By 2020, large-scale 5G commercial deployments are expected to begin with faster data speeds, increased bandwidth per unit, lower latency, and support for more connected devices. Before these deployments make their way across the U.S. and the world, there must be a standardized approach for building wireless infrastructure that supports 5G connectivity.
5G has many use cases for both outdoor and in-building coverage. Some examples include mobile broadband and fixed broadband services, which cost less per megabit and enable higher speeds for a wide array of indoor use cases such as enterprise collaboration and virtual reality/augmented reality applications. Small cells are often considered the best option for building connectivity infrastructure, but when it comes to larger multi-carrier integrations, it isn’t always the most cost-effective approach. Multiple small cells are needed for each carrier in a building or venue, which can make it pricier than alternatives. Distributed Antenna System (DAS) designs (passive, active, and the best option being hybrid) can also be used concurrently with small cells to save space and create an economical solution.
Small cells are typically deployed to enhance coverage in small outdoor areas and typically up to two radio frequency bands. They are mounted on poles in the public right-of-way (PROW) at low elevations. Small cells can be a solution to fragmented coverage areas or where capacity poses a challenge.
For this reason, it’s the latest technology used by carriers to provide cellular service inside buildings. Small cells connect directly to the carrier network over an internet connection to generate a high-quality signal across multiple meters. Even with an extensive coverage range, small cells are relatively expensive especially for a large venue and when multiple carriers or frequency bands are required. Instead of requiring numerous small cells, using only a few as a signal source for a DAS significantly improves the coverage area as long as the small cell has an Internet connection. Users can enjoy a high-quality signal, and distributors and enterprise owners can reap the benefits of 5G with fast deployment and low costs.
There are three types of DAS designs: passive, active and hybrid. Passive systems offer simplicity and affordability because they don’t require a power source to operate, and the signal just flows through the system. But it is less reliable in large buildings, making it a better placement in smaller buildings with fewer structural obstacles that cause RF interference. Active DAS, on the other hand, is more complex, needing a power source and fiber optic cables to connect to remote nodes. It provides great coverage between floors, perfect for large buildings with significant RF signal loss. A hybrid DAS combines technology from both active and passive systems, making it a premier choice for enterprises and venues looking to expand 5G capability. For this reason, the most recommended DAS is a hybrid DAS roughly 60% of integrations with active and passive systems at 32% and 6%, respectively, according to a white paper by API Technologies.
A hybrid DAS is more cost-effective than an active DAS and can cover large areas.
With a hybrid DAS and small cell connectivity infrastructure, resources are targeted to the areas needing the most signal, as well as shifts the capacity to different parts of the DAS network as the location demands change. According to the aforementioned report, over 84% of engineers believe that small cell technology will be a major player with its connection to hybrid systems as they are the best option for highly trafficked venues and for overcoming signal problems. As such, 5G capability can extend its reach and remain modular regardless of network and influx of users, offering greater quality and user experience.
DAS and small cell technological advancements are making networks faster and more efficient leading the future of 5G to a successful implementation. Until 5G arrives in full capacity, the wireless industry should push solutions that are flexible in adapting the current needs of users by providing the bandwidth required for the ease of wireless use. When looking towards the next generation of wireless connectivity, carriers and integrators must not forget it’s clever usage of established wireless infrastructure that will support it initially.
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