Smart Buildings (Part 2): When Connectivity and Energy Efficiency Collide
Smart Buildings represent a new outlook on how architecture can benefit the environment as well as the citizens living or working inside. In this, the second of a three-part series, we will explore the challenges of connectivity in smart buildings—especially with 5G—and how cities and building owners can overcome them.
You can read the first part of our series, an introduction to smart buildings, here.
Building a Connected Future
The key component for any smart building is connectivity through wifi, cellular, and other means. After all, staff can continue to perform their duties through temporary outages in heating or water but when the internet stops working, it’s time to go home. Eighty percent of all mobile data is consumed indoors, according to Amdocs, but we’ve all experienced poor reception—and usually at the worst possible time.
One of the biggest obstacles to smart building connectivity can actually stem from the best of intentions. In our quest to be more energy-efficient, we are using building materials that block cellular connectivity and stand in the way of a more connected future. The mmWave (millimeter wave – in the 28GHz range) frequency used for 5G in the U.S., for example, does not penetrate low-emissivity (low-E) glass.
As we improve energy ratings in urban buildings, we are providing blockers for cell signal where we need it most. See how #smartcity planners are overcoming these challenges. #urbanplanningClick to tweet
This means as we improve energy ratings, we are providing blockers for cell signal where we need it most. Semiconductor company MaxLinear and antenna developer AirGain are developing a window-mounted antenna module that in one test, achieved the wireless transfer of more than 2 Gigabits per second (Gbps) through low-E glass. Japanese mobile phone operator DTT DoCoMo claims to have tested a new window material which allows 28GHz signals to pass through.
While this provides hope for a growing problem, other solutions will be required until such a product becomes widely available.
Smart Building Connectivity Solutions
WiredScore is a globally recognized rating system that evaluates commercial real estate on a number of factors including the quality and quantity of service providers, the redundancy and resiliency of telecom infrastructure, and cabling types like fiber.
“Internet is among the top three most important factors for tenants who are searching for office space, along with cost and location,” says WiredScore on its website.
Cities can solve connectivity problems in a number of ways. One broad solution would be to deploy small cells on city assets (light poles, etc.) to improve the coverage across a city and reduce the digital divide.
Since 5G signals travel short distances and do not penetrate well, cities can strategically deploy small cells closer to buildings and at the street level.
Building Owner Solutions
If outdoor signals can’t make it inside the building, it may be time to bring connectivity services indoors. Two such solutions include Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) or Indoor Small Cells. As always, there are pros and cons to consider.
Distributed antenna systems, or DAS, refers to a physical network of antennas, connected to a common source, distributed throughout a building or an area to improve network performance. DAS typically includes PCS, cellular, Wi-Fi, police, fire, and emergency services.
These antennas are spaced so that each one gives full coverage without overlapping. This layout reduces the number of antennas needed to cover the entire building or outdoor area. Also, they are more power-efficient compared to a single, larger antenna.
The downside to DAS is that it can be difficult and expensive to retrofit.
Indoor Small Cells
As the name suggests, indoor small cells are boxes that wirelessly boost a signal in a designated area. These are easier to retrofit and less expensive. However, these products are fairly new to the market and so long-term effectiveness has yet to be proven.
Ericsson’s 5G Radio Dot was designed with retrofits and future upgrades in mind, offering software-only activations for new services and expansions like frequency, capacity, and technologies.
Airspan indoor small cells are part of a 4G, 5G, and Fixed Wireless network densification solution. AirVelocity cells are deployed at locations where wireline backhaul is available, while AirDensity cells are deployed at locations where wireline backhaul is not available or not feasible. Both cells can be mixed and matched according to a building’s requirements.
The company is also working on the deployment of 5G solutions on airplanes.
Sprint said it has deployed Magic Box small cell units in approximately 200 U.S. cities and plans to add more than 1 million units in the coming years. Sprint’s Magic Box provides indoor coverage up to an average of 30,000 square feet and extends data coverage to Sprint customers nearby. As of 2018, however, the demand for Sprint’s Magic Box was consuming available supplies. The company said it would scale production accordingly.