Is 5G Ready for the Great Indoors?
In live commercial networks today, 5G is already delivering vast improvements over 3G/4G networks including higher bandwidth, broader availability, and lower latencies. In South Korea, SK Telecom is touting that it is elevating the customer experience by offering up to 8,000 different content offers in a broad array of areas including gaming, ultra-high definition (UHD), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Still the jury is still out on whether 5G can produce breakthroughs in one area that consistently plagued 3G/4G networks – indoor coverage.
To address this challenge operators are testing 5G’s indoor capabilities. For example, Swisscom is deploying Ericsson’s 5G Radio Dots in its live 5G commercial network, enabling what the Swiss operator is claiming as the first 5G data call between offices in Europe. The partnership is advocating that the 5G Radio Dot System specifically offers high performance and reliable network capabilities in difficult to access indoor areas. Read more about this partnership at Ericsson.
5G — Indoor Coverage is Not Automatic
Analyst Take: 5G is broadening network and service capabilities for mobile users. 5G includes using high frequency bands, 28 GHz and higher, to enable improved capabilities such as greater bandwidth and better performance.
On the other hand, higher-frequency radio signals are limited in their propagation and ability to penetrate obstacles, especially within indoor environments. The problem of inconsistent, deficient indoor mobile coverage is sweeping, with 74 percent of U.S. workers in a broad array of industries (e.g., retail, health care, hospitality) indicating they frequently or sometimes have problems with indoor connectivity. The indoor coverage challenge is made increasingly formidable by the modern building materials, UV window filters, and insulation used to make structures more environmentally-friendly.
What Needs to Change
As a result, operators need to integrate 5G New Radio (NR) specifications to address the ongoing challenges of indoor connectivity, since they vastly expand the range of frequencies that can be used to transport 5G signals. This allows operators to deploy the RF capacity needed to match or surpass the performance users experience on a well-designed WLAN using WiFi technology.
Why not simply rely on upgrading proven WiFi networks to meet growing mobile indoor needs? Fundamentally, many operators see the combination of 5G capabilities and small cell technology as providing a superior voice and data experience in a unified service package in relation to hybrid WiFi data/mobile voice combinations. This is especially relevant since VoWiFi is unproven and less reliable. In addition, some facilities lack WiFi access or well-designed WiFi services.
Key to 5G’s long-term success within indoor environments is the deployment or upgrading of a full-spectrum distributed antenna system (DAS) network. DAS technology is now designed to deliver the carrier aggregation features of 4G networks while supporting all of the most common mobile and public safety frequencies (as well as frequencies available between 150 MHz and 2.7 GHz) upon the initial installation of 5G. A key implementation benefit is avoiding the need to install more hardware in order to add frequencies or add infrastructure to scale the onboarding of IoT devices and location-based services.
Moreover, and equally important, 5G-ready DAS provides multi-carrier access, allowing users indoor access regardless of which carrier they use.
Ericsson and Swisscom Showing the Way
Ericsson’s 5G Radio Dot solution upgrades core DAS design attributes such as aggregating the antennas, compact remote units, and cabling distributed throughout indoor environments to a central distribution hub that connects to the radio frequency (RF) source deployed by the operators. Through 5G Radio Dot implementations, operators such as Swisscom enhance indoor experiences by bolstering throughput to over 2 Gbps.
The Ericsson/Swisscom joint exercise indicates that 5G is ready and up to the task of solving difficult indoor coverage challenges. Ericsson’s main 5G systems rivals, Nokia and Huawei, will need to prioritize the indoor capabilities of their solutions to prevent Ericsson from gaining an upper hand through indoor coverage differentiators. Overall the increased competition here is good news for the 5G ecosystem and users.
The original version of this article was first published on Futurum Research.
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Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.