Digital transformation is the watchword for many industry sectors as they adapt their businesses to the world of cloud platforms and web services. However, it is impossible to achieve digital transformation objectives without excellent mobile connectivity, and at least 75% of that mobile usage will take place indoors.
Therefore, digitalization should drive investment in ubiquitous coverage, with high quality of service, across commercial premises. But those investments will only be unlocked if a functional, deployable and cost-effective platform is available, to underpin transformation in many vertical sectors. Many of today’s solutions are too limited, or too complex, to support full transformation, but a new approach is emerging which takes digitalization as its starting point. Digital Indoor Systems (DIS) provide a scalable, flexible and efficient approach to indoor coverage, which can be deployed now but provide a smooth path to 5G and to future waves of use cases.
This is important, as the requirements for indoor mobile are not static. As digitalization gathers pace, there will be use cases that need very specialized connectivity, supporting very low latency response, as an example. As 5G is rolled out, it will support many of these advanced capabilities, and will evolve to become a key element in the infrastructure for digital transformation.
But this will only happen if those capabilities can be supported in every indoor environment, however densely populated or challenging to penetrate.
To date, there have been barriers in the way. Deployment complexity, high cost of operations, high installation costs, or unpredictable quality of service have all been factors in weakening the investment case for indoor cellular networks. A new approach is needed which delivers three essentials for investment:
- Competitive total cost of ownership (TCO) to maximize ROI for the deployer (an operator, enterprise or integrator)
- Flexibility to support new use cases and digital processes, to help deliver transformation benefits for the enterprise
- Economies of scale, through a standardized platform, to drive down costs and support a broad ecosystem including the migration to future 5G use cases
Support for asset sharing improves the TCO of indoor networks
The DIS approach delivers these essentials, partly because of its flexible, scalable architecture; and partly because it has inherent support for sharing and co-investment.
One reason why effective indoor networks have not been delivered in the past has been the lack of sharing. Most enterprise environments need to support customers of multiple operators, but it rarely makes commercial sense to have three or four single-operator networks in one location. Indeed, many mobile operators find it hard, alone, to make a strong business case for deploying an indoor network – one of the reasons being that property owners may be unwilling to open up their sites without seeing a strong benefit.
The answer is to address in-building requirements with a co-investment approach, in which costs and risks are spread and each stakeholder can reap its own rewards.
So an enterprise and a service provider might share the cost of rolling out and managing a network; multiple operators might share one network; or a single neutral host provider might deploy the network, which could then be used by MNOs and other service providers. With multiple stakeholders sharing the deployment load, more services can be delivered and the impact of transformation felt more quickly – which, in turn, will convince the landlords of the upside of opening up their premises.
Huawei’s DIS implementation, LampSite, for instance, was the first full-bandwidth indoor small cell solution to support multi-operator network sharing at different power levels.
Yanbin Li, deputy secretary general of the Telecommunication Development sIndustry Alliance (TDIA), summed up this requirement in a recent speech, saying: “Globally, it is increasingly the case that 5G Digital Indoor System is being funded by multiple types of investors – not just the mobile operators but also tower companies and other neutral hosts.” Therefore, it is essential that platforms develop which make it simple for these players to deploy and commercialized shared environments.
Neutral host deployers are starting to emerge to address the 5G indoor digital opportunity. An example is Stratto of the UK, part of the Digital Colony group. Stratto has a framework agreement with Huawei to provide multi-operator indoor cellular services based on DIS, targeting specific industrial sectors as well as commercial real estate developers.
The real estate industry plays a vital role in making indoor mobility a reality, and to a level that will be able to support digital transformation and 5G. Convincing commercial property owners of the need to enable in-building cellular by opening their sites is essential to progress.
DIS benefits property owners as well as operators, by enabling new business:
The DIS approach helps to do this in two ways. Because it is a shared deployment, and uses existing IT cabling, it minimizes the disruption to the premises, with only one site visit required. And it can enable a wide range of use cases and processes from day one of roll-out, which delivers short term benefits to the building’s enterprise tenants – increasing their satisfaction.
The more use cases are delivered commercially, and the benefits of digitalization demonstrated, the more the property industry is appreciating that in-building connectivity will improve the value of the assets.
China has often blazed the trail in this respect. For instance, the China Building Alliance was behind a new system of star ratings for malls and other large buildings, and good quality telecoms is an important criterion for getting the largest number of stars.
Also, Pan Shiyi – founder and chair of major office developer SOHO China – has joined with China Telecom to propose that all property owners and managers actively encourage the right conditions to deploy 5G, and reject the practices of the past, like not letting telcos into the building, or charging them to enter.
Such approaches, as all stakeholders appreciate the benefits of digitalization, are driving a more cooperative culture between vertical industries and telcos in many countries, with strong examples from the UK to the Philippines, to Turkey.
Operators and enterprises in any region can look to China for early indications of how 5G DIS is already supporting new business models and growth opportunities. A DIS system was used to support a festival live broadcasting across 17 cities in 2019, while the Intercontinental Hotel in Shenzhen is acting as a case study for how indoor mobile connectivity can transform the hospitality business by supporting a large number of interconnected digital applications – each of them delivering benefits to the end users, and commercial opportunities to a variety of businesses. For instance, a 5G-enabled gym, gaming room and video lounge, plus robots to provide assistance in the lobby, create a rich experience for guests. Commercial upside is not just for the hotel but partners such as the gym operator and the restaurants.
Similarly, a deployment in the huge Shanghai Lujiazui L+ Mall enables many stakeholders to deliver new services, and monetize them, based on a single DIS infrastructure. From AI-enabled face recognition for security operation, to robotic assistants, to people flow analytics, the applications supported by the 5G DIS address every aspect of the shopping experience and deliver benefits for stores, marketers, operators and shoppers.
This cooperative approach – in which many stakeholders join together to fund a common infrastructure, and then use it to deliver a wide range of services – is the future of indoor mobile networks. It will drive investment in indoor connectivity, and in the 5G age, that will accelerate digital transformation, and deliver rich commercial benefits, across many vertical sectors around the world.