Implications of 5G on the Built Environment

5g | Sanjaya Ranasinghe on July 11, 2019

Over the past few months we have seen a number of major global mobile operators launch their first 5G Networks. Operators include AT&T in the US, and EE and Vodafone in the UK. We’ve also seen international controversy directly affect 5G rollout timelines with the Huawei privacy battle.

Hype and spend around 5G solutions has increased both for the network and end user devices e.g. smartphones. Additionally mobile coverage within buildings is rapidly going up the list of key requirements for employees. The number of applications and use cases for 5G enabled technology is set to grow exponentially; yet, the challenges faced in providing the fundamental coverage required to fulfill this capability is going to become harder to deliver. 

Simply put (and far from all of the intricacies that one could dive into) 5G relies on using higher frequency signals than 4G relies on, as a result 5G can only be used over a smaller area of transmission. This means landlords are faced with two new questions:

How will their buildings provide city wide coverage? And how will they provide coverage to tenants within their buildings?

4G - 5G infographic V4

5G rollout will target all major cities first, for landlords this means buildings must be ready to become part of the connected fabric of the city. To overcome the 5G signal transmission distance limitations more and more transmission sites will be required to enable a WiFi-like deployment of 5G small cells. The sides of buildings, lampposts, road signs and even refuse bins are being touted as potential sites. Currently building rooftops are rented to mobile operators  for use as cell sites. However, the monetisation of rooftops and the risk permanent cell sites have on future property development has recently brought this relationship into question.

Counterintuitively a building equipped to serve a city’s 5G needs may not be able to serve the 5G needs of its occupiers. The team at a mobile operator who are responsible for city wide coverage implementations are not the same team who provide coverage to users within the building. Ubiquitous in-building 5G coverage will only become fully realised if dedicated mobile solutions become common place for all office developments in the next five years. 

The current working model for in-building mobile solutions will require a change with closer collaboration between key stakeholders, namely landlords, mobile operators and in-building mobile solution providers required. Taking the disconnect above as an example - landlords may have to look to coordinate efforts across different teams and stakeholders by suggesting in-building coverage in exchange for their building serving as a cell site for the city.


Strategic & investment questions

For landlords and developers providing an excellent in-building mobile experience has become an ever growing challenge without even considering the requirements for 5G. They currently face a set of strategic and investment questions around in-building mobile to address. 

There is no simple answer for landlords and developers on how to provide or even prepare for 5G to be used in a building today. What we do know is that there are two important strategic considerations that will lay the foundations for how and when a solution will be required: the likely use cases for current and prospective tenants, and the date 5G will arrive in the building’s area.

Landlords must first understand and baseline the current mobile performance of their buildings, there are then simple and relatively low cost steps that can be taken to ensure buildings are prepared to enable the most relevant mobile technologies.  

5G is definitely not a silver bullet nor magic wand, but whatever the short term realities are it will provide a whole new gamut of technological advancements. From the fastest download speeds users have ever experienced to enabling the wide scale utilisation of connected devices and the mobile applications of VR and AR. 


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