#5 – Indoor 5G rollout will ramp up in Europe, unlocking innovative 5G use cases

As the 5G wave is picking up pace around the world, the indoor 5G deployment will be a critical part for providing homogenous 5G user experience, due to the outdoor 5G signal’s poor propagation as well as the network requirement of latency-critical 5G applications such as VR and AR. WiFi will no longer be able to effectively replicate 5G user experience and take care of the indoor cellular users. However, it can be challenging for operators to alone finance the expensive 5G indoor deployment and operation without a clear business case. Inspiration can come from China where indoor 5G deployments are being rolled-out on a large scale in places like malls and airports, showcasing different use cases. By observing these developments closely, European operators can cherry-pick the most promising use cases and apply the lessons learned to deploy indoor 5G, not just as a “nice- to-have”, but as a “must-have” in order to fully capture 5G’s value. We predict that in 2020 all the major vendors will strive to come up with innovative and cost-effective indoor solutions for 5G, and property owners and regulators will also give a serious rethink on the indoor coverage deployment model, from technology choice, permit to building design requirements. The race is on!

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The indoor cellular network is an indispensable part of a network delivering a seamless user experience. In the 5G era, the indoor deployment is even more strategically crucial because the signals from the outdoor macro base stations cannot sufficiently cover indoor areas due to the millimeter wave spectrum’s low efficiency in penetrating through physical walls. Furthermore, unlike in the 4G days where the user experience of Wi-Fi and 4G hardly differentiate from each other, 5G indoor coverage will be necessary to ensure a homogenous user experience for latency-critical applications such as mixed reality. Simply put, the indoor coverage is a key success factor for 5G.

In 2019 the indoor 5G deployment has started to happen in Europe. For example, 5G has been rolled out in Mall of Tripla and the airport in Helsinki. However, 5G requires a dense distribution of antennas/small cells due to its signal’s propagation challenge. Thereby it can be challenging for operators to alone finance the massive infrastructure investment.

Here inspirations can be found outside of Europe. For example, several cases of indoor 5G deployment have already sprung up in China during 2019 which have been incentivized by the government’s ambitious 5G agenda as well as vendors’ interest in creating 5G show cases. For example, the new Beijing Daxing Airport has full-range coverage of 5G, enabling applications such as facial recognition for check-in and surveillance, digital luggage tracking and an AR personal assistant. “L+Mall” in Shanghai has become the world’s first shopping center equipped with 5G, enabling robotic guides, smart mirrors and mixed reality videos. Wangjing Soho, a skyscraper for office space and retailing in Beijing, has also deployed 5G full coverage enabling smart building applications such as humidity sensing, smoking detection, water leakage detection and trash bin monitoring.

The Chinese indoor 5G initiatives can provide European operators with inspirations and cherry- picking opportunities in terms of both deployment models and use cases. We predict that vendors will strive to bring the most innovative 5G indoor solution, while the property owners and regulators will rethink their approach for indoor coverage, from permit to building requirements, in order to smoothen and incentivize the deployment of 5G indoor services and thus create the best customer experiences for consumer and most advanced solutions for enterprises.

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