Executive Exclusive: ADRF’s Julie Song on 5G, Smart Cities and Private LTE

The entire wireless ecosystem, as well as the economy as a whole, is poised to benefit from the deployment of 5G technology. Several challenges, however, must be overcome before the benefits are seen. The emergence of CBRS as a potential private LTE network solution along with a groundswell of momentum around smart cities applications will create additional opportunities and challenges for the wireless infrastructure industry. Julie Song, President of Advanced RF Technologies Inc. (ADRF), sat down with WIA to discuss these revolutionary changes impacting the wireless infrastructure industry. ADRF is an original equipment manufacturer of in-building wireless solutions with 19 years of industry experience.

What will 5G mean for the wireless infrastructure ecosystem?

Nearly every company stands to gain from the launch of 5G, but some have a far larger opportunity than others. For instance, some of the major tower companies have stated in their financial outlooks that the need for more, heavier antennas leaves them positioned for a financial boon.

In some instances, carriers will look to offset this increased pricing by requiring their vendors to either create more flexible (and perhaps smaller) solutions or cutting costs on existing infrastructure. Rather than racing to the bottom and selling on cost differential, the hardware OEMs have a unique opportunity to increase the flexibility of their offerings. Modular, future-proof design that can lower total cost of ownership now and into the future will be appealing to the carriers.

Beyond the common carriers, we’re seeing a number of companies looking to enter the 5G space in various ways. Dish Network and Starry are two companies looking to compete, which means hardware OEMs suddenly have a new group of companies with whom they can partner.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the wireless infrastructure industry today?

One of the largest challenges in the wireless space will be creating a sort of end-user knowledge base, as technology evolves from 4G to 5G. With carriers considering fixed-wireless vs. mobile offerings for 5G, new entrants jumping into the fray as startups, and soaring customer demand based on news and advertising, it will be important to separate fact from fiction.

For infrastructure, this will also mean identifying new business opportunities. We’ve seen the beginning of a shift away from carrier-funded, in-building connectivity solutions, largely driven by BYOD initiatives. However, this shift will not limit a consumer’s expectations of always being connected with lightning-fast wireless capacity.

The infrastructure companies that will be successful will find the right mix of versatility and cost effectiveness in their offerings, regardless of whether they sell small cells, DAS, repeaters, or some combination thereof.

What are some things city leaders and other stakeholders need to know about smart cities technology and potential?

It’s easy to look at in-building connectivity today as a sort of roadmap for what the smart cities of tomorrow will become. Enterprises and building owners are already being forced to solve connectivity issues to realize value from IoT. This manifests in a number of industries:

  • Manufacturing companies are overcoming connectivity challenges in plants in order to gain the expected value and safety that comes from deploying wearables and other sensors.
  • Sports venues are incorporating a wide range of Wi-Fi and 4G solutions to keep fans connected, both to share their experiences and to be able to order food to their seats.
  • Enterprises are attempting to overcome challenges in in-building wireless while also solving for the last mile to ensure IoT devices are creating data, and ultimately insights.
  • Public Safety is also gaining a major overhaul, and real estate leaders must quickly come to understand the requirements of FirstNet, which may require them to augment (or overhaul) their public-safety solutions in order to maintain their certificates of occupancy.

What are the needs of enterprises for indoor coverage and what are the needs for consumers?

The recent shift away from carrier-funded DAS and repeater solutions has placed the onus on internal IT teams to support multiple bands and carriers to deliver flawless connections. Today, more than 80% of mobile device usage comes from indoors, and the volume of indoor usage will only climb as consumers become accustomed to 5G speeds, which will consequently increase the burden on IT.

That said, it will be important for IT leaders to determine which use cases will require faster speeds and prioritize accordingly. For instance, a 4G connection, assuming it is amplified and provisioned correctly, should be enough to support voice connections, whereas 5G may be more appropriate for video or data connections.

Enterprises that are already incorporating initiatives like Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and CBRS will find themselves miles ahead when 5G ultimately rolls out.

Indoor environments create different challenges than outdoor environments for indoor coverage. What are some of those challenges and how does ADRF address them?

In terms of challenges like designing systems that can operate in certain environments, we rely heavily on our systems integrator partners for both installation and collaboration in our product roadmap. We’ve built a number of solutions to meet demand from our integrator base. Some examples include:

  • A combination fiber optic repeater/DAS head end that can serve as the basis for Fire/Life safety code mandated connectivity in the majority of buildings nationwide. This Public Safety platform is highly attractive not only in buildings where telecom closet space is limited but also to streamline and accelerate the approval process for jurisdictional authorities testing to ensure that they are up to the most recent fire codes.
  • A compact yet high-power modular digital repeater with our patented Interference Cancellation System that enables 30 dB more gain than a traditional repeater to support isolation-challenged environments. This FirstNet/Band 14 compliant platform supports both indoor 19-inch rack mounting as well as IP66-rated outdoor enclosures, making it ideal for any application.

What is ADRF focused on right now? What kind of deployments are you working on and what have they taught you about the market?

Modular design has always been a hallmark of ADRF. We’ve built solutions that can be improved, augmented, and ultimately, serve as future-proof for our customers. That hasn’t changed much.

The biggest advancements for us have come in terms of the number of use cases and bands that require support. T-Mobile is building out its 600 MHz network, so we’ve developed components that can simply be plugged into our solutions and can work seamlessly with that band. We also anticipate a groundswell of enterprise customers to begin rolling out private LTE networks utilizing the CBRS or LAA in their environments, so we’ve incorporated those bands into our offering to help them keep their employee and devices connected.

Julie Song is the President at ADRF and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company. Prior to establishing ADRF in 1999, she worked at General Motors and Northrop Grumman Corporation. She holds an MBA in Strategic Operations from Cornell University as well as her BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego.