The long-awaited arrival of 5G technology is here. Increasingly, the devices in our pockets can use 5G networks, but while telecom companies have been powering the 5G rollout on city streets, inside buildings — where we live, work and spend most of our time — implementation is less defined.

While technology companies have been encouraging multifamily owners to prepare for 5G for years, many owners are still unsure about how the technology works and what preparations they actually need to make.

To cut through the 5G hype, Bisnow spoke to Charles Stallings, a senior manager on the innovative product development and incubation team at Lumen Technologies, the parent company of CenturyLink. Here are the three biggest takeaways that multifamily owners need to know about 5G.

5G is a network enhancer

Many multifamily owners and developers are hoping to draw in tenants by having the latest technology and smart devices in their units. But while a 5G plan has the potential to enhance tenant experience, Internet of Things devices are likely to put the largest burden on existing WiFi networks.

“Owners have long known that they need to provide fast internet service but with all these devices they’re bringing in, connectivity has to go further,” Stallings said. “That means having a strong network built on fiber that can deliver service to every unit and common space.”

Smart televisions, thermostats, door cameras and smart appliances like refrigerators and washing machines will all require an indoor wireless network with robust, ubiquitous connectivity. That means a building or community-wide WiFi network that can scale along with growing wireless demands. Owners can supplement fiber-based networks with private communication technologies like 5G wireless, CBRS or ORAN to ensure they have coverage in their buildings. CenturyLink teams can help multifamily owners determine the best solution for their communities.

As smart devices continue to proliferate, high download speeds are going to be expected, and tenants may gravitate toward the most advanced communities with the best technology.

“If I need to work in a coffee shop, I might pass up the mom-and-pop shop and go to Starbucks because I know they’ll have the best internet,” Stallings said. “It’s the same notion for tenants. If they can’t control the devices in their home that they’re used to, tenants will avoid that property.”

Man jogs through the park while streaming music thanks to 5G.

5G is connectivity for the last mile

One of 5G’s defining features is that it works best over short distances. The high-density signals degrade quickly through the air, and even more quickly through concrete and steel. Building owners can’t rely on outdoor 5G networks to provide any kind of reliable service inside their own walls. Without an in-building WiFi solution, there is a connectivity gap as residents and building users pass in and out of their buildings.

“As they walk back into their building, all the way up to their apartments, residents are going to be testing out whether they can continue video calling their families, or streaming a movie, or playing the game they were playing outside,” Stallings said. “If they lose service, they’ll notice.”

While 5G services can have exceptional speeds when a device is nearby, a fiber network can bring reliable and robust connectivity over greater distances, including across a multifamily campus. Understanding what technologies are most useful in what situations can help building owners make a cost-effective connectivity strategy.

Within his multifamily community, a man uses his tablet.

Wireless strategy depends on location

When it comes to supplementing connectivity in a multifamily community, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The connectivity landscape may be very different for a downtown multifamily high-rise than for a set of suburban townhouses.

“We dig into the infrastructure, looking to see if an owner has fiber available, cell towers either on their building or nearby, what radio networks are available, what wireless access points they have and what capabilities they have to install cellular 5G in the building,” Stallings said. “We partner with owners to show them the best path forward.”

The layout of the community itself can make a big difference. A multifamily building with all of its amenity spaces contained on one or two floors could be perfect for private wireless backed by fiber infrastructure, Stallings said, whereas a campus that extends across various buildings and outdoor spaces might want to leverage private WiFi and public telecom networks. Ultimately, though, any connectivity solution will rely on a strong fiber-based network that can connect 5G infrastructure. That network will grow and adapt as multifamily demands change.

When they arrive for a site survey, CenturyLink teams can determine the strengths of various cell and radio signals, identify the best solution for each building and lay out a full connectivity plan.

“Where you are and what your community looks like will change the 5G approach,” Stallings said. “But what isn’t going away is tenants’ need for better speeds and better coverage.”

Although CenturyLink’s fiber service usually means 100% fiber-optic network to residences, in limited circumstances CenturyLink may need to deploy alternative technologies coupled with a non-fiber connection from a certain point — usually the curb — to residences in order to provide the advertised download speeds.

Learn more about CenturyLink Connected Communities

This article was originally posted on https://www.bisnow.com/blogs/centurylink on April 15, 2021, and was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and CenturyLink.