By Slavko Djukic, CTO, Zinwave
5G from Anywhere:
Overcoming the Challenges
of Indoor Connectivity
Reliable indoor coverage is a problem now—and future telecom standards add complications.
If you’ve paid even scant attention to the wireless industry buzz over the past few years, you’ve no doubt
heard murmurings about the promises of 5G.
Its ambitious goals tout very low latency, high
bandwidth, greater availability, faster speeds, and
more consistent coverage—providing broadband-like
data speeds from anywhere, making content and data
streaming nearly seamless, and opening the door to video
consumption virtually everywhere, on any device, without
a broadband connection.
5G’s qualities have the potential to almost triple
the annual gain in wireless network capacity over the
next decade versus the past 20 years—but not without
overcoming some current challenges.
Indoor Coverage in 5G: A Stumbling Block
Most outdoor 5G tests today use millimeter wave
frequencies— 28 GHz and higher. Compare this
with today’s mobile networks, which use various
frequency bands below 3 GHz to provide coverage
over large areas.
There are significant challenges associated with using
such high frequency bands, especially indoors. In a
nutshell, higher-frequency radio signals are less capable
of penetrating obstructions, which presents an immense
problem for indoor networks.
The key to effective indoor mobile cellular coverage
and capacity is a far-traveling, uninterrupted radio
signal. Modern buildings are unfortunately the perfect
countermeasure against radio signals because of the
materials with which they are built, such as treated
glass, steel frames, and metalized insulation. It’s
hard enough for some of today’s licensed spectrum
to get through building walls, which will be further
complicated by 5G’s high-frequency transmission.
The higher the frequency, the shorter the range. Even
at the low end of projected 5G frequencies, the signal
range will be very short; even standard plaster walls
will block the signal, let alone the high-tech building
materials used for modern construction.
Another Wrinkle: Current Indoor Connectivity Challenges
The problem of poor indoor cellular coverage already is
widespread, with 74 percent of U.S. workers in industries
from hospitality to healthcare and warehouses to
enterprises, saying they “frequently” or “sometimes” have
problems with connectivity. Mobile coverage is essentially
another utility these days—tenants and employees expect
it the way they expect the lights to always turn on and
the water to always run, and when it doesn’t work well,
people notice immediately.
Connectivity is only going to become more critical
in the future to enable employees to complete their
tasks using the technologies that help them work most
productively, and ensuring those technologies are usable in
the workplace. 5G will intensify in-building connectivity
issues, impacting not just businesses within the buildings,
but also CRE building and facilities managers who want to
get top companies into their office space.
For businesses to meet current challenges of indoor
connectivity, and be ready for true 5G, design engineers
can specify a full-spectrum distributed antenna system
(DAS) network, which best supports carrier aggregation