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What Does the Future of In-Building Wireless Look Like?

What Does the Future of In-Building Wireless Look Like?

16 February 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

With in-building wireless (IBW) solutions becoming simpler, more affordable and more necessary, what does an IBW future look like?

As complex enterprise spaces evolve, it’s clear that demand for ever-improving, faster connectivity is increasing. Yet things are getting crowded.

As demand for connectivity grows, the spectrum driving the enterprise space can struggle. With greater numbers of connected devices than ever before, building owners, managers and architects increasingly recognize the value of in-building wireless solutions to provide that reliable, efficient and revenue-generating enterprise connectivity.

After all, as in-building wireless has evolved, solutions are simpler, more affordable and offer greater capacity, performance and speed than ever before. As such it’s unsurprising that in-building wireless is fast becoming our next modern utility.

So what does the future of IBW look like? And what key technologies and architectures are solutions using?

Driving the future of IBW: The right solutions to support the right situations

IBW solutions are evolving and improving year on year. Yet there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to enterprise IBW. Because of this, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the requirements of the enterprise space (and ask the right questions) in order to identify the right IBW solution to support it.

A variety of new IBW solutions use different architectures and bands. Considering this, below are some of the fundamentals you need to know about the solutions driving the future of IBW:

  • Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi). VoWiFi offers an unlicensed-band alternative to traditional LTE- based IBW solutions and uses the IP network to route voice calls with acceptable quality. A user’s device must be designed to connect to this kind of network, and these devices are now entering the market in greater numbers.
  • LTE unlicensed (LTE-U) and LAA. LTE-U uses the 5 GHz unlicensed band used by Wi-Fi to move traffic on the network. In order to get the LTE-U signals onto the licensed macro network bands, it must be aggregated via licensed-assisted access (LAA) to separate it from purely Wi-Fi data signals and move it onto a licensed operator’s network.
    MulteFire. This unlicensed solution will not require the same integration processes as VoWiFi and LTE-U, as it moves unlicensed IBW traffic to the macro network via an air interface.
  • Small cells. Built like small versions of macro cell sites, this system of sectors covers an area and connects to its own base station, which is then integrated into an operator’s network.
  • Distributed antenna systems (DAS). Using licensed frequencies, this network of antennas linked to a headend allows LTE bands (as well as other technologies like 2G and 3G) to be carried directly to an onsite or offsite, operator-owned radio source.

Regardless of the solution, each of the above IBW options is dependant on a network of copper or (increasingly commonly today) fiber-optic infrastructure to support their antennas, access points and other interfaces.

Historically, IBW solutions typically relied on RF cabling, such as coaxial cable for their infrastructure. But today, and looking to the future, new technologies have simplified architectures that allow Gigabit speeds, and sometimes more, over simple IT structured cabling.

Put simply, fiber connectivity and an IT-convergent infrastructure will help you support future applications and standards. The advantages here are lower costs in the cabling itself, lower installation costs, and greater possibilities for different services to share a single, convergent cable infrastructure.

The in-building wireless future is fast and 5G

Of course in addition to reduced costs and enhanced connectivity, speed matters. All IBW solutions need to be able to rapidly route traffic on and off the macro network of one or more operators. And as many of today’s applications are data intensive, they consume a great deal of bandwidth – it’s this on-ramp that can cause rapid congestion in many enterprise-sized deployments.

Fiber connectivity is again the answer here. It’s important to employ fiber as your backhaul solution to keep that on-ramp moving smoothly. Or in cases where space or location won’t allow this, use point-to-point microwave antennas to backhaul traffic onto the network, and provide a viable solution.

While the IBW solutions we’ve covered here relate to 4G/LTE networks, it’s important to also consider how things will change with 5G. As of this date, 5G standards have not been formalized and there is no universal specification. However, projected 5G performance targets do provide some insight as to which IBW solutions will be ready to take advantage of the next generation of wireless networks: fiber-based backhaul and high-end IT cabling will feature strongly.

Are You Ready For An In-Building Wireless Future? 

With fiber-based architectures, 5G on the horizon and an increasing variety of ways to deploy quality IBW solutions, it seems that technology is regaining the upper hand over skyrocketing demands – for now.

But, in order to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to prepare today. For infrastructure experts that means ensuring you maintain up to date wireless training – as those who invest in training will be the ones to reap the benefits of an expanding market, today and in future.

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