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Gigabit indoor 5G – who can do it?

stein@opensky


It has been a while now (over 8 months) since I commented on the metaverse and what would actually make it happen (IF it happens): i.e. building mobile networks – and more specifically: 5G. Since then, I have been building outdoor 5G networks at the bottom of the value chain – something I gave up on a personal level a month or so ago. Now is the time, however, to comment on my latest endeavour: building indoor gigabit 5G networks – in a way and with a business model making it a win-win for all parties – and, to be fair, it is also a certain amount of advertising for my new endeavour (Proptivity) !


The operator challenge


In most countries today (and specifically in the Nordic countries where I am based), all operators are competing to be “first on 5G”, “best on 5G” and basically, rolling out their 5G coverage nationwide across the country of operation as fast as they can (and they have coverage requirements for it from the regulators!). The only problem with this is that this is only focused on macro-level outdoor coverage – which in turn does not fulfill the needs of most people where they actually live or work – i.e. indoors. Coverage and capacity indoors from outdoor base stations are generally worse than the corresponding outdoor coverage – and with modern buildings designed to isolate and keep heat inside, the radio signals reaching into buildings from outdoors have got much worse by such modernization … and, to make it worse, mid-band spectrum needed for 5G to reach capacities needed for the promised 5G use cases have shorter range and penetrate buildings less than standard 4G spectrum.


Coupled with the well-known fact that people generally use their mobile devices from indoor locations 80% or more of their time, achieving the promises of 5G is therefore a major challenge for operators – and also for the politicians – at least within the foreseeable short- or mid-term. For more on promised 5G use cases and some reality checks around them, please have a look in my previous article “5G will save the world – or will it?” – and in various other 5G-related ones here (please note that several of these are 2 years old or so). It should be added, however, that indoor use may vary with climate conditions and the country people live in – but in many cases, people spend even more than 80% of their time indoors – at least in cold countries like mine in Norway.


People want indoor coverage


Be it at home or at work, to reap the benefits of 5G, people need good indoor coverage – meaning very good coverage, capacity, bitrates and latencies. This goes for private homes, blocks of flats and any kind of office building, campus or industry complex. As end users, people can possibly get internet connectivity organized through WiFi in their private homes, however, they have no chance to influence any operator to provide an adequate 5G for them. From an operator perspective, this is seen as mass-market B2C and looked at purely from a macro-level perspective.


If we look at this from the perspective of a building owner, however, this can be influenced – and it is currently happening! In the case of office buildings, campuses or industrial complexes, building owners have clear requirements – and they are willing to pay for it!


Building owners are coming together and have some clear requirements, including:

  • They want good indoor coverage and 5G gigabit connectivity

  • They want it from all operators

  • They want it in the whole building – from basement to the attic

  • They want visibiity and predictability for the coverage

… and this is where my new endeavour (Proptivity) comes in – with a neutral host solution for indoor coverage with a B2B offering. The company provides planning, implementation and operation of gigabit 5G indoor coverage for building owners – with coverage for all operators that are willing to play. Having started out in Sweden by a team of experienced and senior telecom executives, they see good traction and a huge interest from property owners. In my own country Norway, I am happy to be driving this forward as well in the time to come.


Neutral host as a win-win for all


For operators, a neutral host solution with a new business model offers great indoor coverage beyond their own capability, increased focus and a faster 5G rollout and increased customer satisfaction – while still keeping full control on their customers, services and spectrum. In addition, they will get fantastic indoor coverage basically «free of charge» - as well as capex and opex savings at the macro layer (outdoor). It also provides a strong potential for offering value added B2B services to buildings, based on 5G. Not at least, a neutral host solution is good for the environment as it saves infrastructure and energy.


For building owners, fantastic indoor coverage and capacity will be provided, with coverage from all operators, predictable coverage on all floors – and a more secure in-house network. As building owners also have strong focus on ESG, a neutral host solution avoids multiple infrastructures. Further, future-proof in-house networks through 5G are provided – and they are integrated with the outdoor network, increasing the potential for value added property management services over 5G – and, not at least: A more attractive property!


For society, a neutral host offers faster and better 5G coverage across the country, gigabit coverage where people live and work – and avoiding duplicate infrastructures (ESG) – and for tenants, it offers attractive 5G coverage and capacity where they work or live.


5G or WiFi?


For a general commentary on 5G or WiFi6 with OpenRoaming, see this previous article from two years ago (today we are probably talking about WiFi7 – but the logic is basically the same).


Most people today switch over to WiFi as soon as possible when indoors and with access to a WiFi network. The amazing conundrum in this respect is that (mobile) operators for years have actively discouraged their customers from using their own mobile networks through their pricing models (and of course also roaming fees). As a result, WiFi offload is often seen as a challenge – and therefore many operators have acquired or merged with broadband providers – so that they can keep the WiFi traffic in-house.


In my view, WiFi will be there for the indefinite future for indoor use – but with indoor 5G coverage there is improved security and full integration with the macro network. For a pure mobile operator, avoiding WiFi offload will increase traffic and revenues – so it could be very attractive. The challenge for every mobile operator though is to offer price plans that do not discourage end customers from using 5G. Mobile operators need 1) to offer adequate subscriptions with more or less “unlimited” usage (similar to WiFi) – and, not at least, end customers need to be educated about the benefits and costs of using 5G.


Summary


With a neutral host solution, it is a win-win game for all parties. Now it is only 1) for operators to accept that they will be unable to build indoor 5G alone with all requirements that exist from building owners – and 2) for building owners to get together and provide their requirements. It happens already in Sweden. Now it is time for the same in Norway. After all, for an operator, this is coverage “for free” – and for the country, it speeds up broadband ubiquity and 5G coverage across the country. 😊

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