For the last several years, market momentum has pushed 5G technology into the mainstream—at least kind of. Per Qualcomm, “5G is designed to be 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.”
So, what exactly does this mean, and how should a building owner or integrator be planning for 5G coverage? Answering a few basic 5G questions will help you determine what to do for the in-building context.
How is 5G delivered?
First, it is important to understand how 5G will be delivered, and what the planned use cases are. 5G is not actually one thing, but is instead a variety of related services that will be deployed and iterated over the next several years. When planning 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 will be delivered: either < 6 GHz or mmWave (28+ GHz).
What is 5G mmWave?
A large part of the global marketing around 5G relates to 5G mmWAVE technology. 5G mmWAVE technology operates in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum and is able to deliver extremely high data rates to end users, using very sophisticated network equipment. But there is a down side: these higher frequencies have extremely poor propagation characteristics, requiring a very dense “line-of-sight” infrastructure.
In response to the cell density requirements, the carriers would need to install many more large and small nodes, each requiring substantial 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 being delivered with this technology are IoT focused, rather than for consumer or enterprise use cases.
Building owners need to ask themselves how they would use 5G mmWave, and 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?
What is 5G Sub-6GHz?
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, and better user experiences. By 2020, customers will start to have phones that realize these benefits.
What should building owners do about 5G?
Taking all this into account, the most sensible 5G strategy for a middleprise building owner 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”.