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Small-cell indoor coverage solutions

Hansang (Andy) He Consultant, Custom Research
Stela Bokun Principal and Head of Custom Research, Consulting

"By improving indoor coverage, operators will probably improve customer experience and brand perception."

Accelerating transformation to digital service provider (DSP)

This white paper examines alternative technologies that provide indoor voice and mobile broadband coverage.

The paper identifies operators' options for improving indoor coverage in three scenarios: enterprises (large offices); train stations; and shopping malls.

These three have been selected from ten commonly identified indoor coverage scenarios: sports stadiums; airports; hospitals; hotels; enterprises; underground; shopping malls; universities; industrial sites; and government buildings.

The three were selected because they represent indoor settings that consistently feature large crowds.

More about the report

Consumers are increasingly aware of the quality of their mobile services indoors.

Poor service makes them unhappy with venue owners and mobile operators. Users are quickly migrating to 4G devices that are consuming increasing volumes of data. Users of these devices have high expectations of service quality, and have generally high satisfaction scores that mobile operators do not want to diminish.

It is difficult for outdoor networks to provide indoor coverage, which makes it almost mandatory for large buildings and venues to provide indoor solutions.

'Outside–in' signal loss can be up to 7dB for a glass 'wall', up to 10dB for brick or 12dB for concrete walls. Metal wall framing may cause a loss of up to 10dB, while concrete floors can result in losses up to 30dB. GPS timing for indoor networks can also be affected.

Wi-Fi is not always the answer because the spheres of cellular and Wi-Fi services are becoming more, rather than less delineated.

In developed markets, around 70%–90% of total smartphone data traffic is carried over Wi-Fi networks. However, as much as 90% of this is home Wi-Fi usage, depending on social factors and fixed broadband penetration.  Cellular data usage can exceed that of Wi-Fi in countries where data plans have large allowances or are inexpensive.

The rise of small cells

Small cells have made significant advances in terms of how scalable and manageable they are, and in terms of their ability to provide excellent indoor coverage to enhance the user experience.

Initially, large-scale indoor deployments had interference and manageability problems, and overall offered poor service quality for users. New solutions deliver increased intelligence to automatically manage small-cell and macrocell interference, monitor service levels and provide centralised management options that can support up to 100 000 users. Some small-cell solutions continue to suffer from problems relating to scalability, macrocell feature parity, and ease of deployment and operation.

Figure: Intention to churn because of poor network coverage, by country [Source: Analysys Mason, 2015]

Small cells indoor coverage solutions