Universal 5G Indoor Coverage
5G is a reality. Consumer adoption of 5G connections across mobile devices and cellular broadband continue to grow, with 5G subscriptions across Asia Pacific, Japan and EMEA forecast to grow by 61% from 2021-2025, with 42% of consumer connections expected to be 5G by 2025. IDC also expects that the number of 5G base stations in the AP region will exceed 7M by 2025, surpassing 2G/3G/4G base stations by 2027.
Expectations are high. IDC’s recent consumer survey on 5G adoption and usage found that 46% nominated 5G connectivity as very important along with the presence of streaming capabilities and universal coverage. In addition, 35% of respondents in Asia Pacific noted they were already on 5G with a further 51% saying they would upgrade within 3 months of service availability. However, as operators invest over 35% of CAPEX into building and expanding 5G coverage, 31% of survey respondents expected no change in their mobile bill while a further 38% said they would pay up to 10% more for the service.
Wireless coverage is an expectation in most public spaces, with speed and capacity ranked as high service requirements from users. Stadiums, railway stations, shopping malls and tunnels are considered mandatory for good indoor coverage. Increasingly, users are unwilling to take the time to sign up and sign on to facility provided Wi-Fi services, looking to their cellular provider to keep them connected wherever and whenever they are.
Universal coverage is not just a consumer expectation. Enterprises are accelerating their wireless first plans with a strong emphasis on 5G.
This means healthcare environments, factories and enterprise campus networks will be looking to utilize cellular as a component of their connectivity strategy. That connectivity must cover indoor and outdoor environments placing an expectation on network service providers to offer solutions that can manage services in the operating theatre, intensive care unit, warehouse, and factory floor, among others.
Indoor Distributed Massive MIMO Address Capacity and Density Demands
In indoor scenarios, radio signals are prone to blocking and absorption during propagation, resulting in signal attenuation and gaps in coverage. As the density of devices increases, hotspot traffic areas may be prone to radio channel congestion resulting in poor network performance. As use cases go beyond simple sensing of devices to including increasing video content at high bitrates (4K, 8K and beyond), service requirements increase to enable consistent quality and service.
Due to the use of lower frequencies below 2.6 GHz in 2G/3G, indoor deployments typically utilized passive Distributed Antenna System (DAS). When 4G moved indoors these were implemented as passive or active DAS. Active DAS used an uncoordinated network of small/pico cells connected with structured cabling and 2T2R MIMO. As 5G networks started to go live it became clear to CSPs and owners/operators of buildings, stadiums, subways and similarly enclosed areas that 5G would need to be an active, distributed and coordinated network of indoor small/pico cells.
In distributed Massive MIMO, the antenna units of indoor small/pico cells will be 4T4R and connect into a baseband unit via a radio hub. The baseband unit provides distributed and coordinated management of the small/pico cells and advanced features such as joint beamforming between cells. Recently, plenty of deployments have demonstrated the advantages of coordinated, distributed Massive MIMO. The stadium experience at events like the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou has used indoor distributed Massive MIMO antenna technology to double the downlink speed for over 500 concurrent devices during testing.
Similarly, in convention locations as people come together once more following the pandemic and virtual users collaborate with events in real time, indoor 5G using distributed Massive MIMO was able to deliver over 2Gbps traffic to users during the 2021 Global Mobile Broadband Forum. Transportation hubs including metros and railways have also benefits from indoor 5G solutions which offer over 1Gbps to travellers and deliver an uninterrupted connected experience.
Enterprises are also prioritizing the use of 5G in enabling use cases which offer secure connectivity, flexible provisioning, and the ability to leverage both private and public cellular networks.
In considering overall traffic across enterprise IOT use cases, IDC expects that data generated from enterprise and industrial use cases to exceed 580PB per day in Asia Pacific by 2028. Much of this content will be high resolution video to support remote operation of equipment in construction, transportation, and manufacturing along with AR/VR assisted maintenance and management of equipment along with high resolution in public safety and surveillance solutions.
The demands of these use cases across both consumer and enterprise make ubiquitous and high capacity (i.e. greater than 1Gbps) indoor network service essential as a fundamental infrastructure component to service delivery. The capability of distributed Massive MIMO to deliver consistent, high-capacity connectivity to users is also driven by software driven network capabilities embedded in the antenna network. Though the multiple input and output antennas contribute to the delivery of capacity, over 80% of the work required to create high speed connectivity across indoor spaces falls to the software. This combination allows a deployment of small cell MIMO antennas to act a single virtual network optimising user experiences and workloads.
Carrier/Enterprise Indoor Network Partnership is Key to 5G Business Success
The good news, however, is that enterprises, B2C organization and telecom providers are already working closely with each other to provide public and private network-based services. Enterprises are looking to utilise high speed, high capacity and highly flexible radio networks in their environments and the ramp up in capability from 4G to 5G makes many of the previously discussed use cases realistic. However, managing a cellular network is not capability enterprises wish to adopt. As a result, partnerships between operators and enterprises are already growing, with private cellular network services seen as the single most critical infrastructure component in the next 3 years by retail, manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare industries in the region.
Network capacity becomes fundamental to supporting a wide range of use cases. Enterprises are expecting telecom operators to provide connectivity in the indoor environment that can scale to support multiple video, operational and process based workloads to a wide variety of people, things, processes and applications. Managed services including security, network management, automation and workload optimisation alongside cloud connection and virtualisation of all services are already being added to the portfolio planning for operators.
End-to-end service management for next generation connectivity is strategic for customer satisfaction and tied directly to the communication service provider providing connectivity to an enterprise. This E2E service management capability is the sole domain of telecom operator as nobody else in the service supply chain will take on or be held to the demand for “rightful” service operability other than the telecom operator. As a result, the business challenge and opportunity for business success in delivery of ubiquitous indoor coverage in the 5G era is still significant for network operators everywhere.
Originally published by Hugh Ujhazy, Vice President, Telecomunications & IOT APEJ at IDCSubscribe to our daily newsletter Back