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Wireless Technology in Buildings: 5G and Beyond

Technology Tuesdays

5G is here.

Let's talk wireless cellular Technology. As 5G is rolling out and will soon garner more mainstream adoption, there will be the request by owners to provide these services indoors due to user demands. Self-driving cars, Smart Cities, Telemedicine, Immersive Education, Bring Your Own Devices (avg. ~6.6 connected devices per person), and Internet of Things (IoT) devices require low latency high bandwidth connectivity to the internet.

What does this mean for facilities?

In new public and private buildings, the construction of the building's envelope typically has concrete, steel, aluminum, and/or Low-Emissive glass. All of these construction materials impede Radio Frequency (RF) to/from devices and cellular towers. This attenuation greatly reduces the strength and therefore speed of the wireless signal coming from cellular towers (Macro site and Small cell). Now you may be panicking "Oh no Randy! How will I be able to update my dog's Instagram if I'm inside one of these buildings?".

Well there is a system to reamplify or create a self-contained cellular network. Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) use a fiber-optic or RF coaxial cable network to provide cellular connectivity indoors and can help you use those photo filters to the fullest. They do this by either a donor antenna on the roof (uses shared bandwidth from a cellular tower), or bring wireless carrier signals in through fiber optics and connect to equipment (called hotels) in a conditioned space (one cable per carrier) and create a dedicated inbuilding cellular network.

There are many reasons for choosing one type of system over the other and multiple equipment providers to customize within each building. The main takeaway is to try to implore to owners is that the carriers need to be contacted extremely early in the design process in order to identify need and dedicate resources to get these systems designed and provided. Occupants expect their carrier's signals to be available for use inside buildings and owners are now seeing the benefits of providing good service to their patrons.

Emerging in the Coming Years:

WiFi-6e is being designed (by an IEEE conglomerate group) to do handoffs of mobile device cellular signals and data to reduce the need for dedicated DAS systems in buildings and still provide good in building performance. However, there is the need for due diligence when designing these WiFi systems since there are many wireless system performance pitfalls (multipath, destructive interference, overpowered signal, channel interference, low signal, etc.) that need to be modeled and verified to ensure proper performance.

New Emergency Radio Responder Coverage (ERRC) is a lower frequency DAS required by the NFPA 72-2013 in all new buildings. This ensures that first responder communication signals can get in and out of a building. This is a code required system and can sometimes be connected with the same equipment as Cellular DAS, but requires a tremendous amount of reliability and redundancy. This requirement came from the 9-11 tragedy and allows first responders the best communications during a time of need.

Written by:

Randy Gruberman PE, RCDD, CxA

FL Southeast Market Leader/Low Voltage Service Leader


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