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Company: New Screen Hides 5G Cells Without Blocking Signal

Raycap says its new product will allow governments and telecommunications firms to put small cells necessary for 5G in places where existing infrastructure is installed without dominating the cityscape with gray boxes.

Raycap InvisiWave small cell concealment screen
Courtesy of Raycap
As local governments across the country tangle with concerned residents, powerful telecommunications companies and impatient national leaders on the issue of rolling out 5G technology — the next generation of wireless connectivity, so much faster that it promises to enable huge technological advancements — one issue keeps coming back again and again.

The “small cell” infrastructure that 5G runs on is, uh, not pretty. And because of the way it works, it will need to be much more ubiquitous than previous generations.

“In order to make the network perform for 5G and millimeter wave applications, the number of sites has to be increased substantially,” said Trey Nemeth, general manager for the electrical-surge-protection-and-telecommunication-infrastructure-concealment company Raycap. “But what we’re seeing in general is the carriers looking to not just build new sites, but also take advantage of existing assets that they have, existing sites, and add 5G to those sites as well as building new sites.”

So Raycap, a global company with a large U.S. footprint, has come up with a new material it hopes will help hide the boxes — and critically, won’t block their signals in the process. They call it InvisiWave, and it’s essentially a screen that can be made to look like it’s part of a larger structure. On Aug. 4, the company announced a screen panel made of the stuff that can be used for new installations, as well as an “aperture kit” for retrofits.

“You’re generally replacing or adding parts to existing buildings that have the same architectural appearance as the existing building,” Nemeth said. “So, very common is a screen wall addition on a commercial building … this might look something similar to a screen wall that would be built to hide HVAC equipment on a roof.”

They could also use the material on light poles, false chimneys and other places a 5G antenna might be hidden. Or, as some municipalities have pushed for, an artist could paint over it — so long as they use the right stuff that won’t block signal.

“These materials have differing levels of performance when it comes to … 4G-type applications, which are generally topping out around 2 GHz as far as frequency is concerned — but with millimeter wave, we’re talking about 24, 28, 39 GHz, which is a much more sensitive part of the spectrum,” he said. “So the traditional concealment materials are not suitable for the transmission of the 5G millimeter wave signals.”

Retrofitting could help speed 5G's rollout by avoiding battles over zoning, leasing and aesthetic requirements.

The InvisiWave product, Nemeth says, doesn’t affect the performance of the radio like those other materials do. The company worked with telecommunications firms to test the material under various conditions — dampness, hail, close to the concealment barrier, farther away from it, etc. — and received approval from “all major carriers in the U.S.”

Nemeth hopes that on top of helping local governments assuage concerns of gray boxes dominating their cityscapes, the new technology will also help avoid major work every time the technology changes.

“These radios tend to get changed out every so often with whatever the new technology is, and the appearance and form factor of the radios change,” he said. “So the concealment product gives the opportunity to have the external appearance be driven by the requirements of the local area, ensuring proper match and good aesthetics for the future, even if the technology ends up changing.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.