The idea of mmWave was once met with a lukewarm response and the feeling that there wouldn’t be enough of a reward for the effort needed to deploy. Perspectives on mmWave are now shifting significantly and it is set to become a much bigger priority. Recently, Dan McNamara, principal analyst with Mobile Experts, predicted that we will see a real interest in mmWave 5G from late 2023 into 2024. He explains one of the fundamental values of mmWave 5G is that it offers huge capacity gains and delivers high data rates. As data consumption continues to rise, it will become apparent that mmWave is needed to deal with demand and make its way towards the top of the priority list for operators. However, the challenges that have traditionally contributed to the skepticism around mmWave 5G still need to be overcome in order for operators to reap the full benefits of investing in the technology.
Why does indoor matter?
The famous challenge for mmWave 5G is in-building penetration, especially in dense urban areas. However, when it comes to use cases, it becomes clear that the penetration challenges are certainly worth working to overcome. A recent report from Bell Labs highlighted that many of the hot 5G use cases – 5G transport hubs, shopping centers, office spaces, and convention centers – are all indoors. In order to make the most of the additional capacity that mmWave can offer, delivering coverage indoors has to be a priority.
So, what precisely are the inbuilding challenges? mmWave is easily blocked; buildings, poor weather, even a user’s hand can block a signal. This makes offering mmWave 5G, particularly in the indoor arena where we see the greatest potential use cases, tricky. When it comes to overcoming these challenges that solution is clear – literally. Windows offer a potential entry point for mmWave 5G but there is still a barrier for mmWave 5G.
Low-emissivity (low-E) glass is now commonplace across the globe due to the energy efficiency savings it offers. In fact, low-E glass market is expected to reach an estimated $39.4 billion by 2024, as a result and account for a significant proportion of windows worldwide. However, low-E glass shows poor performance when it comes to mmWave penetration. A double-glazing unit with low-E coating reduces the signal by 30 dB, meaning just 0.1% of the signal penetrates inside the building. However, if we overcome the penetration losses of low-E glass, we can overcome the challenge of delivering in building coverage.
Tackling inbuilding coverage
There are solutions available that are designed to sit on windows to overcome wireless penetration challenges, but they typically have drawbacks. Firstly, they are very obvious, a window is there to bring light into a room, and it is difficult to sell the idea of blocking that with a conspicuous CPE device. Secondly, as mmWave 5G is building momentum, many of the devices do not work with the higher frequency bands needed to deliver mmWave 5G in building and take advantage of the potential use cases. At ALCAN we have worked with AGC to design a solution that tackles both issues. A transparent CPE unit from ALCAN works with AGC’s WAVETHRU™ technology which treats the glass ahead of the FWA solution being fitted to enable significantly improved performance for mmWave 5G penetration with virtually no visual impact. The solution has been tested and proven to address the challenges of in-building mmWave 5G penetration, operating at 28 GHz frequency. The result is a clear solution that is truly viable answer to inbuilding challenges for mmWave 5G.
5G in its current form, although an improvement on the previous generation of mobile connectivity, is not delivering on its promises. Existing mid-band 5G deployments are offering improvements in speed and capacity, but they will not cut it for many potential 5G use cases. Not only this with existing 5G still requiring additional infrastructure, for example CPE systems to bring coverage in doors – perhaps now is the time to consider the benefits of moving more rapidly to mmWave. It is certainly more challenging territory to navigate, but mmWave 5G will become unescapable to serve growing demand for connectivity from consumers and businesses alike. For service providers, being able to deliver the benefits of mmWave in-building will be a key factor in determining the return they see on this inevitable investment.
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