Next year will see mobile operators focus on taking ownership of the indoor environment to deliver seamless 5G connectivity indoors and out, claims Ranplan Wireless. While some 80 per cent of mobile data is consumed indoors, only around 2 per cent of buildings currently have dedicated cellular networks as operators rely on outdoor macro cells for coverage. But as higher frequency 5G signals struggle to penetrate walls and circumvent physical structures, the drive is on to design and deploy small cell or DAS networks in buildings and dense urban environments, such as hotels, shopping malls, offices, stadiums and campuses.
“Operators have traditionally owned the outdoor spaces and let the indoor environment take care of itself,” said Per Lindberg, CEO at Ranplan Wireless. “This will have to change if operators want to deliver a seamless user experience, as by 2030 we expect 10 per cent of buildings worldwide to have 5G connectivity. However, this will require wider adoption of the new generation of in-door and outdoor wireless network planning tools.”
Ranplan also points to an increasing need for networks to be less static and become much more intelligent and dynamic through the introduction of AI-led automation to adapt to network demand and data consumption. In a sports stadium, for example, network usage can go from zero to 80,000 users all wanting to share their pictures and videos, often at the same time.
“The same approach used to design indoor networks can be applied to deliver optimised configurations in near real time to change antenna tilt, power output and frequencies,” adds Lindberg. “And with the possibility that 5G networks in the future may consume up to 10-20 per cent of the electricity supply of a modern city, depending on its density, network design and equipment used, this level of automation will radically reduce energy consumption and help save the planet. 5G networks will also be able to make further energy savings by controlling heating systems, for example, based on the number of mobile users in a room.”
The other big trend for 2020 according to Ranplan will be the increasing drive for openness and interoperability of networks, led by the O-RAN Alliance. While the major operators are keen to reduce costs, avoid vendor lock-in and encourage more sharing of infrastructure, this trend away from proprietary networks will also encourage innovation, multi-party collaboration and accelerate the roll out of 5G in the next decade.
“With Vodafone already announcing that it is putting its entire European footprint of over 100,000 mobile sites up for possible re-design based on open RAN technology, we can expect a lot more O-RAN news at MWC 2020,” says Professor Jie Zhang, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Ranplan Wireless. “The trend will reduce the dominance of the major equipment providers and open up exciting new opportunities for smaller vendors.”