What’s on the horizon?

Last year, Walmart and Verizon went into talks about partnering to add 5G technology to the inside of Walmart stores. What? Why would Verizon, whose business model is to command as many telecom subscribers as they can, do such a thing? And why would big-box Walmart be involved?

The starting point to understanding is that 5G is not an incremental upgrade over 4G. 5G is different. 5G is so much faster and potentially experiences so much lower latency (the speed back and forth between devices) that a whole new world of how Walmart may be able to interact with customers, control inventory, and expand network security (to add efficiencies and make more money) becomes possible. Walmart is even contemplating the 5G infrastructure route to accommodate adding layers of healthcare to customers as an additional profit center. And Verizon will likely charge Walmart a fair sum to accomplish that.

If Verizon and Walmart can envision such a thing, imagine how the speed and low latency of 5G might help, say, manufacturing. Efficiencies in supply chain could be achieved. Because of the speed, real-time feedback from machines could pave the way for autonomous manufacturing opportunities especially when AI (artificial intelligence) is added to the mix. The opportunities for efficiencies to manufacturing, distribution, packaging, etc., could become irresistible. It may be unstoppable.

How will this “inside plant” 5G infrastructure likely happen? First, consider that many enterprise level facilities use distributed antenna systems (DAS) to support their internal networks. Specifically, they tend to use both active (think power-sourced, fiber connected, dynamic) DAS along with passive (not powered and simpler) to form a hybrid DAS system. Without digging in too much here, just imagine combining the active and passive systems in a very large facility (or even a campus). Various network needs in different areas join to become a hybrid for maximum coverage at a reasonable cost (as all-active DAS is by nature more expensive). This is why hybrid DAS is most in demand.

Now, along comes 5G. The promise of this new technology is irresistible on its merits in possibilities and efficiencies, plus it becomes a competitive pressure on enterprise entities as they contemplate falling behind in technology. No one wants to be last in line; the die is cast.

One way to address this pressure might be to pull out the entire existing DAS network throughout a facility and convert it all to 5G. But 5G mini cells are expensive and it takes a lot of deployment to cover large facilities completely. That said, some companies may choose to bite the bullet and take on that level of disruption and expense.

However, since many companies have hybrid DAS networks in place now, might it be a good idea to integrate 5G into that network system? The simple answer is yes. 5G and local mini towers can be introduced into a facility or campus, introducing very high speed and low latency (especially when it has a fiber optic backbone). And that system may in one area of the facility be “pure” 5G deployment while in less sensitive areas of the facility, the 5G can be a signal source for the DAS system in place. This combination expands coverage without the higher cost of a pure 5G network. It becomes another hybrid layer of the system…upgrading all of the network with more upgrade where it is critical. The 5G enhanced network becomes efficient and competitive at a lower capital investment.

The simple point is that 5G and DAS systems can and will work well together for big boxes like Walmart and for large distribution and/or manufacturing facilities. It is hard to imagine that the deployment of 5G/DAS hybrid systems will not become very widespread in the next few years. There are just too many good reasons for it to happen.

For us here at Broadband Infrastructure, we are actively adding 5G to our DAS capabilities to answer this bell for important inside plant growth. It is a dynamic world, and we are changing to better enable the future.

Broadband Infrastructure, Inc.