In Smart Buildings 101: How connected is connected enough? we discussed key reasons why buildings that do not offer a premium connectivity experience could be in danger of becoming unattractive to prospective tenants. In-building connectivity 101 will look at three leading infrastructure solutions that could hold the key to making smart buildings ubiquitous in a few years time.
If you’ve ever had a shower turn burning hot or ice cold when someone else turns on a faucet, then you know quite well that a home’s creature comforts are quite literally only as good as the plumbing inside the building. The same can be said of an in-building connectivity experience. If you’ve ever had to walk around your office building to look for enough bars to check a website or make a call, then you know that an office building is only as good as its communications infrastructure.
Getting the “plumbing” right
As IoT, 5G and concepts such as artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to usher in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time is rapidly approaching whereby buildings that do not offer seamless access to high-capacity ultra-broadband networks might well be difficult to rent. If so, then a key question becomes, how best to ensure this connectivity? As with many things in life, the answer is not always simple. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated. At a high level, in-building connectivity options can be grouped into three buckets: DAS, CBRS and LP-WAN.
DAS – Distributed antenna systems are the proverbial “big dog” of in-building connectivity, having been in commercial deployment for more than two decades. In a nutshell, a DAS system connects a voice and/or data network gateway to a system of radio heads that are placed strategically throughout a venue. DAS systems have several advantages including a mature supplier ecosystem, support for a range of connectivity options, and support for a range of deployment scenarios. At the same time, DAS solutions typically work best when fed by a pervasive system of fiber-optic cabling, and thus, can be expensive to install and maintain.
CBRS – Short for “Citizens Band Radio Service”, CBRS is an emerging technology in which the FCC is licensing shared access spectrum arrangements that will allow multiple service providers, public safety agencies and/or private enterprise to have licensed access to spectrum in the 3.5GHz range. The advantage to this “lightly regulated” spectrum is that unlike WiFi and other unlicensed solutions, access will be gated to help mitigate interference issues. It should also benefit from the ability to deploy low cost solutions, such as off-the-shelf small cells equipment, in defined areas which could lower the cost hurdles for wireless operators to serve a building, or even allow an enterprise to create a private wireless network on a DIY basis or with the help of a neutral host provider. Like DAS, CBRS also enjoys broad wireless industry support, notably the CBRS Alliance which is helping to orchestrate product certification and testing programs, as well as an ecosystem of service providers. At the same time, with initial commercial deployments not expected until late 2018 at the earliest, much of the promise of CBRS is unproven.
LP-WAN – Refers to proprietary networking technology that operates in unlicensed spectrum with the purpose of supporting a high number of low-power IoT connections. However, as the number of IoT use cases have proliferated, LP-WAN suppliers – notably Semtech, SigFox and Ingenu – are starting to add the ability to support voice connections over an LP-WAN Network. Because LP-WAN is purpose build to support IoT use cases, as IoT drives fundamental change across nearly every industry on the planet, the role for LP-WAN to play as an in-building wireless connectivity solution is potentially large. What’s more, because LP-WAN is designed to support a large number of low-power connections, it provides a high degree of design flexibility that building owners have at their disposal in order to create a network that fits the unique characteristics of their buildings. On the other hand, however, LP-WAN is unlikely to have the same degree of relevance as DAS and/or CBRS as a means of enabling ultra-broadband capabilities for companies that want to provide a seamless connectivity experience for their employees.
All hands on deck
Although each of the above mentioned technologies can be highly relevant in an in-building connectivity scenario, it is clear that there is no one size fits all solution to this problem. Building connectivity is subject to a myriad of factors including the building’s size, age, location, usage profile and other factors. To this end, many building owners will need to take an all hands on deck approach to properly outfitting their buildings to meet the connectivity requirements of companies in the Industry 4.0 era.
For further reading on the subject please see:
- Feature Report: Can DAS, CBRS, Licensed Cellular and Proprietary LP-WAN Solve In-Building Connectivity?
- Smart Buildings 101: How connected is connected enough?
- Trend Watch: What to look for in DAS, CBRS and LP-WAN development
- Industry 4.0 and the virtuous circle of IoT and in-building tech
- ROI vs NOI: Why should CRE invest in building automation?