5G has become a bit like the mystery prize on a television game show. It’s coveted, it gets people excited, but by and large, nobody knows what it is or how it works. While 5G is an extremely powerful tool that could revolutionize the connectivity of our world, misconceptions have sprung up that could threaten its effectiveness within the commercial real estate world and abroad.
First, what is 5G and how is it different from 4G? 5G is the next iteration of mobile network advancement. 4G was rolled out in 2012 and was built to accommodate streaming video, high-resolution content and a seamless experience using mobile apps. In 2020, 5G will unlock new potential through the enhancement of three factors:
- Speed that’s 10-times faster (imagine downloading an HD movie in seconds instead of minutes),
- Capacity that enables the connection of more devices in the same network (think smart cities with interconnected traffic lights and trash cans) and
- Ultra-low latency -the time it takes to collect, analyze and act on data- which could greatly help tech like autonomous vehicles
But like any new technology, it’s important to understand 5G before we can even think about leveraging it to better our business and lives. Here are three of the biggest misconceptions and the truth behind them.
1. When 5G will be commonly adopted and used
Much to the chagrin of many, widespread 5G adoption will not be as simple as flipping a switch. Wireless carriers are focusing on outdoor deployments and large arenas first, with each provider having implementation in about 30 cities in 2019. For example, Verizon has touted that it has brought 5G to 17 NFL stadiums across the country.
Where does this leave in-building coverage? Well, likely spotty at-best. Carriers are not prioritizing 5G in buildings and challenges such as Low-E glass are not helping. The high frequency of 5G’s signal has a difficult time getting through Low-E, which amounts to two feet of concrete around the building for the signal to penetrate. So what’s a solution? Read on to point #3.
2. 4G will go away once 5G arrives
5G is an extension, not a replacement, for 4G. The activation of one on a widespread scale will not make the other obsolete, 4G and 5G are designed to work together for the next several years. Think of 5G as the HOV lane for those devices and applications which qualify and really need the extra speed, while many devices and applications will continue to do just fine in the regular lanes (e.g. 4G/LTE) for years.
3. You cannot upgrade existing in-building solutions to 5G
As alluded to earlier, 5G coverage will be virtually non-existing indoors without an in-building cellular solution because of 5G’s difficulty getting through the materials that are used in construction, mainly glass and steel. Many buildings today have in-house solutions already, but they will need to be upgraded to accommodate 5G, sometimes requiring a full rip and replace.
The challenge is that many of the in-building systems that were installed in the U.S. today were installed or funded by the wireless companies, which will no longer be happening as they focus on 5G outdoor roll outs. There will be a further shift in responsibility for indoor coverage from the providers to landlords and tenants, and this shift already started taking place about two years ago.
Compared to Europe the U.S. is already very mature in terms of integration of DAS solutions into buildings, but having a DAS for today’s requirements does not mean you are future proofed for the needs of 5G. Multi-operator, flexible solutions exist but will require landlord investment.
What About CBRS?
There are also recent developments around a particular frequency band called CBRS Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) that could also help augment some 5G deployment in the U.S. The specific 3.5GHz band has primarily been used by the Navy for radar and for other satellite uses, but recent rulings from the FCC would involve potential for enabling building owners to install their own “private LTE” network that they can leverage for reliable cell phone service indoors. However, this will not be possible until the spectrum auctions are complete in the summer of 2020, and even then, it is likely that the cellular providers may stifle this use of the spectrum.
For now, CBRS is not yet the future of in-building mobile but is important that landlords consider investing in solutions that are upgradable to cover the CBRS bands should it become a more viable solution in the future.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of our game show “mystery prize.” 5G will be a tremendously useful tool for connectivity in our personal and professional lives, but it will likely take time before it becomes commonplace in every aspect of our day-to-day. For building owners and tenants the time to plan out a strategy is now.
While the high frequency of 5G makes in-building reception a challenge, there are solutions that can prepare your building for early adoption of 5G when it becomes available. Partnering with a company like WiredScore that has commercial real estate and telecommunications experts can help guide you to the 5G solutions and plan that makes the most sense for your building.