In-building cellular: the Fact File

Introduction to in-building cellular

As cellular technology has developed from the initial 1G technology in the early 1980s to the super-fast 5G networks of today, it has become ubiquitous and pervasive. Businesses rely on it, yet its usefulness has always been subject to its coverage.

In buildings of any kind, walls act as a barrier to any RF signal. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years. Not only does 5G make greater (although not exclusive) use of higher frequencies that are more easily blocked by physical barriers, modern buildings are frequently designed with climate control in mind; and, while low-emissivity glass may help reduce heating and cooling bills, it also reduces the strength of phone signals.

The answer is to extend the reach of the carrier signal via in-building cellular (aka distributed antenna systems—DAS). Unlike a wide outdoor “macro” cell site, an in-building cellular network is designed to cover indoor spaces divided into many smaller sub-spaces, i.e., floors and rooms. A single node, even at high power, would struggle to propagate an RF signal through multiple floors and walls. In such a topology, coverage is more naturally provided by multiple nodes distributed among the different spaces.

Higher cell frequencies are blocked by building materials

Low-E glass windows commonly reduce signal strength by a factor of 1,000, nearly equivalent to a 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick aluminum plate.

Source: Radio and Microwave Frequency Attenuation in Gloss, Vitro Architectural Glass (formerly PPG), October 2016

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