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Juniper Research WT2020

OPINION 5G indoor coverage will gather momentum in 2020

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One of the advantages of 5G is that it can work well indoors as well as out – giving Wifi a run for its money. Here Ingo Flomer, CTO, Cobham Wireless explains how it will develop across 2020

For many building owners, there’s currently not the financial incentive to create the kind of 5G user experience touted by the press. Most of us are happy today with the performance we receive when using our phones, or else don’t really give it a second thought.

This will change when 5G devices become more affordable and more widespread, and new 5G uses cases are developed. This means building owners will have to be ready.

In 2020, building owners will request that current wireless coverage systems be easily upgradeable to 5G. This offers the perfect, cost-effective solution. Venue owners and operators want longevity and ROI for purchases; what they don’t want is to have to buy a whole new system in a year or two, as demand for 5G in-building coverage grows.

From a technical standpoint, upgrading platforms to 5G will mean wider frequency bands, for example 400MHz in band 3.5. I expect 3.5GHz to be in most indoor environments, however, this will not increase coverage: 3.5GHz is all about boosting capacity. Ethernet-based protocols will be used in order to increase data transport efficiency, supporting the transport of more RF on the same digital bandwidth.

Growth of IIoT will create new market opportunities

5G may not be making much ground with consumer users, but look to heavy industry and it’s a completely different picture. Connecting manufacturing and processing plants, ports, mines, utilities and agricultural facilities will be a game-changer, creating a new industrial internet of things (IIoT), or Industry 4.0 (or Industries 4.0 if you’re in Germany, where a strategic alliance has been formed with the aim of making the country a leader in advanced, intelligent smart manufacturing).

Cellular connectivity may have been enough for factories in 2019, but in 2020 and beyond, these buildings will also require ultra-low-latency high-reliability machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. We’ve already seen China making great strides in this area, thanks in part to its Made in China 2025 initiative. The government plan aims to make China a manufacturing superpower, via advanced technologies and high-end numerical control tools and robotics which will deliver greater manufacturing efficiency.

Instead of having to go to mobile operators (which have historically had a monopoly of the licence market) to deploy a connectivity system, business owners will also have the option of going to other parties that have bid for and won these licences themselves. These could be companies which were traditionally specialists in software (such as Oracle) or engineering (like Bosch). There’ll soon be a new breed of connectivity provider on the IIoT block.

While IIoT businesses may be able to enter the telco space, few will have the industry experience and knowledge required to effectively design, deploy and operate a connectivity system. Many – especially small and medium-sized businesses – will also lack the financial resources to employ multiple parties to manage each stage of the deployment. As such, we’ll see another gap emerging in the market, which will be filled by those providers which are able to offer a full, end-to-end service incorporating design, commissioning, radio and technical expertise, project management and operation. This is a fantastic new business opportunity, which provides a solution for those less-experienced companies wanting to launch or scale an IIoT proposition, and contributes to the development of the smart industrial market.

The IIoT offers strong ROI and unlocks new revenue streams in new and existing parts of the communications ecosystem. With financial incentive powering development and investment in this market, we’ll see some interesting deployments and IIoT use cases next year.

TETRA will be used for public safety in the UK for a few years yet – and that’s not a bad thing

We can’t talk about public safety communications without taking about the Emergency Services Network (ESN).  We’ll be keeping an eye on develops next year, as (when the LTE network is up and running) the benefits will be huge. These include the ability for emergency responders to live stream video back to a central control room, or to run biometric scanning against a database in real time, to instantly identify individuals at the scene of an incident.

However, the switch from a TETRA to an LTE system won’t happen overnight and must be done gradually. TETRA works at 400MHz and wideband works on a minimum of 800MHz, which means that signal penetration into buildings is half as good – and that means there are lots of areas that have to be covered. Areas like basements, tunnels, and buildings made from a lot of concrete, steel and glass (which can block signal penetration), have to be covered, which means EE (the operator tasked with upgrading its existing network) must continue to invest in infrastructure and extending coverage.

Rolling out ESN will, I think, introduce interesting new commercial opportunities. As in other countries, I expect that venue owners in the UK will be obliged to provide public safety coverage within their premises. New business models may then emerge which see EE, for example, offering to add a public safety service to an existing distributed antenna system (DAS) and co-finance it with the venue owner. Or, the venue owner could follow a neutral host model approach, which covers not only emergency service comms but cellular too, and then lease this to operators. These opportunities are only available with LTE public safety connectivity, which is why ESN is so important.

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