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It is undeniable that widespread deployment of burgeoning technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) is imminent and will change both public and private sector functions in ways that we cannot yet fully imagine. The deployment of these technologies and the opportunities they bring is dependent upon widespread deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities.
Many communities are seeking to connect local businesses and residents through fiber-optic telecommunications technology. Similarly, IoT networks often require a “backhaul” fiber network. As a result, in a trend that has been accelerating over the past few years, commercial tenants are analyzing the broadband capabilities, including provider and network redundancy, of potential leased space as a key factor when determining where to locate their operations.
By following strategic steps for building critical broadband infrastructure, commercial property owners can address tenants’ needs in a cost-effective manner.
Smart Building Connectivity Solutions
The baseline technology commercial property owners should consider is fiber optics. Fiber is attractive due to being “future-proof,” meaning the available bandwidth can be increased without having to change the infrastructure, unlike other modes to deliver broadband such as cable or digital subscriber line (DSL). A fiber-optic system could entail a fiber-optic line that reaches a single employer or major development, or could be a fiber ring that circles an entire city. The network can be privately owned, publicly owned, or created through a public-private partnership, and can be constructed and connected to a commercial facility either underground or aerially. Fiber, depending on the electronics used, has the bandwidth to carry enormous amounts of data.
A second technology that is becoming increasingly important is cellular. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to open high-band spectrum for fifth generation (5G) expansion. We are still several years from true 5G deployment, which will require smaller, more numerous towers and antennas, known as small cells. However, once the requisite infrastructure is deployed, 5G mobile connectivity will likely become the societal standard. In addition, because of 5G’s capabilities to penetrate buildings and still provide large amounts of bandwidth, some tenants may choose to simply utilize a wireless connection. Depending on the size of the operation and the data generated, others will require wired and wireless connections.
A third set of technologies for consideration are non-cellular wireless options, such as microwave and Wi-Fi. Both of these wireless connections are available without using cellular services. Wi-Fi requires an in-building infrastructure deployment connected to a large bandwidth connection, such as fiber optics, in order to facilitate wireless internet connectivity. There are many companies out there that are now in the business of installing Wi-Fi infrastructure into commercial buildings. Commercial microwave connectivity is essentially a point-to-point connection, usually between a tower and roof mount on the building. This technology, formerly disfavored due to technical challenges such as fading signals in rain storms, has improved drastically over the past 10 years and now offers a cost effective solution to sites that cannot access or afford a fiber connection.
Broadband Infrastructure for Commercial Buildings: Technology Options