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5G: Building buildings as a service

With 5G roll outs set to start in 2020, one area where there is likely to see a marked change in how telecoms is used in in-building. With wireless now considered a utility like electricity or water, building owners need to look at how best to deliver that – and 5G has the answer. Paul Skeldon reports

The headline promises of 5G are around faster gaming and even remote surgery, but really 5G is set to revolutionise pretty much everything connected in the digital age. And one area where it is likely to have a large impact is in-building services.

For starters, wireless connectivity is now taken as a given: it is a utility like water, gas, electricity and sewerage and building managers – especially commercial buildings – need to be able to offer the best wireless coverage that they can if they are going to charge for it.

Secondly, in a world that will increasingly monetise value added services, having robust networks that deliver trackable data for service providers are also going to be crucial.

Finally, making wireless services seamless wherever the user goes – so that in their office, apartment, the street, subway and even airplanes, the level of service they get is the same – is also going to be crucial.

5G has all these covered. It’s bandwidth slicing technology allows for super-fast connectivity and many more users without throttling. But it has a hidden secret: it is great in-doors as a means of delivering wireless connectivity – better and more secure than wifi.

“We believe that physical connectivity is second only to location when choosing a building,” says Carl Gunell co-founder of Geoverse, a company specialising in rolling out in-building LTE networks. “We all want to be untethered – and so far we’ve all used wifi on mobiles as data was expensive. But now, in the US and elsewhere, people have unlimited data plans and that means that more people are staying on the wireless data all day.”

The reason is simple. Wifi is great as a cheap alternative to 4G, but in a building with many users, performance is degraded and often to build a good wifi network throughout an office building is complex and expensive, needing extensive wiring and many routers.

However, to date using cellular data networks as not been easy either. “We all use cell phones 24×7, but there isn’t enough cellular coverage or capacity in doors as 4G doesn’t work in buildings very well,” says Gunell. “Instead, building managers have relied on using Pico and Femto cells to rebroadcast cellular indoors, but this doesn’t really work so well anymore as there are so many users.”

The problem is that while the are billions of cellphones in the world all trying to use these networks, there is a growing number of other devices – all part of the Internet of Things (IoT) – also trying to use the bandwidth.

The answer, in the US at least, lies in using new spectrum freed up in the launch of 5G and LTE services known as CBRS. And here Geoverse is tapping into its potential to create super-fast, low latency, high availability in-door networks.

“We leverage a new spectrum CBRS in US and build a cellular network in a building using LTE – the gold standard in network connectivity – that can be used as a private cellular network in the building,” says Gunell. “And it offers a huge range of advantages.”

Firstly, it makes the creation of in-building networks much more straightforward and brings LTE speed into the building. But it has many other advantages.

“The big benefit over wifi is that , when using LTE, you are authenticated by the SIM card, so it is secure, faster and works everywhere. The quality also doesn’t tend to degrade like it does with wifi as you add more and more users.”

Gunell continues: “It is also low latency and can connected many more devices, bringing other economic advantages.”

For example, security cameras can now be wireless, cutting down on wiring costs and maintenance as you don’t have to pull cables through the building. In addition, many more IoT sensors and devices – CO2 sensors, temperature sensors and heat monitoring sensors – can all be connected to give a much more accurate view of the ‘health’ of the building and lead to better control of heating and lighting – which can drastically reduce costs.

Biometric IoT devices for access control can also all be connected securely and still leave enough bandwidth to add more AI, AR, VR and other services in the future as these become the norm.

“We are launching in US today,” says Gunell. “All chipset makers are introducing this right now in their devices. It will start slowly as it is only just becoming available, but in two to three years we will see more LTE deployments into buildings.”

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