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5g-cellular-buildings-iot

Smart building initiatives driving significant growth for in-building cellular

Dec. 22, 2023
Seamless connectivity is becoming a must in commercial buildings—here’s why.

Seamless connectivity throughout every corner of a commercial building is rapidly becoming necessary for building operators thanks to a host of intelligent building technology innovations in high demand. While Wi-Fi is traditionally deployed to serve as the delivery of wireless connectivity, the proliferation of public carrier cellular networks via distributed antenna systems (DAS), small cells, repeaters, and private LTE/5G is proving to deliver superior coverage, application flexibility, and reliability at a reasonable price point. Let’s look at what the hype is all about and why more and more buildings will soon be outfitted with in-building cellular.

Smart building IoT is driving the need for in-building cellular

Despite IoT for IT and OT use cases being a reality for several years, many building operators chose to hold off on large-scale investments until technologies matured and simplified interoperability could be achieved. In most cases, operators, owners, and technology analysts now feel that the IoT has reached the right level of maturity that offers significant benefits and healthy returns on investment.

However, one of the significant hurdles of these types of IoT/IIoT deployments is delivering the necessary network connectivity required to link remote devices and sensors together so that relevant data can be collected and analyzed by a centralized management platform. Wireless is quickly becoming the go-to connectivity method for smart building initiatives as the cost of wired cable plants increases due to a rise in cable cost material and professional installation fees. Not only does wireless prove to be a lower-cost option, but it also offers enhanced deployment flexibility if the required connectivity signal strength, throughput, and latency are available.

When reviewing existing wireless connectivity options that existing buildings already have deployed today, building operators recognize that their Wi-Fi solutions don’t deliver the necessary end-to-end signal coverage and performance. Furthermore, even if a complete revamp of a Wi-Fi network was an option using the latest technologies, significant shortcomings of the technology for IoT deployment use cases are likely to fall short of what’s needed from a connectivity, reliability, and data security perspective. Instead, many building owners are taking the approach that end users will leverage existing and future Wi-Fi networks while cellular will be purposed for indoor and outdoor IoT.

In-building cellular options are growing

Public carrier networks used to be the only cellular option for IoT connectivity. If this public signal required further signal propagation into parts of a building that external carrier antennas could not reach, options such as signal boosters, small cells, and distributed antenna systems (DAS) were deployed within a building or campus to help push the cellular signal to where it was needed. While the market for this legacy connectivity is still viable and expected to grow at a healthy rate, according to industry analysts, a more modern and flexible approach using private LTE/5G is also an excellent option for in-building and campus-wide cellular connectivity.

Private LTE and 5G networks offer several enhancements over public carrier cellular signal propagation using boosters or DAS, including:

  • No data metering costs
  • Delivers a fully private wireless network (improved security) where data does not traverse a public carrier network
  • Leverages the existing in-building LAN to reduce cable plant expansion costs
  • Can deliver neutral host network (NHN) functionality to propagate public carrier within a building or campus.

Given the advancements in private LTE/5G along with traditional public carrier signal propagation methods, building owners and operators now have several options they can choose from that likely meet the technical wireless requirements of nearly any smart building IoT project. This fact removes a long-lasting technical hurdle that will further investment into a newly matured IoT and smart building technology market.

About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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