5G is back in our newsfeeds this summer as Vodafone and Three switch on 5G services in selected cities around the UK. EE was the first of the big telcos to roll out the technology in May, going live in six UK cities, while 02 will be last to launch in October.
Customers of these companies who can afford the latest 5G handsets will now be able to download films in seconds, provided they’re in the right area. But it’s not all about speed: the beauty of 5G lies in having both virtually no latency (delay) and vastly increased capacity. When fully adopted, 5G will usher in the age of drone delivery and autonomous vehicles — technology which depends on ultra-reliable connectivity with minimal lag. The Internet of Things will also come into its own, as 5G-enabled devices such as smart fridges and intelligent street lighting help us to increase energy efficiency and lower electricity bills.
Widespread adoption of 5G was predicted for 2020, but it’s unclear whether that’s still a realistic timeframe. A large amount of infrastructure still needs to be put in place before 5G can be widely adopted. “The operators need to find suitable locations for their equipment,” says Chris Boultwood, Head of Technology at Workspace. “The challenge with 5G is that you need many more cell locations to get the distribution that you need, largely because the frequency on which 5G operates is much shorter than 4G or 3G.”
Chris BoultwoodHead of Technology at Workspace
Installing enough of these cells in densely populated urban areas will be challenging. One solution currently being explored is using existing installations such as lampposts to house small-cell 5G devices. Either way, it looks unlikely that the required infrastructure will be in place by next year.
Then there’s the problem of getting 5G signal into buildings. Penetrating office buildings is particularly difficult as the e-glass (eco-friendly glass) used in modern office windows can block mobile signal more effectively than brick.
“The initial response is to put an antenna on the roof and distribute connectivity through a property with cabling,” says Chris. “However, the operators don't typically allow 3rd parties to go down this route to boost indoor signal.”
This method, known as Fixed Wireless Access, is seen as a temporary fix. Workspace’s preferred solution is longer term: to supply 5G signal directly within the building. “We’re talking to a company called OpenCell, which currently provides us with in-building 3G and 4G coverage,” says Chris. OpenCell’s in-building 5G technology is currently in early stages of discussion with the various operators and Workspace is preparing to install it as soon as it’s ready.
What benefits will 5G bring to Workspace customers? “Continuity, consistency and convenience,” says Chris. “Many small businesses use mobile devices as a selling channel so they need to be able to operate their equipment within our buildings as well as they can outdoors. The fundamental difference between 5G and 4G is that you can get the same quality of connection on 5G as you would over good quality Wi-Fi. And that means people won’t have to flip between WiFi and 4G – it’ll all just be seamless on 5G.”
While we wait with bated breath for the required 5G infrastructure and equipment to arrive, delivering top-quality Wi-Fi to Workspace properties remains a top priority for Workspace. “Providing high-quality Wi-Fi is still very important and will continue to be a key factor for customers even in three, four or five years’ time,” says Chris.
That’s why Workspace are working closely with WiredScore, a third-party assessor that awards internationally recognised connectivity ratings to buildings and developments.
Currently, 56 Workspace buildings are under assessment from WiredScore. An initial 33 have achieved gold or platinum accreditations while the remaining buildings are having work done to them to bring them up to at least gold standard.
“There are two types of certification,” explains Chris. “The first is for existing or occupied buildings. WiredScore come in and assess what’s already in place and what the capabilities are for that building. If we need to make tweaks or changes, we will go in and ensure that the property achieves at least the gold standard, even if it's occupied. This can pose challenges because many of our properties are period properties that were never designed to operate as business centres with WiFi.”
It's at the planning phase when WiredScore really come into their own. “We’re able to get WiredScore to assess a property just from the initial plans and the brief for our contractors,” says Chris. “Properties like Mare Street Studios or Ink Rooms have been certified platinum before even opening.”
Whether by delivering super-fast, reliable Wi-Fi or sourcing in-building 5G solutions, Workspace is futureproofing connectivity for its customers. #WiredDifferently
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