For many 5G uses cases, the relevance of indoor coverage represents an important challenge to address.

The technology has already surpassed 1 billion users and is expected to increase to 5 billion connections by 2030. Depending on the location and residence type, indoor traffic can account for up to 80 per cent of mobile traffic. Achieving consistent indoor and outdoor experiences that meet speed performance requirements is, therefore crucial for consumers and businesses, and enabling high-quality indoor 5G connectivity through better experience will result in a virtuous cycle that enables innovation.

In this regard, the transition to Digital Indoor Systems (DIS) is key as it will be the driver for 5G service growth and industry upgrades.

Some of the most relevant indoor 5G cases are massive IoT (mIoT), enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA), which will all play an important role in digital transformation across a range of economic sectors including manufacturing, transport and smart cities.

From a consumer perspective, demand will increase as a result of VR and AR applications, real-time broadcasting, wireless streaming cameras with 4K and even 8K resolution, cloud and gaming. From the business perspective, stadiums, airports, government buildings, shopping centres, hospitals and venues will require high-speed, low-latency 5G networks to implement automatic and remote IoT applications. Many of these will contribute to the growth of indoor data consumption, which is already much higher for 5G than for 4G.

Technological solutions are therefore needed to meet the integration and performance requirements for indoor spaces. The transition from traditional Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to DIS technologies, as a new generation of network architecture, will be particularly important. This trend, which began with 4G, has gained greater recognition as a way of enhancing the capacity, coverage and experience of 5G networks.

While some indoor applications require high capacity, others depend more heavily on reliable coverage. Here, low-band spectrum will play an important role, given its superior in-building penetration to provide deep indoor coverage.

A recent study published by the GSMA on the socioeconomic benefits of low bands shows nations using these for 5G (specifically the 600MHz and 700MHz bands) have achieved significantly-higher levels of coverage, as well as better 5G availability and indoor quality of service. The study also showed low-band 5G is expected to drive $130 billion in economic value worldwide in 2030.

These topics were among several discussed at the 5G Accelerates Indoor Digitalisation event hosted by IDATE during MWC23.

Industry players, policymakers, operators, vendors and analysts shared a range of views regarding the opportunities and challenges surrounding indoor 5G connectivity.

  • Opening the event, BEREC chair Kostas Masselos highlighted the ecosystem’s consensus of 5G being an enabler of economic growth and innovation. He emphasised all European households can benefit from this wave of innovation, with indoor digital networks bringing high-quality experiences which will form a virtuous circle to promote investment in 5G infrastructure and contribute to a new ecosystem for verticals.
  • Next up, Jeremy Blanchemain, head of IT and Informatisation Construction with HubOne (a digital technologies operator for business and public sector organisations), demonstrated the importance of 5G outdoor and indoor convergence in support of coverage. This included a case study of HubOne, where the construction of mobile networks in French airports has driven increasing demand for high-speed indoor networks.
  • Afterwards, Jean Luc Lemmens from IDATE presented on 5G Indoor: Trends and Challenges, a white paper proposing a series of measures to improve indoor 5G connectivity in Europe. The region is currently lagging in 5G deployment compared with nations including China and South Korea, prompting calls for regulators to accelerate approval processes for the deployment of indoor technologies, and remove excessive restrictions imposed by public places administrators. The speaker also highlighted some levers to accelerate 5G deployment, including subsidies for indoor network deployment allocated to mobile operators directly or to vertical industries; indoor experience ranking demonstration, to enable network deployment competition between operators; and regulatory measures to relieve operator burdens such as reducing the entry/slotting fee and also to speed up indoor site acquisition approval.
  • From the operators’ perspective, Sheldon Yau, head of Wireless and Core Network Engineering at HKT, highlighted how it advanced indoor 5G forward as a key strategy to lead 5G experience and benefit consumers, business users and high-value households.
  • Finally, Eric Bao, president of Digital Indoor System Product Line, Wireless Network, set out Huawei’s commitment to invest more towards innovating indoor digitalisation to deliver on premium performance, diverse service capabilities and simplified, green network solutions.

Across the speakers, it was clear there are opportunities to drive mass-market deployment of 5G indoors and that this should be an industry priority. Therefore, governments and the digital ecosystem should prioritise the expansion of 5G network indoor solutions, to enhance the user experience and drive wider social, economic and environmental benefits from the deployment and use of 5G services.

In addition to the points made by IDATE, it will be essential to take steps to develop and integrate indoor systems such DIS, which offer better bandwidth and coverage in these spaces. This will require global equipment vendors to continue developing solutions in DIS to help network operators efficiently manage and optimise their networks.

Ultimately, progress in this area will result in a better 5G experience for businesses and households.

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