What Does 5G Mean for Multifamily?

We have been getting asked a lot of questions about 5G and what it means for multifamily. A few key points you can take to the bank:

·     We are years away from true 5G – initial “5G” roll outs will come more in the form of advancements to 4G

·     Multifamily properties with poor in-building cellular signal will experience those same signal issues with 5G

·     Wi-Fi and 5G will be complimentary services (as they currently are with Wi-Fi and 4G) with Wi-Fi still taking the brunt of data transmissions.

5G and Wi-Fi: Technology Basics Concerning Multifamily

The most important thing to understand is that 5G is a generation of cellular technology. This may seem like an obvious mention, but it is extremely important that building owners understand the following: if your building currently experiences poor indoor cellular coverage of 3G or 4G, 5G will experience those same signal issues. Signal penetration issues that exist due to concrete, low-e glass and construction materials will affect 5G the same way it affects 4G LTE. In multifamily buildings, Wi-Fi will continue to be the solution for both data and voice services. 

5G: It’s Gonna Take Awhile

The plans for 5G are ambitious to say the least: automated cars, medical procedures and lightening fast connectivity for IoT. The immediate reality, however, is not as flashy. While the consumer roll out of 5G should take place around the end of the year, the initial benefits of 5G will probably take the form of more simple upgrades to connectivity such as faster speeds than 4G. 

In addition, consumer adoption of this technology will only be as fast as the available equipment and the necessary infrastructure changes that need to take place. 5G will only work on 5G compatible phones and it will take some time for manufacturers to create these devices, not to mention for consumers to begin to use them. 

For infrastructure, a lot needs to happen before 5G can be realized to its fullest potential. Because the range of 5G waves is short when compared to 4G ( 1,000 ft vs. 10 miles, respectively), the carriers claim the need for more towers as a solution. The reality and expense of thousands of new towers presents a real difficulty. According to technology consultant Chetan Sharma, in a recent WSJ article What 5G Will Mean To Consumers, “Nobody has figured out how to build that infrastructure yet…The math required to make that work isn’t practical”. Sharma went on to describe the more realistic version of 5G that consumers will experience in the first iterations of the service as being “faster, but some carriers say 5G will act like an extension of the main technology behind 4G”. So if you were planning on driving a 5G enabled, autonomous car this holiday season, don’t hold your breath.

5G Security Concerns

Security is a consideration that can get pretty freaky when thinking in terms of true 5G. If, and when 5G is available and utilized for the futuristic applications that are currently being discussed (autonomous vehicles, remote surgeries, implanted medical devices, huge networks of connected devices), security needs to be a major concern.  This is an area, that while be discussed, has no clear solution or game plan. To read more on 5G security concerns: 5G Wireless Technology Raises Security Fears – WSJ.  

One of the biggest benefits of managed Wi-Fi to the MDU space is the security and manageability of an intelligently designed Wi-Fi network. This is an area where client isolation technology, like UserSafe, is so important. A managed Wi-Fi network isolates devices or allows only managed connections between devices that need to speak to each other. This insurance of security and protection against hacking, spoofing, identity theft and attacks is a necessity in high density environments like multifamily.

Roaming Wi-Fi to Cellular/ Cellular to Wi-Fi

There have been huge advances in technology allowing for roaming from cellular to Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi to cellular. This is ideal in a multifamily scenario, especially when speaking to voice. If a resident is on their cellphone and walks out of the apartment, they can then roam on the properties managed Wi-Fi network until they walk outside. As the resident walks outside, they roam to cellular allowing for a true complimentary partnership between the technologies. 

For 5G the same handoffs will need to be allowed for Wi-Fi and 5G to work together and provide uninterrupted connectivity and seamless roaming to the resident. 

The Voice Problem

We touched on this briefly, but it bears mentioning again. One of the largest problems facing today’s building owners is poor in-building voice coverage. 5G does NOT solve this problem whereas managed Wi-Fi does. Even when 5G is utilized is to its full capability (which is still a long way off), multifamily properties will need to turn to a voice solution, be that Wi-Fi or the more expensive, Distributed Antenna System.