5G and DAS: What the Future Holds for Indoor Networks
With 5G currently being rolled out across the country, there is considerable excitement about its potential and capabilities. From driverless cars to wireless broadband speeds that could eventually reach download speeds of 10 GB/s (100 times faster than 4G LTE), organizations are right to start dreaming of the capabilities that this new technology could bring.
However, the most revolutionary technological upgrade since the advent of the internet will require expanding and upgrading existing network infrastructure, particularly indoors. This article will look at the use cases of 5G in buildings, why 5G is so revolutionary, and explain how Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) provide the answer for 5G implementation in your building.
5G Set to Revolutionize How Buildings Work
The advent of 5G will undoubtedly impact how we live. By 2030, there will be dozens of smart cities whereby all wireless devices are connected to the cellular network and each other. Workplaces, commercial spaces, and public buildings may see some of the most impressive enhancements resulting from the introduction of 5G.
Take industrial and commercial spaces as an example. Modern manufacturing and logistics facilities already make great use of automation. But with internal 5G networks in place, devices will be able to communicate with each other 100 times faster than 4G. Combined with artificial intelligence (AI), machines on assembly lines or within distribution centers will be able to provide real-time information about everything imaginable. From malfunctioning components to diverting mechanical resources to predicted increased order flows, 5G will help usher in an era of entirely autonomous industrial and commercial processes.
Other spaces will benefit too. Hospitals using IoT (Internet of Things) bedside devices can send data outside of the building to a call center or AI-enabled cloud platform that can merge data from different devices to create behavioral-based alerts and preventative warnings.
Now consider running a vast building, such as an office or a hospital. This requires a considerable amount of resources, such as electricity. However, by implementing motion sensors linked to 5G connectivity, the sensors can communicate with each other in real-time to turn lights off, turn the heat or AC off, or power-down other energy-hungry devices not currently in use. These realized efficiency savings alone could run into the millions of dollars for many organizations.
But none of these exciting innovations can occur without upgrading existing internal network infrastructures or building new ones entirely.
Why 5G Requires Network Infrastructure Development
Building owners and organizations will have to invest in upgrading existing infrastructure or invest in new network systems entirely because 5G uses different wavelengths than 4G.
5G networks use millimeter waves, which are a lot shorter than the wavelengths 4G uses. The shorter wavelengths allow 5G networks to carry vast amounts of data with zero latency (no delay). The caveat is that they have a much shorter range. 4G wavelengths have a range of about 10 miles. By contrast, 5G wavelengths have a range of about 1,000 feet. They are also easily blocked. Even trees can block out a 5G signal.
Thus, to ensure a reliable 5G signal, there needs to be numerous 5G cell towers and antennas everywhere. In the outside world, that means every lamppost, traffic light, and building will soon have small antennas affixed to them to maintain the speeds people want.
Indoors, the story will be the same. To maintain signal strength through thick walls and internal structures, antennas will have to be placed at strategic locations to gain the advantage of high-speed indoor wireless coverage. The solution for implementing such an internal network comes in the form of DAS.
Why DAS Presents the Best Solution for 5G
Before exploring DAS in more detail, it is essential to note that it’s not the only solution for implementing an internal 5G wireless network. Small cellular antennas (known as small cells) can also be installed to provide cellular network services inside buildings. However, they do not offer the best solution for delivering 5G coverage for your building independently. DAS is a far more effective solution as either a standalone or a hybrid setup.
Let’s explore why DAS is the better option by walking you through the evolution of internal cellular connectivity, starting with passive DAS.
DAS infrastructure has evolved over the years. In the era of 2G and 3G, indoor cellular networks’ primary purpose was to extend voice and SMS coverage. Passive DAS offered a perfect solution in this instance because it required no further investment in base-stations or radio equipment. Instead of connecting a high-powered radio to an antenna, passive DAS uses low-power antennas (which are usually connected via coaxial cables) spread throughout a building to propagate the macro radio sources’ existing signal.
Years later, active DAS was developed to meet the demands that accompanied the rollout of 4G, such as streaming video indoors. Rather than taking a radio signal and directly propagating it, active DAS architecture captures the signal. It then transmits that signal over a digital network within the building (via structured fiber or copper cabling) before reconstituting the signals much closer to antenna points (usually via coaxial cable).
This architecture supplies much higher-quality network coverage and provides an excellent solution for large buildings with many floors, walls, and other internal structures that can interfere with radio frequencies.
In case you were wondering, small cells came to market at around the same time as Active DAS. Small cells connect directly to the carrier network over an internet connection to generate a high-quality signal across various frequency bands that extend dozens of meters.
However, the issue small cells face when providing internal 4G and 5G network coverage is that they are self-contained network elements. They can’t take advantage of 4G and 5G performance levels that rely on combining signals from multiple antenna points in a coordinated way (as DAS does).
Small cells are also expensive as an implementation option, given how many installations are required to supply adequate coverage in large buildings that require multiple carriers and frequency bands.
Thus, on their own, not only do they not present the most cost-effective solution for indoor 5G coverage for large buildings, but they also have severe limits placed on their performance. Facility managers can gain much better value for money by investing in just a few small cells for a signal source and then use a DAS to extrapolate and transmit the high-quality signal across a building for a much lower overall cost.
Let NCS Guide Your Internal 5G Connectivity
Don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our dedicated DAS team today to discuss your facility’s requirements. To learn more about our team’s capabilities, DAS RF surveys, benchmark assessments, and more, read our DAS case study.