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Are You Ready for 5G? (BOMA 2020)
July 10, 2020

A good connection for devices—phones, computers, sensors, and equipment—is critical in buildings. It’s becoming increasingly important as more and more devices join the network.

5G, the fifth generation of connectivity, promises a faster, more robust network enabling buildings to become even smarter.

In other words, 5G stands to make a big splash in commercial real estate. David Franklin, solutions consultant for Yardi Systems, explored the potential effects on buildings in a 2020 Virtual BOMA International Conference & Expo session, “5G and CRE: Impact on the Industry,” sponsored by Softbank Robotics.


Photo: Smart City; Credit: Shutterstock

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of connectivity.

It follows in the footsteps of first-generation wireless phones all the way through today’s 4G connectivity, which brought devices enough bandwidth and low enough latency (the delay in sending information from one point to the next) to enable things like video conferencing.

5G is essentially a superpowered version of 4G that can support “massive amounts of bandwidth, connect massive amounts of devices and do it with very low latency—almost real-time,” explained Franklin. 5G promises three key changes over previous generations of connectivity:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband. Imagine lightning-fast data rates that can handle higher traffic than today.
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communications. In other words, a more stable, more robust network.
  • Massive machine-type communication. “This is what we’re thinking of when we think of the Internet of Things—a massive number of low-cost devices with low energy consumption,” Franklin said. 5G will enable many more sensors and control devices to connect to a network and communicate with each other faster and more reliably.

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How 5G Can Change the Built Environment

Commercial real estate is full of potential use cases for 5G. Here are just a few of the ways your tenants can benefit.

Autonomous devices: 5G’s ubiquity and its ability to handle more devices on the network without slowing down will enable a new generation of autonomous devices that free up human workers to take care of higher-level tasks.

Think of robots that deliver mail in office buildings or Softbank Robotics’ autonomous cleaning robot, Whiz. These devices already exist, but faster data rates and a more robust network will enable them to communicate more with each other, collect and analyze more data, and perform new tasks.

Digital amenities: Buildings that become early adopters of 5G will differentiate themselves from the rest of the market, Franklin predicted. This might look like virtual-reality conferencing or conference rooms with 3D projectors.

Augmented reality tools for property and facility managers: In addition to the digital amenities you’re providing tenants, there can be benefits for your property or facility team too.

Imagine augmented reality maintenance tools that overlay what a technician sees in the field with diagnostic information or recommended fixes.

How to Prepare for 5G

5G isn’t widespread yet but will likely ramp up in the next two to five years. Building decision-makers should spend those years building up their ability to handle 5G when it becomes readily available.

Franklin recommended four steps to get there.

1. Understand what’s already in the building. “Physically, what do you have?” Franklin asked. “Have you run fiber? Fiber is really the backhaul for 5G.”

2. Perform an IT security assessment. “When you start connecting hundreds of thousands of devices, you are greatly increasing your threat attack surface area,” Franklin explained.

Know your IT resources and make sure your IT department is prepared to protect them.

3. Prepare your IT systems for a flood of data. You may not be able to provide 5G connectivity yet, but you can scale up storage and upgrade your security measures.

For example, 5G’s low latency and high speeds will enable more businesses to take advantage of 4K security cameras. “Now they’re 60 frames per second, so we can see detail on things,” Franklin said.

“It’s a high-quality view of exactly what’s happening. That’s going to be a lot of data, and if we’re going to store that—especially if we’re storing it on-site—we’re talking about lots and lots of storage.”

4. Focus on the tenant experience. “That’s what is really driving the bottom line,” Franklin explained.

“If we can get people into our buildings and have them stay in our buildings because we’re able to provide really good connectivity with all of these digital amenities, that is hugely powerful.

Think about what applications your tenants are going to use, how they will be supported, and what you need to do today, tomorrow and in the future to meet those needs. Ultimately, that’s what matters most.”

Read next: Successful Workforce Development Initiatives Include Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Factors (BOMA 2020)

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About the author
Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.