The following is the second in a series of posts providing insights into how trends on display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will drive innovation in the built environment.
The next few years will be full of discussions about Smart Buildings, Smart Cities and how the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will transform business and society in ways we haven’t yet realized. Sensors will be everywhere and in everything, gathering data to be analyzed and providing a deeper look into virtually everything. Most cars will have the ability to drive themselves. People will have six or more connected devices at any given time. And how we interact with the built environment will change.
You’ve likely heard some of this before and are excitedly asking, “How will all those buildings, cities, devices and cars talk to each other and get access to the cloud where they send their data?” Or perhaps you’re paranoid and I’ve just made your case to finish your metal bunker instead of reading this article. If you’re excited about this high-tech future, then the answer is 5G. If you’re in the process of building a bunker, you might want to stop reading.
What is 5G?
For those of us not currently wearing tin foil hats, 5G refers to the fifth-generation mobile networks or fifth-generation wireless systems that are going to build the foundation for the future, allowing communication for mobile devices, sensor networks and smart everything. By incorporating many frequencies and new technologies under a new standard, 5G will aim to accomplish the following:
- Throughput speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G
- A decrease in latency of up to 10 times those experienced in 4G
- Larger areas of high-speed coverage
- Three times better radio frequency (RF) spectrum efficiency, allowing 100 times the capacity and nearly 100 percent network reliability
How will it work?
If your hat has a propeller on it and you want to know the nerdy details on how we plan to attain these benchmarks, then you will want to know the following:
Millimeter wave (MM wave) refers to the additional RF spectrum between 30GHz and 300GHz. Its use will allow higher data rates of up to 10 Gbps. MM wave frequencies, however, have a shorter range than 4G and are more susceptible to objects, and even rain, blocking the signal. To overcome these limitations, MM wave requires near-line-of-sight from small cells and base stations to connected devices.
Small cells are helping integrators and cellular carriers increase network density, but their role is even more important in the 5G environment. With limited range of MM wave and the capacity challenges facing current 4G frequencies, expect to see a denser deployment of smaller areas of coverage. This may be created by locating small cells on rooftops, light poles, public benches, garbage cans and anywhere power, data cable and antennas can be hidden.
Massive Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) Infrastructure
MIMO is essentially large antenna arrays, including hundreds or thousands of antennas working together and will be one avenue for solving the environmental challenges faced in MM wave deployments. MIMO will create multiple paths for data to travel to our devices.
Building off of Massive MIMO, this technology essentially calculates the best, most efficient path to a device. Using multiple antennas, signals from a small cell or cell tower can be bounced off objects in the environment and work to ensure each device gets optimal range, throughput and reliability.
How will 5G be used?
Experts estimate there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. With planned ubiquitous coverage and increased network capacity and speeds, 5G is likely to provide the most common means of communication. Substantially increased connectivity of devices (phones, tablets, equipment, sensors, furniture, you name it) not constrained by location will start to have real potential for myriad applications.
The broad range of frequencies and technology 5G offers will allow devices to take advantage of those that work best for their use case. Lower latency and higher speeds will make virtual reality and augmented reality, well, a reality. Real-time information gathering will aid AI and the IoT in troubleshooting and running our buildings, cities, robots and vehicles.
When will I be using 5G?
The organization recognized for writing and maintaining the 5G standard, 3GPP, just completed the first draft of the standard. Many manufacturers have begun to incorporate 5G technology into their new devices, which will start to see distribution next year. The reality is there are still challenges with the hardware required to distribute 5G signals. While the technology exists, most of the solutions for incorporating the 5G distribution network are still being created and tested.
This year, we may see test networks deployed by cellular carriers like Verizon and AT&T, but these will provide a limited glimpse into what the future holds and nearly all devices will lack the ability to fully leverage 5G technology.
Experts believe the 5G network will be in the initial stages of deployment by 2020 and supporting most major markets in the United States. This means that in just two years our new devices will also be capable of accessing the 5G network.
Implications for the built environment
The coming of 5G heralds the equivalent of another industrial revolution ripe with innovative ideas to improve our lives and the planet we call home. Cellular carriers, developers, builders and government can help accelerate the coverage and capabilities of the 5G network.
At McKinstry, we are exploring novel ideas like massive MIMO building walls, hidden small cells in the urban landscape, 5G enabling fiber in our Eco-District projects and continued expansion of cellular networks inside buildings. By providing access to a secure network, we create a unified communication layer for sensors and devices of all types. The increased speeds of 5G to gather the data and the inclusion of a 5G network will allow companies like McKinstry to offer complete smart building packages and ongoing maintenance, monitoring and optimization services beyond a building’s construction phase.
Jeremy Edalgo is the business development manager for McKinstry’s Wireless team.