Getting 5G to work indoors is harder than you think

5G Sheldon Yau, HKT
Image courtesy of Huawei: Sheldon Yau, Senior Vice President of HKT Wireless Network Planning & Design

When you think about 5G, you tend to think about wide open spaces, autonomous vehicles and virtual reality. Yet the reality is that 80% of 4G usage is actually indoors. When you consider that some of the spectrum that will be available for 5G is in bands that hate obstructions such as walls (and in the case of millimeter-wave, even humans count as obstructions), the issue suddenly becomes quite serious.

This whole problem was discussed at the recent Huawei Operations Transformation Forum in Munich and the company has teamed up with HKT and the GSA to produce a white paper that examines the issue.

The challenge is made greater when you consider that some of the industries and techniques that will flourish in the 5G era are based on VR and emerging technologies such as telemedicine. To fully take advantage of these kinds of applications, 5G must work flawlessly and seamlessly indoors.

As one of the authors of the paper, GSA consultant Danny Dicks, said, “Indoor 5G digital networks will be essential to help ensure optimal user experience, efficient operation and maintenance (O&M), and intelligent operation. The industry urgently requires further research into the network requirements of indoor 5G services and network deployment strategies.”

The other problem, identified and addressed by Huawei, is that existing solutions simply will not be good enough. Sheldon Yau, senior vice president of HKT Wireless Network Planning & Design, pointed out that “traditional passive indoor distributed systems cannot meet the requirements and challenges of indoor network upgrade and evolution in the 5G era”.

The paper makes some high-level recommendations. These include coverage, capacity expansion, reliability, O&M and operation. It also describes a series of deployment strategies in terms of architecture, MIMO, capacity planning, network reliability, network O&M, and operations. Some of these strategies are already in place at HKT.

Whilst 5G is “almost upon us” according to many speakers at the Huawei OTF, there is still much to do and there is still much to be thought through, as 5G will almost certainly enable applications that we have not thought of yet, and in places where the playing field changes shape.

The devil is definitely in the details when it comes to 5G. The new white paper indicates that companies like Huawei and HKT – and industry groups like GSA – are on the case, highlighting the problems and looking for solutions.

The white paper can be downloaded here.

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