Smart Buildings

Active or Passive DAS, Wi-Fi or LTE: Your Options for 5G Offloading

Ron Tellas and Steve Carroll

To make sure device users get the level of service they expect, 5G cellular networks need a way to alleviate data congestion. This capability improves performance and speed to make sure the 5G network can operate as efficiently as possible.


As 5G brings new spectrum possibilities—which lead to more bandwidth—increasing numbers of devices and connections will aim to take advantage of this game-changing cellular technology. As a result, the need to alleviate data congestion through offloading will grow.


What is data offloading? It’s a technique that shifts data traffic from a cellular network to local, in-building networks so the cellular network can maintain the performance that its users demand. As people and devices continue to increase reliance on wireless, 5G offloading will become best practice.


What is data offloading going to offer users? Think of it like this: Even as recently as just a few years ago, most people were willing to deal with spotty connections while they were on the move. For example, as you walked through an airport and out to a taxi, you understood that you would most likely lose connection.


Today, however, this kind of temporary disconnection is no longer acceptable. People expect constant wireless connectivity no matter where they are or what they’re doing—and they don’t care how it happens. Data offloading is a way to seamlessly move the user’s device from one network to another—without the user even realizing it in most cases.


There are several ways to offload 5G cellular traffic onto smaller networks. When it comes to the best way to handle it, there is also no right or wrong answer. The best fit for you depends on the environment and your network.


For example, stadiums and arenas have different connectivity demands than a casino or a small office. The throngs of fans at a game probably won’t leave the venue for several hours; their main concern will be throughput. They’ll want to be able to share their game-day experiences with friends and family who aren’t at the venue. These kinds of priorities will dictate which 5G offloading option is the best choice.


Here’s a quick look at the four options for 5G offloading—active or passive DAS, Wi-Fi and LTE—which can be used individually or in combination.


1. Active DAS (Distributed Antenna System)


An active DAS or RAN (radio access network) relies on several antennas to provide wireless coverage. Unlike a passive DAS, the components of an active DAS require a power source to operate.


An active DAS consists of a head-end unit (HE), which receives the wireless signal from a donor antenna or directly from a service provider’s network core. It sends the signal via riser-rated fiber optic cable to multiple remote radio units (RUs or RRUs), which are located throughout a building.


An active DAS is the best way to deploy distributed antenna systems and support 5G offloading in venues like arenas where throughput is the biggest concern.


2. Passive DAS


A passive DAS operates at a different signal frequency than Wi-Fi. It uses several antennas to provide wireless coverage by capturing and amplifying existing cellular signals.


To bring signals inside a building and/or disperse them across a vast area, a passive DAS redistributes signals from cellular carriers through the air or via direct line.


For a small enterprise building that doesn’t require lots of throughput, 5G offloading could occur through a passive DAS, which adds coverage, not throughput.


3. Wi-Fi Networks


Wi-Fi networks will play an important role in supporting the ever-growing demand for wireless connectivity and data offloading.


Although it’s currently under development, Wi-Fi 7, also known as IEEE 802.11be, will be a viable 5G offloading option.


The IEEE 802.11be task group is working hard to ensure that Wi-Fi 7 will be able to handle everything 5G needs. Even though Wi-Fi 7 devices are still at least a year away, the upcoming standard suggests that data rates will be up to four times faster than Wi-Fi 6 and also offer reduced latency.


It will support significantly increased connectivity, speed and capacity for things like augmented reality and virtual reality, 4K video streaming and cloud gaming.


For large venues, 5G offloading could occur through Wi-Fi.


4. LTE, Small Cells or CBRS


5G offloading can also be done through LTE or small cells, where working with a licensed carrier is necessary in order to create a seamless handoff.


Using this method to offload 5G data traffic can provide a high level of network quality, performance and flexibility while offering increased network capacity and improved data speeds.


For private networks, 5G offloading could occur through small cells or LTE.


The Choice is Yours


Whether you use an active or passive DAS, Wi-Fi or LTE, Belden has everything you need to create an intelligent infrastructure. By involving us early in project conversations, we can help support your design process, find the right consultant and contractor, coordinate the project from start to finish, and encourage you to consider new, cost-effective options to lead you to the best results.


Start here to earn more about our wireless solutions.


Related Links:


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