Wireless Technologies Explained: CBRS, DAS, 5G & Wifi-6

June 1, 2022

In today’s world, new technologies emerge every day, and established technologies like Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), WiFi and 4G evolve to keep up with network user demand.  Wireless “demand” has increased exponentially for decades, and the collective technology evolution is the cavalry coming to conquer the challenge.   

 We have so many wireless devices today that the collective signals are in constant risk of  “jamming up”, which results in slow speeds, crashed signals, and dropped calls.  

Twenty years ago, not being able to connect most often occurred because there was no coverage for the area. Today, it happens as often when the area has coverage, but the bandwidth demand exceeds the available supply.  The evolution of wireless technologies -   DAS, CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum), WiFi-6, and 5G - help the overall network add capacity so that those who seek access don’t experience slow speeds and crashes.

 Since it is often the case that these technologies are spoken of individually, it is understandable that some people think these networks have little or nothing to do with each other.  Well, if so,  you might be surprised.

Let’s review these technologies' definitions to make sure we’re on the same page.

What is CBRS? 

CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum. It’s a 3.5 GHz spectrum and is a band of important radio frequencies that fall within the mid-band spectrum range. This mid-band is the most desirable range because it has faster speeds than the low-band (up to 1GHz), and it has greater geographical range than the high-band spectrum range (mmWave).  

This means that CBRS will carry your device signal further and faster than what’s been available to us before.  CBRS bandwidth is “new” bandwidth that was previously unavailable for public use. 

Tier one access is protected for incumbent users, and tier three is for the public free of charge.  Tier two is where companies can lease a priority access license which will provide a new level of service not available prior to the CBRS auction.    

CBRS TIERS

To read more about CBRS, click here.


What is DAS? 

DAS stands for Distributed Antenna System and has gone under quite the transition in recent years. Technically, there have been many changes in 2 decades, but the DAS network remains an antenna based system that gives wireless service to people either in a building or a specific geographic area.

DAS system structure

The traditional early DAS systems included an antenna  located on the roof of a building. The antenna located on the roof distributes the service throughout large buildings like hospitals, skyscrapers.  At the turn of the century, they were the only game in town, but now a DAS often serves buildings that are much smaller, and/or too large for networks like 5G to completely reach

 

What is 5G?

1G was released in the 1970s. Then 2G in the 90s, 3G in the 2000’s, and 4G in 2009.  The evolution continued like clockwork. 5G came along in 2019 and promised to be the fastest mobile network of all with the promise of being up to 100 times faster than 4G.

According to a  5gAmerica.org's white paper, the scale of 5G’s impact is expected to be staggering.  A few statistics by industry analyst forecasts  predict that by 2025 there will be:
* 5 Billion people will be accessing the internet via mobile by 2025
* 5G will account for almost 1 in 7 connections (14 percent) by 2025
* 9 Billion mobile connections by 2025
* 25 Billion Internet of Things devices globally in 2025 (11.4 Billion Consumer ; 13.7 Billion Industrial).

All in all, 5G is a major player in the mobile network world and supports 1 million devices every square kilometer. That’s 1 million devices every square .62 miles.  And with history as our gauge, it is likely to grow.

What is WIFI-6E?

Another major player in the wireless world is the new generation of WiFi called WiFi 6E.  As  How-To Geek states, WiFi 6 and previous generations of WiFi use the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz radio bands.  A WiFi 6E is capable of operating on the 6 GHz band, as well.  

WiFi is most commonly known as the wireless technology used to connect computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices to the internet. Wi-Fi is the radio signal sent from a wireless router to a device, which translates the signal into the data you see and use.

WiFi-6E does the exact same thing, except it has a lot more benefits. It’s faster, can improve battery life of devices, and there’s better cyber security.

5g world technology consultants

How are these technologies interconnected?

Although they each have their “sweet spots” for providing connectivity, most of these technologies have overlapping solutions, so they can actually help each other out.  Let’s take a look at how they can work together as a collective solution.

WiFi, DAS, CBRS

It is worth remembering why DAS and WiFi were here first. WiFi provided wireless connectivity to the internet for PCs and laptops, and DAS provided strong cell coverage for cellular phones.  5G offered a new technology called  LTE (Long Term Evolution), which is more advanced than 4G or it's ancestors.   

DAS was on its own for many years, tirelessly working to provide internet and cell service to hospital basements, the 52nd floor of a high rise, and the little crevasses throughout office spaces in the largest of venues. The DAS system evolved over time to provide solutions for smaller spaces.  And now it  has some help from 5G.

Now, as the most recent solution to answer the call for better access and faster connectivity, CBRS brings with it benefits not available via DAS and WiFi.   It allows commercial companies to have their own private LTE network, delivering more control of the bandwidth along with more security.   Neither DAS nor Wi-Fi can match  security,  and  WiFi can become comparatively more expensive, depending on a host of factors. So, how can DAS and CBRS co-exist?  John Gilbert of Rudin Management company described it this way. "One can be a  data extractor.  The other one can ultimately bring cellular telephone connectivity into the building.

And of course WiFi evolved... as must all technology.  WiFi 6E, the most recent evolution, creates new bandwidth thanks to the new CBRS spectrum, which can  expand to include 5G.  

Working together, these technologies will bring you better service.  That is why as this article is written, some pundits call WiFi 6E the “latest and greatest” wireless technology.


 

Technology famously changes more rapidly than most other things we consume or use, and  DAS is not immune.  DAS  remained current by offering solutions for modestly sized buildings.   And now,  because of  CBRS, it can support a mid-band 5G connection.

Remember how we said 5G is supporting 1 million devices every square kilometer? That’s an insanely high number.  And as a result 5G networks get overloaded.

Enter Carrier Offloading

The 5G network offloads a device’s signal onto a nearby WiFi signal that has capacity to receive it.  This helps assure connectivity when the demand for the 5G network exceeds the capacity to handle the volume. As a result, you can make your calls, send your emails, and watch videos at the speeds you expect.   If you care to learn more about carrier offloadiing, please see ASD's article, "Carrier Offloading - Definition and Benefits".

We do appreciate that it can be difficult to appreciate the interdependence of these technologies as they each evolve to provide a better end user experience for those who demand wireless access.   We hope this article helped clarify how these technologies can interact with each other and work in tandem to provide better and faster connectivity even as demand for bandwidth continues to increase.  

 

And if you have a need for a technology consultant, please remember to contact the NTI Team for your technology design  & consultation needs.

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