Will 5G Work Indoors?

5G Cell Phone Signal with Antenna Tower

5G is the next wireless revolution that’s about the rock the world with its blazing fast speeds and ultra-low latency in ways that we’ve never seen. 5G or “fifth generation” is the next step in wireless technology that’s been hailed as the bringer of the next industrial revolution. Big talk for something that’s still brand new, but it’s worth all the chatter because 5G boasts a peak speed of 20 Gbps and almost no latency, measuring just one millisecond. 5G operates on a multi-band spectrum that utilizes the frequencies on the low, mid and high bands. The lower band frequencies are usually slower but can cover more area, whereas the high-band frequencies (where 5G operates) are faster, but shorter in distance coverage. Because the high-band frequencies don’t cover as much area and can be stunted by walls and barriers, it begs the question, will 5G work indoors? Let’s break it down. 

The reason 5G is able to deliver high speeds with a low latency is because of the frequencies on the high-band spectrum it uses. 5G uses what’s called the Sub-6 Gigahertz, which uses high-frequency millimeter wave bands, or commonly known as mmWave. These waves are powerful, but come with a hefty caveat: these frequencies cannot penetrate through obstructions like walls and can be easily disturbed by things such as the weather. 

They key to any cellular coverage is uninterrupted signal. Even with our current 4G technology we have a lot of issues with buildings and homes getting the best signal. The well-insulated buildings and homes, UV window filters or metal beams may be great structurally but can pose an absolute nightmare for a seamless wireless experience. 5G is an extension of our current 4G technology, therefore the same problems we have with 4G will only intensify with 5G. 

According to EE World Online, “74% 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.” 

Source: http://www.ecnmag.com/5g-from-anywhere-overcoming-the-challenges-of-indoor-connectivity/

With all that being said, what’s the solution to all of this? Carriers can utilize small cells and a distributed antenna service (DAS) for indoor 5G signal penetration and distribution. 

Small cells are typically used for outdoor signal coverage but will also be utilized indoors. Small cells are like mini cell towers that connect to their carrier networks to distribute a wireless signal. Since small cells are typically expensive to implement, they can be used as a “hot spot” for DAS systems to redistribute that 5G signal for more coverage. 

DAS systems are broken down into three different types: passive, active and hybrid. 5G will use a hybrid system, which is a mix of both a passive system, which doesn’t require a power source and acts a transmitter, and an active system, which uses a power source to successfully transmit signal across walls and floors. This is a cost-effective way to distribute the 5G signal indoors and cover large spaces. 

Carriers no doubt will face challenges successfully deploying 5G networks that not only work outdoors but also work with little disruption indoors. About 80% of all mobile traffic is consumed indoors, so you can expect carriers are working to find solutions for possibly one of the biggest problems facing 5G deployment. 

As 5G starts to roll out nationwide, the wireless industry is going to have to push out innovative solutions to meet the new challenges that 5G poses. In short, will 5G work indoors? Yes, but it’s going to require clever thinking by those in the industry to drive both groundbreaking and long-term solutions for this brand new 5G wireless technology.