By networking and enabling an array of new technologies, 5G is set to make smart buildings and precincts a reality.
Office blocks, shopping malls, stadiums, hospitals, universities, and manufacturing plants, all have similar needs: buildings must be sustainable and environmentally friendly, and now, as a result of COVID-19, safe with secure access. This is enabled with automated building management systems that are controlled through ‘touchless’ automation.
These ‘smart buildings’ will be managed and operated using sensors, scanners, and CCTV equipment that will collect data and video footage and analyse this information to make informed decisions.
These technologies will be used across a huge range of industries:
In manufacturing, production lines will be automated and improved with machine learning and artificial intelligence, digital twins, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality. Smart office building systems could gather personal and biometric data such as facial patterns, voice recognition, heat detection, body monitoring, and people movement, with this information used by building management systems to control security access or to automatically adapt room temperature, humidity, and lighting. In warehouses, stadiums, and precincts, driverless vehicles will also need to be connected and controlled.
These smart buildings and precincts will need a smart network: 5G
There are clear scenarios where 5G will be superior to existing technologies, as it offers:
- Low latency and high bandwidth for wireless connectivity
- Massive IoT connections through the ability to handle high cell density
- Ultra-reliable and secure connectivity.
As current building networks are siloed (IoT Network, WiFi for data and internet connectivity, 4G mobile coverage, building management system networks, and enterprise networks) 5G is also able to offer ubiquitous, seamless, low delay with dense cell coverage supporting multiple applications, giving the term ‘smart building’ new meaning.
However, in-building 5G does come with its own unique set of challenges. For example, UV protected windows will impede 5G MM wave transmission, as will excessive walls. WiFi6 and Active Digital Indoor Antenna Systems (DAS) will be used to overcome these challenges.
The business model for delivering this new 5G infrastructure will require partnerships with a number of key players: telecomms service providers, infrastructure providers/tower and pole companies, edge and Cloud providers, IoT application providers, building management companies, suppliers of health security solutions, and many more. For some buildings this will be complex and may involve public and private networks, plus an overall integrator/service provider.
Crown Castle, which constructs and operates massive macro cell towers for mobile network operators, recently built a 5G network in a New York Park Avenue skyscraper, using unlicensed spectrum. Crown Castle’s announcement with the Rudin Management Company, which owns dozens of massive commercial buildings across New York City, is a sign of things to come. A new and potentially lucrative business: private indoor 5G networks.
The technology will be mature in the not-too-distant future, but like everything, it’s the business model that will make it a reality.