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The Future of DAS Is 5G: What You Need to Know

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If you're considering deploying a DAS, or already have a DAS inside your building, 5G is likely top of mind.

With faster speeds, higher capacity, and better support for IoT devices, 5G has a great deal to offer.

In this article we offer insights from the 5G DAS deployments our team has designed and installed, and based on some of the conversations we've had with our customers.

In this guide

5 Key Take-Aways for Venue Owners Considering a 5G DAS

1.Mid-band 5G is best suited for most buildings

5G operates in three distinct frequency ranges, but "mid-band 5G" is the most cost-effective combination of coverage and capacity for most venues.

2.A 5G DAS will need either an off-air or 5G small cell signal source

A DAS is only as good as the signal source that feeds it. Work with your integrator to pick the right option for your venue.

3.Some, but not all existing DAS deployments can be upgraded to support 5G

It's possible to add new frequencies to "modular" DAS systems - but the exact details depend on the vendor.

4.5G is constantly changing; plan ahead for C-band frequencies today

New frequencies and updates to 5G are constantly being released. Plan ahead to make sure your system is future-proof.

5.Find the right systems integrator

Probably the single most important factor to a successful deployment is finding the right systems integrator. Whether you're deploying a new system or upgrading an existing DAS, reach out to our team of DAS specialists.

The Future of DAS is 5G

Evolution of Cellular: 3G to 4G LTE to 5G

Roughly every decade, a new generation of cellular technologies is deployed by carriers around the world. 

The first cellular networks were launched in the 80s. The 90s bought 2G, the 00’s brought 3G, and the ‘10s brought 4G LTE. 

Almost like clockwork, 2020 brought the first 5G deployments. Things have moved quickly: cell towers around the world are quickly being upgraded to support 5G.

Why DAS Technology Is Critical for Indoor 5G

5G In-Building

DAS antennas throughout a building help distribute 5G signal indoors.

While traditional cell towers provide 5G coverage outdoors, more than 80% of voice and data usage happens indoors.

Building materials like concrete, metal, and glass block signals from cell towers from penetrating venues. While this is true for all cellular signals, 5G is often deployed on higher frequencies that are attenuated even more than their 3G and 4G predecessors.

That makes the indoor coverage problem for 5G more acute than ever. Fortunately, this is specifically the problem that DAS exists to address.

A DAS brings cellular coverage to areas where the signal from outdoor 5G cell towers simply can’t reach. DAS deployments are the only reason you can make calls when you’re in the 50th floor of a skyscraper, deep in the bowels of a hospital, or in an underground parking garage.

If you’re looking to deploy a 5G DAS in your building or upgrade an existing DAS to support 5G, contact our team of DAS specialists. Our nationwide team is deploying 5G systems across the country today.

Three Types of 5G, and Why Just One Will Be Deployed In Most Venues

5G, which is also called sometimes called “New Radio” or NR, is being deployed on three different frequency ranges in the US:

5G spectrum divided into low, mid and high band
  • Low-band 5G: These lowest frequencies (under 1 GHz) travel the farthest and are mostly used to achieve coverage in rural areas but have limited capacity. T-Mobile has been the most aggressive in rolling out low-band 5G, but AT&T and Verizon are following suit.

  • Mid-band 5G: Spanning 1 GHz to 6 GHz, mid-band 5G is used to provide both coverage and capacity in urban and suburban areas. All three carriers are using mid-band as part of their 5G rollouts.

  • Millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G: These very high frequency signals (20 GHz) offer huge capacity and speeds, but very limited coverage. This flavor of 5G has been dubbed “ultra-wideband” (UWB) by Verizon, which is deploying this technology most aggressively in the US. However, each cell covers just a few hundred feet, and deployments have been mostly limited to urban areas.

Mid-band is the primary flavor of 5G that carriers recommend for in-building DAS deployments. These “sub-6 GHz” frequencies offer plenty of capacity, yet can still propagate through drywall and windows.

In some very high-capacity venues such as stadiums, or for very specialized use cases, mmWave DAS systems are also being deployed. Because mmWave signal is blocked by drywall, deployments are typically restricted to a single room or large open-air venues.

For the best combination of price, coverage, and performance, we strongly recommend focusing on mid-band 5G frequencies for in-building DAS deployments.

5G DAS Signal Sources: Small Cells and Off-Air

If you've read our guide to distributed antenna systems, you know that signal sources are a key component to any DAS deployment.

There are two primary types of signal sources used for 5G DAS systems: small cells and off-air.

Off-Air 5G Signal Source vs Small Cell 5G Signal Source

The two primary signal sources utilized for 5G DAS deployments: off-air and small cell.

5G small cells, also sometimes called a gNodeBs, are the most common signal source for 5G distributed antenna system installs. A gNodeB is essentially a "cell tower in a box." It uses an internet connection or dedicated fiber to connect back to the operator's core network.

An off-air signal source uses a "donor" antenna, often installed on the roof of the building, to receive signal from the nearest tower. The performance of off-air systems depends on the availability and quality of the outdoor 5G cell signal.

5G Coexistence with 4G LTE

While 5G is the latest and greatest in cellular technology, many user’s devices are older and only support 4G LTE. So supporting 4G LTE devices for the foreseeable future is critical.

But that's not the only reason to support 4G LTE in your DAS. The majority of 5G small cells available today run a version of 5G called “Non-Standalone” (NSA 5G), which piggybacks on an existing 4G LTE connection. For NSA 5G small cells, having an existing LTE network in place is a prerequisite to connecting over 5G.

Standalone 5G (SA 5G) technology allows phones to connect to a 5G network without any 4G LTE signal being present. While SA 5G is becoming more prevalent, you’ll likely need to continue to support 4G LTE users for at least the next 5 to 7 years.

Future-Proofing Your 5G DAS By Preparing for C-Band

5G isn’t one static technology – it’s an evolving protocol that will be updated in a series of “releases” over the course of the decade. The FCC also regularly licenses new spectrum to carriers to add capacity and make 5G networks even faster.

Future-proofing a DAS means looking forward to the technologies and use cases that are coming in the future. This is just one more reason why working with the right system integrator who understands DAS, 5G, and your specific use cases is critical.

2021 saw the biggest auction of spectrum in the history of the FCC. A total of $82 billion was spent by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile on new mid-band 5G spectrum. As the new C-Band frequencies are deployed, they’ll become a critical part of 5G. We strongly recommend ensuring that the DAS you deploy will support mid-band 5G.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does 5G work indoors?

5G can work just as well indoors as 4G LTE does. But unforunately it's not quite that simple.

To get the higher data speeds promised by 5G, carriers are deploying it on higher frequency bands where they have more bandwidth. Those higher frequencies are more easily blocked by walls, windows, and other building materials. The end result is that 5G won't work as well indoors as 4G LTE does.

A 5G distributed antenna system (DAS) fixes this issue by distributing 5G indoors and ensuring that coverage is as good or better indoors as outdoors.

What is a 5G DAS?

A 5G DAS is one that supports the distribution of 5G "New Radio" signals. A DAS designed for 5G will typically support newer frequency bands, like T-Mobile's n41 band as well as the upcoming n77 C-Band frequencies. Additionally, some DAS equipment supports 2x2, 4x4, or even higher degrees of MIMO.

How much does a 5G DAS cost?

The exact cost of a 5G distributed antenna system depends on the exact equipment, signal sources, and frequencies used. Typical costs range from $0.75 to $2 per square foot, but our team of DAS experts can provide an exact quote.

Can an existing 4G DAS be upgraded to support 5G?

Whether or not an existing 4G LTE DAS can be upgraded to 5G depends on the specifics of the installed equipment. If the 4G system is a modular DAS, like some models by Corning, ADRF, SOLiD, and Commscope, and the vendor has released modules to support new 5G frequencies, it’s likely that your existing DAS can be upgraded.

Even if upgrading your DAS is an option, it may sometimes make more sense to replace the system. For example, 5G performance is considerably better when it's installed in a DAS that supports 2x2 or even 4x4 MIMO, which often isn't the case for older DAS systems.

Some non-modular off-air DAS systems, like Cel-Fi’s QUATRA product line, can support 5G on existing frequency bands via a software update. However, they won’t support newer 5G bands such as T-Mobile’s n71 and n41 bands unless the original equipment supported those frequencies.

How are 5G small cells different to a 5G DAS?

5G small cells are standalone devices that generate a 5G signal, almost like a "mini 5G cell tower." They connect to the operator's network over an internet connection.

While 5G small cells can be used to deploy 5G in a building, they typically only support a single carrier at a time. Deploying a multi-carrier small cell system is much more expensive than deploying a 5G DAS.

What is Private 5G, and does it require a DAS?

A private 5G network is like a mini, private cellular carrier owned by a building owner or company. Only users who have been issued SIM cards directly by the network owner may connect and use the network.

Ericsson, Nokia, and other network equipment vendors are pushing private 5G as the future of Internet of Things (IoT), particularly for enterprise and industrial applications. With greater reliability, scalability, and security than competing technologies, there’s certainly a compelling case to be made for private 5G.

Deploying a private 5G DAS, typically on CBRS frequency bands, is quite different from a traditional cellular DAS. In addition to the wireless signal itself, the system needs to handle the work traditionally handled by the carrier, such as registering SIM cards and managing devices. Reach out to our team of DAS experts for more information about private 5G network deployments.

Need Help? Reach Out

If you’re looking to deploy a 5G DAS or upgrade your existing system to support 5G reach out to our team of DAS experts.

Picking the right systems integrator to partner with is critical: we’ll stand by you from start to finish to make sure your project is a success, and our nationwide install team will ensure your deployment goes smoothly.

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