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How Will 5G Impact Indoor Wireless Systems?

Adam Wrzeski

The wireless world loves its acronyms: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Private LTE (CBRS) — the list goes on. Building owners and developers are increasingly confused about what it all means, particularly with regard to 5G. From the marketing claims that 5G will revolutionize the world, to the conspiracy theories that it’s harmful to people, there is a lot of uncertainty out there. Here we provide brief answers to some of the most frequently asked questions around how 5G will impact indoor wireless systems.

What Do All These Different Terms Mean?

  • 5G is the fifth generation of cellular wireless technologies.
  • 5G FR1 is 5G that runs on basically the same frequency bands as current 4G LTE systems.
  • 5G FR2 is 5G that runs in the millimeter-wave (24 GHz and above) range of the spectrum.
  • 5GHz is the frequency commonly used in Wi-Fi technologies and now the preferred frequency for Wi-Fi deployment.
  • CBRS is the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (also known as Private LTE).
  • Wi-Fi 5 is the most common Wi-Fi system used (formally called 802.11ac).
  • Wi-Fi 6 is available right now and is the most current revision (802.11ax).
  • Wi-Fi 6E is the “extended” version of Wi-Fi 6 that will run at 6GHz.

What New Systems are Currently Available and Being Deployed Indoors?

Private LTE and 5G FR1 systems are commercially available right now for use within buildings. These systems can deliver data throughput that is nearly on par with current Wi-Fi systems. While indoor deployments of 5G are not ubiquitous yet, they will offer incredible speed improvements over older 4G LTE carried over a traditional distributed antenna system (DAS).

5G FR1 small cells and beam-forming antennas for indoor environments are available but have not been widely deployed. 5G FR2 has seen very limited deployment within buildings beyond tech demos by manufacturers. However, 5G FR2 small cells are available from manufacturers such as Ericcson.

Private LTE (CBRS) at 3.5GHz is available and being deployed. Nokia claims to have helped deploy over 130 of these systems. You can even buy Private-LTE-enabled devices right now. It’s certainly not the norm for businesses to deploy, or use exclusively instead of augmenting with Wi-Fi, but it’s happening.

What are the Limitations of 5G for Indoors?

For all intents and purposes, 5G FR2 is a fully line-of-sight technology. A wall or even your own body can block the signal. Every room and hallway in which a signal is expected would need an access point, and sometimes multiple devices would be needed to provide redundancy with multiple beams in case an object moved into the line of sight path from user to antenna.

What Should I Deploy Now?

We do not see 5G replacing Wi-Fi in the immediate future, especially with the eventual deployment of Wi-Fi 6E systems. Carrier-deployed 5G outside the building and Wi-Fi inside the building will remain separate systems that the user transitions between as they enter the building. A DAS is worth having in a building (it doesn’t have to be 5G) to maintain connectivity as the user transitions between the outdoor and indoor environment.

What about Private LTE (CBRS)?

This question depends entirely on business needs and size. For smaller buildings or organizations without global office locations, Private LTE may represent a higher cost without much benefit. Plus, any Private LTE deployment would require USB dongles for every laptop, which could be impractical for the typical worker. 

For large industrial facilities with many different data acquisition systems, Private LTE may be a perfect fit — rather than relying on expensive per-device cellular subscriptions or Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi typically has a shorter range than 3.5GHz Private LTE. In addition, due to the fact that Wi-Fi is free for all to use (unlicensed spectrum) it has to compete with neighboring Wi-Fi networks.

How Can We be Ready for 5G?

One way is to provide additional spare cable pathways in your building’s riser system to make it easier to accommodate future 5G backbone cabling. Another way is to use an active small cell system rather than a traditional DAS where the antennas out in the workspace are passive (no electronics). In this way, using a CAT6A cable to each small cell can help provide an easier migration path to 5G FR1 systems, which should be able to provide a 1-to-1 replacement of the 4G LTE small cells.

Is 5G Dangerous?

No. It’s important to understand that there are two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation is the dangerous kind (gamma waves, and even higher-energy UV rays). 5G, like all the previous iterations of LTE, and WiFi, and even AM/FM radio, is non-ionizing radiation: the kind that is not dangerous. 

Why do so many people think 5G is dangerous? Groups of people have objected to the emergence of each “G” iteration of wireless technologies. The greater outcry around 5G seems to result from the rise of misinformation propagated online through social media.

In reality, you will receive more radiation on a typical commercial airline flight than you will from any cellular-based system out there — and even that isn’t a harmful enough dosage to worry about.

We Can Help

Partnering with a technology consultant such as TEECOM can help you navigate these systems as technology continues to advance so you can do what’s most cost-effective for your business now and into the future.

Adam Wrzeski
Adam Wrzeski, RCDD, Principal Consultant

Although he started his journey in the AEC industry as a drafter, Adam's passion for problem-solving and troubleshooting led him to pursue engineering. As a Principal Consultant at TEECOM, Adam wears many hats, working in telecom, audiovisual, security, and wireless design. He believes in asking his clients the right questions and takes the time to find the best possible responses.