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I know what you’re thinking, indoor connectivity, why does that matter for the smart city? What is indoor connectivity for the smart city? Is it part of a smart building? I mean really Wade, who cares? Indoor connectivity will matter just as much as outdoor connectivity. After all, the smartphone should not stop working when you go into a building. If your phone stops working, how does that make you feel? It sucks, right! What about public safety, they can’t have their radios die the minute they go into a building, that could mean death, literally, for them or whoever needs help. Indoor connectivity should be thought of as crucial for any city, much less a smart city.
Do you stop using your device when you go inside any building? Seriously? Of course not, you don’t expect it too.
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Indoor coverage included the entire building. It’s sad when you see a disaster happen and people don’t have coverage in the obvious places in a disaster, like the stairwells or the closets or basements. Why is that? Because normally people don’t go there and the building owner didn’t want to pay for something that no one would normally use. That is why there are regulations, in some cities, to make sure that at least the emergency bands used by fire and police are working in those areas. The local fire departments and radio shops can put this in and test it. However, most business people don’t enforce this because they know that businesses and building owners do not want to pay for it. We all think it’s OK until a fire or a terrorist attack happens and the people inside can’t communicate because they are in dead zones. In an emergency, a dead zone could mean that the people could die because they could not reach help. That often gets overlooked just to save a few dollars in many cities.
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So, when planning a smart city, the regulations matter, the rules to define whether a company needs to have the best coverage, wired and wireless, in their building really matters in the grand scheme. Why not think it through and look at what has happened in the past. Take the necessary measures to ensure that buildings are being built to the proper code for structure and safety.
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We still need fiber inside the building. Run it to every floor if possible. We really need fiber not only from the outside in but from the demarcation to each floor and across every floor. We need to connect every data and computer room. Even the emergency systems, the alarms systems will need to be connected. They will also need redundancy, just in case some contract goes crazy with a drill or a reciprocating saw, I have seen this first hand with wires, pipes, and power. It happens!
Fiber matters for what we want to do, the way we want to go. Broadband is what we all need to some point. Whether it’s back to an internet connection or if its dedicated fiber to a specific location for a specific purpose, we want fiber. After all, it connects the world. We all thought that satellites would do that, and they do, but they have too much delay. Fiber needs to be laid, but it works so well and opens new options.
Cable & Copper
Cable companies will be running their solutions to these building. They may even use fiber to get in the building, but they may rely on cable and CAT5 to distribute throughout the building once they are in.
CAT5 and CAT6 will be crucial. Ask any data center, any enterprise, any company that thinks they can run without having data lines all over the offices. Sure, they rely on Wi-Fi and small cells, but what feeds the Wi-Fi and small cells? That’s right, either fiber but most likely CAT5. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s not going anywhere.
I know most of you think that fiber will take over, but until fiber can carry power, (spoiler alert – it can’t alone!), then we need CAT5 or CAT6 or whatever else they come out with. CAT5 has been used for over 15 years, and it’s still going strong. Don’t deny it, we love wireless, but we need CAT5 somewhere.
This is the obvious thing that we all expect to see everywhere. I don’t think I need to cover this issue because almost every public area has Wi-Fi and most offices have it as well.
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This is going to be on the same spectrum as Wi-Fi and the carriers are excited because the handoff from licensed LTE spectrum to unlicensed LTE is almost seamless if it’s setup properly. This will be a game changer for all the carriers to share loading with devices in the ISM license-free band. WOW! A way for your smartphone to hand off its data and VoLTE, (Voice over LTE) calls to a spectrum that should not cost you any data on your plan.
If this can be put on every device, I would see it really is a game changer for the carriers to hand off to almost any vendors units. With the coming of age of the cloud and mobile edge computing, MEC, we will see things improve greatly.
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Public safety bands
This is critical, but it’s an unknown. I don’t talk about public safety bands much because it’s going to go through changes. These departments still need to have the urgent PTT, (Push to Talk), Voice access because it’s reliable and immediate. We don’t want to wait for the emergency responders to be able to communicate in an emergency.
They still need data to work their laptops and gather information. FirstNet is taking care of this with their recent partnership with AT&T to provide dedicated coverage for first responders. I am waiting to see how this plays out. I am glad that first responders will have a priority channel, but most of them already have smartphones. They don’t all have devices paid for by their jobs, many use their personal devices and coverage plans because not all governments have the budget to supply everyone with what they need.
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For the emergency responders, there are rules in many areas that require buildings to put in DAS systems or radios so that emergency responders have coverage as I said before. I have no idea who has this requirement and who doesn’t. It really seems to vary, even within cities.
While the public safety aspect will weigh heavily in the smart city planning, it should be thought of as part of the wireless and wireline deployment. Please don’t make it an afterthought. It will take regulations to ensure that all indoor coverage is thought out and planned properly.
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DAS systems are still booming in high density and high traffic areas. They are being upgraded. While small cells are making a dent, they are being used together to provide better coverage for less cost.
You see, the original DAS systems could include a Macro site to feed it for the system to reach all the areas of the building, stadium, or whatever you’re trying to cover. Now they can feed it with small cells. Now they can transport the signals digitally, meaning that instead of coax cable they can run fiber and use power from a local connection point or even run things through router and power the radio head with PoE, (Power Over Ethernet) which is really a great way to deploy.
DAS, (Distributed Antenna System), is a great way to get the signal out to the people, but it’s a financial commitment that small and some mid-size businesses don’t want to pay for. The carriers no longer see a payback on these systems, and they are looking for a less expensive way to get the signal out to the people.
Hey, I love DAS systems. They are crucial for the wireless infrastructure to cover venues. But the carriers are looking for more cost-effective ways to get the signal out. Now that we entered the age of a seamless digital network using LTE for wireless we can distribute the signal using fiber and CAT5 cable instead of the coaxial cable and splitters and analog amplifiers that we relied on in the past. DAS systems have evolved and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of today’s market.
I have been speaking about how the spectrum of 5G will shift into the hands of the small business once again. The US CBRS is the 3.5GHz band, which runs from 3550 to 3700 MHz band. CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (I remember the CB, Citizens Band, here in the US). It is a lightly licensed spectrum, but it is split up into 2 areas. There is Military radar, and Earth stations that use this spectrum that is grandfathered in and have priority access. That will not change. There will be Authorized Shared Access, (ASA). Currently in the US only, but Europe is looking to follow suit with Licensed Shared Access, (LSA).
- Incumbent access including the federal government and satellite providers.
- Priority access licenses (PAL) which are 7 10MHz licenses to be awarded to the highest bidders. PALs will be protected from the GAA users. PAL will include commercial users like carriers, rural operators, are a 3-year license with only 1 renewal term allowed now, and will be in the 3500 to 3650 portion of the spectrum. One licensee can hold only 4 PAL licenses.
- General access user, (GAA) which is “Licensed by rule” which requires the rules to be followed. This will be dedicated in the 3650 to 3750 MHz portion of the band.
- A PAL may gain additional GAA spectrum.
- Companies that currently have this spectrum licenses will be able to keep their licenses; this was used for WiMAX in the past, now it will be LTE focused.
- Licensing will be done by the Spectrum Allocation System, (SAS), which is a group that can charge for these services, currently being led by Google and Federated Wireless.
- Hardware vendors include SpiderCloud, Ruckus, Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, ip.access, and Acceleron.
I was reading a report by ABI Research that mentions several articles pointing to Verizon Wireless plans to use CBRS to replace middle price DAS systems, the articles in RCR and Fierce Wireless using CBRS as the neutral host solution. Then it shows how Nokia added the CBRS to its Airscale product and the Ruckus OpenG product to follow suit. Not to be outdone but Acceleron also has a CBRS product. Just to be fair, Spidercloud was one of the first to have a CBRS product. It spears that Spidercloud is already reaching out the DAS vendors and Verizon to bridge the gap for smaller DAS systems. We shall see more of SAS, (Small Cell Antenna Systems) popping up to replace the smaller DAS systems.
Could CBRS solve the DAS middleware problem? Could CBRS products fill the void where no one wants to invest in those 100,000 to 500,000 square feet venues where it is too small for a carrier but too large for a small cell? Is this the savior we are looking for? I hope so! A clean way to hand off and a lightly licensed spectrum where we would not all be trampling on each other in the Wi-Fi space. I see a solution that could solve so many issues, financial and technical.
This will mostly be an indoor solution, something where we could replace some DAS system with a common platform licensed spectrum that all the carriers and non-carriers could share to reach the dense population, it will be used for enterprise and outdoor coverage as a critical part of the 5G network slice. I am looking forward to seeing what small businesses can do with this spectrum to serve the people.
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I see CBRS filling the public venues with an alternative to smaller DAS systems by dropping in a CBRS small cell with multiple bands to provide a lightly licensed signal where the carriers would roam onto this device. Clean signal without the threat of another access point going up on the same band(s).
Factories have connected systems that may not be so reliant on Wi-Fi. Now they can dedicate a specific carrier to that function inside the factory so that no one may share it. Keep that spectrum dedicated for the machines and very low latency so that no one else can use it, jump on it, or break it. That is a game changer for indoor wireless!
I often overlook the use of indoor wireless for factories and distribution warehouses. This is a great use case for indoor wireless and one that needs low latency as well as dedicated spectrum. You want to keep it secure and dedicated for one purpose. Here is a perfect spectrum that they can add to any machine in their system. It helps to cut down on issues due to latency. Distribution will need to provide accurate order filling, and factories will need to have real-time feedback on how the machines are performing or if they need to make changes.
CBRS will allow small business and Enterprise to have their lightly licensed spectrum, something that the FCC has kept from small business for quite some time. I get it, they make billions on the auctions, but it has not helped small business broadband. They feel the ISM band was enough for them to build on. I feel differently. Now I see opportunity in CBRS, centimeter wave and millimeter wave spectrums. Let’s deploy and bring broadband and narrowband to the masses! Broadband for internet access and narrowband for IOT access. It’s exciting to see the industry have more opportunity again!
How secure could you make a CBRS system? You could have a dedicated band just for your internal use and only have it on your devices. Invisible to the outside world but giving you the bandwidth that you need in your office, warehouse, or factory.
We have seen the players be OEMs and carriers and other integrators in this space. Who has been conspicuously absent has been the cable companies. Here is space where they can shine, grow, and spread beyond Wi-Fi without building an ironclad agreement with one carrier. They have the money and the deployment process to make this a phenomenal area of growth. I would like to think that SpiderCloud would be calling the cable companies with proposals and business cases. Just my opinion. It is time for the cable companies to make it happen in wireless deployment.
Inside coverage summary
So, to sum it up, there are plenty of options that you will have. Some you have control of and some you don’t. You also need to separate what the first responders will need and what other services will need. This is specific to the band and the coverage. It matters.
When planning, try not to think of just one service or area. Look at the building, then look at the service you want. Something like what I have below.
- The building has:
- Common areas like the entrance, the mezzanine, the food courts.
- Emergency exits, stairwells, basements, rooftops and other areas that are only accessed by workers, contractors, and when there’s an emergency.
- Office space that may be secure and locked occupied by tenants.
- Restrooms, public, and tenant only.
- Hallways where people could be walking at any given time.
- Entrance and exit areas where people could stop to smoke on break or congregate.
- Coverage for:
- Public safety should cover the entire building.
- Carriers will want to cover the common areas and some tenant offices.
- IOT coverage for the meters, air conditioners, thermostats and other controls.
- Private networks throughout the building in tenant spaces.
- Emergency phone connections:
- One on each floor
- Wherever the generators are located.
I hope this helps you what needs to be added to the buildings in a smart city.
Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!
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