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5G

Now is the time to take 5G indoors

Operators have made huge investments in 5G RAN and can now provide excellent outdoor performance. But while mid-band spectrum with massive MIMO provides some indoor coverage, there is still a need for dedicated in-building 5G systems to deliver a great indoor experience and enable advanced use cases.

Indoor 5G coverage at venues — for example, offices, airports, and arenas — is now imperative. 5G has set a new performance benchmark and raised customer expectations in all locations. Better indoor service is important not just for operators and customers, but also for venue owners. And in the medium term, 5G Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging in several indoor scenarios, including private networks.

Many in-building systems have not yet been upgraded to 5G, and many venues and enterprises do not yet have dedicated coverage. This is set to change. For operators, enterprises and venues seeking to deploy dedicated 5G solutions, there are three key issues to consider: spectrum, technology and business models.

Spectrum options for in-building 5G

Baselining current in-building coverage on already deployed spectrum across mid-, low- and high-band spectrum is required before considering what additional bands are needed for users' services. Enterprises and venues will need to decide on the best option from licensed, shared or unlicensed spectrum; the RF characteristics of a location, demand density and a host of other factors will ultimately determine their choice.

Specific use cases will also drive the spectrum decisions for indoor use. For example, in manufacturing facilities or dense user environments, mid- and high-band frequencies are favorable due to the higher capacity advantages. Moreover, some indoor locations have particular requirements for uplink performance and low latency.

Technology options for venue and in-building coverage systems

There are already good indoor 4G solutions, but these form a varied and complicated installed base resulting from the mix of building types and technology generations. 5G also offers diverse technical solutions for in-building and campus area systems. Broadly speaking, there are two main options:

  • Distributed antenna systems (DAS): DAS is not going away — it is a well-established technology and will remain important. However, the many flavors of DAS make it challenging to navigate. An assessment of whether a system can support a wide enough range of 5G frequencies will determine if it is viable to upgrade an existing deployment or if a new installation is required. Encouragingly, there is a lot of innovation in DAS — for example, creating power efficient systems, introducing support for MIMO and enabling higher frequencies and wider channels widths.
  • In-building small cell systems: Small cells come in many varieties to meet different coverage, capacity and spectrum requirements. The operations model is more similar to the one used for Wi-Fi, making small cells relatively straightforward to deploy and maintain. Again, there is lots of innovation in products, with dedicated in-building systems for venues of all sizes now available.

In both cases, installation logistics will present challenges where new cable runs are needed for power and fiber. Innovations like bidirectional optical technology could allow fiber reuse in places, but venues must weigh the options, costs and timescales before choosing a solution. Enterprises can really benefit from the expertise of vendors and systems integrators to navigate this complexity.

Ownership and business models

Superior connectivity and independently validated network performance benchmarking are now vital to venue owners seeking to ensure a great customer experience and make their premises desirable to new users and businesses. The value of connectivity to venue owners and businesses is perhaps key to accelerating the deployment of indoor and campus area 5G.

There are several business models that address the importance of mobile connectivity to venues and end users. The major issues to consider include the following:

  • Multi-carrier, neutral host: This deployment model is good for public and multi-tenant venues. For the user, it means greater coverage and choice. For the venue, this model makes in-building coverage more attractive to tenants. Neutral host providers that run network facilities on behalf of a venue and lease access to operators are emerging as valuable contributors in this market. The major challenge is making sure the economic incentives align for all parties.
  • Single carrier installations: This model can work successfully to deliver brilliant, reliable performance. Historically, these deployments have been funded by the operator and are associated with long-term strategic contracts. Enterprises or venues can fund or partly fund installations as appropriate.
  • Public and private access: This model is particularly attractive in large venues where there is a need for public access and private services for venue operations — for example, airports and stadiums. This model is already familiar in Wi-Fi networks, where public "guest" access and private services can be securely delivered on a common infrastructure.

Indoor 5G is the next logical step to support greater capacity, user experience and true 5G use cases over the entire network. Now is the time for venues and enterprises to work with operators to ensure the delivery of indoor 5G coverage on a sustainable, long-term basis.

— Ruth Brown, Principal Analyst — Mobile Networks, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Samsung Networks.

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