Smart Buildings, Private Networks, Small Cell and DAS

By Harry Smeenk, Senior Vice President Technology & Programs, Telecommunications Industry Association

Harry Smeenk, Senior Vice President Technology & Programs, Telecommunications Industry Association

In order to support today’s promising technologies, consumers and businesses need reliable, fast and secure connectivity. Private networks are increasingly a solution that supports these needs, and small cell and DAS are critical components of this coming shift in building networks.

A Return to Private Networks brings Speed and Security to Smart Buildings

It’s interesting to see network structure come full circle. The first generation of the network was built as a private network, supporting direct user-to-user connections. At the time, there wasn’t another option. Over time, the structure of the network shifted to the cloud – as we were able to store and process large amounts of data remotely to support growing users.  But now, as users’ needs continue to evolve, and technological capabilities continue to advance, the network needs to adapt again – and it’s shifting back to private networks. 

This move is driven by the need for speed, particularly new technology’s need for low-latency networks, as well as security, privacy and reliability.  Private networks can monitor and control complex systems.

Private networks offer more reliable quality of service. As we race towards a 5G future, private networks give users increased opportunity to harness the benefits of next-generation technologies like the IoT anytime, anywhere.

This is particularly true for smart buildings, where so many applications are only possible with low-latency connections, and where so much data is generated locally, that pushing it to the cloud and back doesn’t always make sense.  In a smart building, connectivity is what I call the “fourth utility” – as critical as water, gas and electricity. 

Smart building access technology, like facial recognition for entrances and doors, could take minutes over a remote network vs. less than a second over an in-building private network.  At the same time, that in-building network would keep this potentially sensitive data more secure and private. 

Additionally, smart building predictive (vs. reactionary) management and automation systems – which can prevent major catastrophes such as fires or flooding – rely on quick connections and large amounts of local data that are better served with a private network. Artificial Intelligence solutions will self-learn and leverage data to predict a building’s thermal load and enable the HVAC system to operate autonomously, in real-time, leading to significant energy and cost savings of 25% to 35%.

At a time of increased cyberattacks, data breaches, and privacy concerns, finding ways to secure data and ensure data privacy is paramount. Private networks are an important tool for addressing those concerns.  Private networks provide increased physical and digital security – both critical for smart buildings.

Using a private network ensures that data is stored locally and strengthens control over the accessibility of that data through device access controls.  This can help guard against cyberattacks, data breaches, and sensitive information leaks. This is key for smart buildings, where data is being produced, processed and leveraged onsite to control everything from temperature to energy usage to access.

"Now, as users’ needs continue to evolve, and technological capabilities continue to advance, the network needs to adapt again – and it’s shifting back to private networks"

Private networks can also provide increased public safety during emergencies. Nearly every city and county in the U.S. have enacted local ordinances and codes making in-building coverage for first responders mandatory.  And, there are increasing cases of end users holding building owners responsible for coverage (or lack of coverage) when they need it most. 

There are proven public safety issues with wireless coverage and signal strength, equipment enclosures, antenna isolation and more that can be improved through private networks.  If an emergency crew needed to reach people in a building, a private network made up of small cells would increase signal strength even under extreme circumstances like a fire, allowing emergency personnel to reach those in need quickly.

Small Cell and DAS are Critical to Build these Private Networks

A quick and cost-effective way to develop private networks swiftly and securely is through small cell and distributed antenna systems (DAS). Right now, competition in the small cell and DAS marketplace also means these are cost-effective options. At the same time, they can help enable revenue sharing opportunities, making an even stronger economic case.

For current technology infrastructure that hosts 4G/LTE networks, small cells and DAS are the most compatible and can integrate quickly to current technology, facilitating an easy transition to a private network. And, in the race to 5G, small cell and DAS can utilize new spectrum as it becomes available – they can work with licensed spectrum, unlicensed spectrum, shared spectrum and C-band.

Additionally, small cell networks allow for enhanced targeting and control; while small cells can target a city or building, a traditional central office or macro cell does not have the same adaptability.

With small cell and DAS private networks, building owners can achieve strong signal penetration and integrity in remote areas of the building with higher bandwidth connections. They can overcome latency problems with emerging 5G specifications and support consumer, commercial, and industrial devices from a single network. They eliminate high data transmission costs and carrier’s device certification requirements. Most importantly, these private networks provide the integrated platform required to facilitate the development of new applications to enhance the user’s Quality of Experience (QoE).

Best Practices and Standards will help Ensure Continued Reliability

As the private network becomes more prevalent throughout the industry, enabled by DAS and small cell technology, ensuring the safe and effective development of those networks will be essential.

We need to be able to have confidence that these in-building private networks – supported by small cell and DAS -- are built to specifications that ensure reliability and safety. Industry is already working closely with the Telecommunications Industry Association,its member companies, and trusted partners to develop best practices that will guide construction and implementation of private networks using small cell and DAS. These best practices will help inform future industry standards to ensure the best user experience over these new networks. 

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