5G strategy for building owners

Taking all this into account, the most sensible strategy for a middleprise building owner for preparing for 5G is to pick equipment that will withstand a transition from 4G LTE to 5G within the existing < 6 GHz bands being provided inside the building. Nextivity’s Cel-Fi products will be able to handle these transitions that leverage improved service on existing band infrastructure and 5G Sub-6GHz. For more on the topic, read Dr. Michiel Lotter’s White Paper about “In-Building Cellular: Matching User Experience Expectations with Technology Selection”.

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About the Author
Joe Schmelzer is Senior Director of Products at Nextivity. He has developed a variety of products and industrial devices for chipset vendors, OEMs, and operators, including products for Qualcomm, Google, Verizon, AT&T, FirstNet, and T-Mobile. Also a founding member of CTIA’s Wireless Internet Caucus. For more information, contact or visit www.cel-fi-com

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