Recently, while attending an industry conference on Internet of Things (IoT), I was struck by a comment made by a panelist. Several of them compared and contrasted the competitive landscape from various perspectives (commercial, industrial, residential and utilities), but one stood out when he talked about the importance of focusing on infrastructure.
The panelist cautioned us about the nature of the sometimes-uncertain and/or shifting infrastructure capabilities of platforms, devices and software we rely on. Infrastructure is required for communication and a functional IoT. Further, he went on to suggest that more attention should be paid to infrastructure to prevent IoT growth from being impeded because our “things” can’t communicate with each other.
This caution applies equally, in my opinion, to wired and wireless worlds; however, given the high degree of attention paid to mobile and portable devices in IoT, let’s focus on the importance of strong infrastructures for wireless networks, which have moved beyond mere convenience to become core, mission-critical assets.
Connecting Wireless Nodes
Wireless is just that: Communication to a device without the use of wire. But that doesn’t mean wire isn’t necessary. After all, how does a wireless node talk to the network? Through wires! As someone once joked, from a building perspective, “wireless” without “wire” is just “less.”
So how do we connect wireless nodes to the network? Isn’t it as easy as plugging it in?
Some systems are standards based while others, especially legacy technologies, are proprietary. The industry is moving toward standards-based infrastructure (cabling) to make connecting wireless nodes easier, better and faster; however, the type of cabling and design are very much reliant on the type of wireless system installed. This does not suit a one-size-fits-all approach. Typically, wireless nodes have much higher bandwidth and speed requirements, with a lower threshold for errors. This makes sense because they serve multiple devices; in practice, it’s not always considered.
BICSI and TIA have published documents to aid in the planning, design and installation of wireless networks. These standards-development organizations (SDOs) are continually adding to and upgrading their telecommunications cabling technical guidelines – specifically in regard to the need for supporting wireless.
A distributed antenna system (DAS) network consists of antenna nodes connected to a common source(s) that provides wireless service. For DAS network implementation, you can refer to ANSI/BICSI 006-2015, Distributed Antenna System (DAS) Design and Implementation Best Practices, as well as ANSI/TIA TSB-5018 Structured Cabling Infrastructure Guidelines to Support Distributed Antenna Systems.
DAS networks are typically used to accommodate a number of different radio-based systems to Wi-Fi and carrier-based cellular networks. Although potentially broader in application than discrete systems due to their ability to accommodate a number of radio signals, this comes with additional planning, design and operations complexities. Each radio spectrum has different characteristics for coverage and capacity that need to be accommodated by the system.
Radiating cable networks have existed for many decades – well before I joined the industry in the 1980s. When I started out, we were using “leaky coax” for operational radios and MATV (master antenna TV). Theoretically, any radio-based signal can be delivered via a DAS network system. Currently, we are seeing an increasing mandate for their use in supporting first-responder and operational radios in buildings with coverage and/or capacity issues. Many building owners and network providers consider DAS networks for more than just operational radios; they are increasingly being used to provide better cellular coverage and capacity, as well as provide WLAN signals.
Typically, no two DAS network implementations look alike due to the variances in wireless coverage and the systems supported. Coverage can differ widely due to building layout, construction and usage patterns. The variance in RF requirements of the various systems, as well as their usage profiles, is also significant. Industry guidance in this case is much more descriptive, relying more heavily on multi-disciplinary and organizational collaboration. The media choices for DAS networks are equally varied by provider and application, whether they are fiber optic, coaxial, category cable or a combination of this media.
Wireless through Discrete Antenna Systems
For discrete antenna systems (such as Wi-Fi), guidance can be found in ANSI/TIA TSB-162-A Telecommunications Cabling Guidelines for Wireless Access Points, as well as in BICSI’s Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual.
Discrete antenna systems supporting Wi-Fi tend to be more uniform in delivery and application because they’re typically designed to support 802.11x technologies with a known (and more or less ubiquitous) radio profile for coverage and capacity. There are still variances based on building and usage; however, they tend to be less widely distributed.
Putting Wireless Infrastructure First
Wherever you may be in the project lifecycle and value chain, meeting the current needs of wireless connectivity is not a simple task.
With the ever-increasing use of wireless, and the growth of IoT, that dynamic may become more complex rather than less. To have truly ubiquitous and transparent IoT for users, the infrastructure we build our networks upon must be strong enough to meet current needs and flexible enough to adapt to emerging technologies.
Wireless infrastructure should never be an afterthought – it needs to be considered on its own merits and requirements. It also needs to be reviewed regularly, just like any other foundation you rely on.
If you have questions about how to prepare your network for IoT, we can help. Enterprises can count Belden on for high performance and reliability, expert care and advice, and lower total cost of ownership for IoT networks at all levels.
With an emphasis on data center design, planning and building, Henry Franc acts as a trusted advisor for large or complex projects across all verticals, assessing clients’ business needs and finding the best technology options to meet them. He was also elected by industry colleagues to serve as vice-chair of the TR42 Telecommunications Cabling Systems Engineering Committee.