Rethink the approach to 5G indoor coverage

15 February 2023 | Consulting

Lei Shi | Jacob Renning

Perspective | PDF (15 pages)

With continuing adoption of 5G services, customers are increasingly demanding in their expectations for the speed and availability of connections in all locations, not least in indoor environments. Building owners also consider that unified, predictable, and futureproof in-building digital infrastructure is a key value proposition to their tenants, as well as an enabler for their own digital transformation. It is clear that these expectations will not be met by existing networks, and require instead a new dedicated 5G indoor solution. Neither distributed antenna systems (DAS), nor outside-in coverage from macro sites, nor Wi-Fi 6G can deliver that seamless, reliable, gigabit experience.

Despite the hype, investing in indoor networks is not a straightforward proposition for mobile network operators (MNOs), which are already under considerable financial pressure and face constraints on capital expenditure (capex). A real 5G indoor solution can be expensive for an MNO to deploy alone, typically resulting in higher capex and operational expenditure (opex) per subscriber than macro sites. With the prospect of worsening return on investment (ROI) and the difficult process of finding interested building owners and MNO partners, it is no surprise that indoor coverage has been relegated to a backseat position behind outdoor 5G deployment.

Still, leaving the demand for indoor coverage unaddressed limits the value that MNOs bring to their customers. It opens opportunities for other players that can bring innovative solutions to overcome the cost and process barriers for indoor coverage. One example is the growing numbers of neutral hosts popping up in different markets, like Freshwave in the UK, Proptivity in the Nordics, and Cellnex across Europe, each with its own niche rooted in that operator’s distinct background.

Rather than seeing them as a cause for worries, we believe MNOs should embrace these new players as ecosystem partners for indoor coverage. Neutral hosts often bring their own investment to build up the indoor network, removing the capex hurdle from MNOs. With the scope, process and organisational set-up focused on indoor coverage, these neutral hosts can achieve a competitive pricing point for equipment and services, and overcome many challenges faced by MNOs during the sales and implementation process. Furthermore, neutral hosts address a key concern of building owners by facilitating network sharing over a unified infrastructure. With the technology available today, a shared indoor network can save 40–50% of the total cost of operation (TCO) compared with an MNO building it by itself, not to mention energy savings and other sustainability benefits.

The cost to MNOs adopting this approach could be close to zero, as the capex and opex for the radio network are covered by neutral hosts exploring the building owner paid business model. MNOs only need to bring in their spectrum assets to the shared networks. It is a risk-free way for them to unlock new business opportunities for delivering indoor services at predictable gigabit speeds with a high average revenue per user (ARPU) premium. It also opens non-capital-intensive options to differentiate, such as bundled offers of information and communications technology (ICT) services, 5G office devices and 5G subscriptions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, the ‘free’ offloading of indoor traffic reduces the need for outside-in coverage and enables MNOs to further optimise their capex for outdoor deployment. 

Still, as with all things new, there will be a learning process for both the MNOs and the neutral hosts to work smoothly with each other. The important thing for all parties is not to hold back and to stay ahead of the curve.

The full perspective can be viewed in the download. 


Perspective (PDF)