As we shift to an increasingly technology-driven world, many industries are evaluating whether they’re ready for what’s next. For those who plan and implement in building communications solutions, ensuring the infrastructure can support next gen technologies and applications must be top of mind.
At the latest Fiber for Breakfast live video series, two experts discussed why fiber is an integral part to smart buildings, smart venues and how vertical infrastructure is important to enable connectivity for the future—especially for wireless connections.
“We use the saying ‘There’s no wireless without wires,’” said Rich Berliner, CEO and publisher of Fifth Gen Media. “Everyone thinks we’ve gone to the wireless age, but they don’t realize that it takes fiber to bring that traffic—it’s an incredibly important part of the ecosystem.”
Vertical infrastructure in and outside of buildings allows for small cell networks, which feed off fiber backbones. These can be as small as one physical building or span an entire city. Tormod Larsen, CTO at ExteNet Systems—a telecommunication provider that specializes in this type of infrastructure—said the idea is to make these small networks part of their own ecosystem.
Inside a building, fiber is run up a riser where fiber is then dropped on every floor. Outside, small cell nodes act as connectivity points, and can be found on streetlights, poles and even on the side of buildings. All of this connects by a backbone.
“We are tying in different types of facilities and running fiber within those buildings—health care, commercial real estate, sports and entertainment sites,” he said. “Each building itself is its own ecosystem, but the fiber is what’s tying this all together.”
One benefit is enabling a building or series of buildings to have different networks inside of itself. Larsen said he’s seen building management companies create a private network that the building runs smart cameras, sensors and other IoT devices for the building as a whole. This model also allows for several different providers to enter a building relatively easily—ExteNet typically installs a “community room” where providers can plug in and out of the building.
“We built out a consolidated fiber infrastructure that all of the tenants can use in here,” Larsen said, referencing an $800 million renovation of the Old Chicago Main Post Office. “There are some high profile customers here, and it was so much easier for all the broadband providers to get to their customers. We basically build it from scratch and say, ‘Hey, here’s an infrastructure that you can tap into.’”
It’s something many high profile building projects include. ExteNet outfitted AT&T Stadium in the late 2000s with 33 miles of indoor cabling, as well as six miles of outdoor cabling and 100,000 termination points.
“They’re a leading indicator of where the industry is going in terms of capacity,” Larsen said. “We’re just going through a 5G upgrade and I thought it was interesting, just in terms of scale and understanding how massive amounts of fiber can go into a limited space.”
Berliner said as real estate developers build new sites—or as they renovate old ones—this type of opportunity should be top of mind. Customers demand high speeds and high capacity now, and in the future that will only grow. He pointed to smart cities like Lake Nona, Florida, where developers included fiber as a key part of their construction plan.
“It’s an underappreciated area of the real estate business that needs to be much more focused and appreciated as we go forward by business owners, landlords, facility managers, and residential owners,” Berliner said. “We think that’s the key to the city.”
COVID-19 is also exposing the need for these types of systems. Not only will higher capacities be necessary for those working and learning from home, Larsen said it will be important for health and safety. He pointed to IoT devices in buildings that measure crowd control and temperature as examples of tapping into a building’s network.
“When you have that type of fiber footprint, you start seeing a number of applications,” he said. “We just see the need for this type of architecture—the demand for it is increasing.”
As developers start realizing the importance of these indoor and outdoor small cell networks, Berliner said they should lay more fiber than they think they need. If history has taught us anything, the need for capacity can rapidly change in a matter of 10 years based on new technology. Being thoughtful about constructing a fiber infrastructure can futureproof a building for years to come—for both small and large cities.
“It’s not just for stadiums or a 500-story building,” Berliner said. “It’s an opportunity to bring high speed data to residential, to commercial, to sports, to whatever it might be. I see the extension of fiber driven deeper as a key element of that.”
Join us for our next Fiber for Breakfast live video series on August 5. The topic: Fiber to the Data Center.