Indoor 5G: an untapped market opportunity

In an exclusive interview with Katherine Ainley, UK & Ireland CEO of Ericsson, we delve into the connectivity leader’s predictions for 5G advancements

Although the world’s 5G deployment is by no means complete, it’s important to recognise just how far the industry has come. 

“We are marking the four-year anniversary of the first commercial 5G launch … and, despite a few hurdles – a global pandemic, an energy crisis, and a European war to name just a few – 5G is still the fastest deployed mobile generation in history,” says Katherine Ainley, UK & Ireland CEO of Ericsson. 

“It is fantastic that so many consumers have access to high-quality 5G coverage, but we also want to unlock the most innovative industry use-cases – like those witnessed at the Green Planet AR experience in London last year with EE, where our 5G technology powered an Augmented Reality journey with Sir David Attenborough through a secret kingdom of plants.” 

The immersive Green Planet experience used the power of 5G to transport viewers from the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus to five digital biomes: Rainforest, Freshwater, Saltwater, Desert, and Seasonal. Through the combination of 5G, AR, sound, visuals and storytelling (by David Attenborough himself) this hugely popular experience provided viewers with a deeply personal and completely fresh insight into the extraordinary power of 5G. 

It’s largely thanks to experiences like these that consumers are showing such interest in 5G-enabled technologies. 

If we take the example of the metaverse, a previous Capgemini report in 2022 revealed that 9 out of 10 consumers say they are curious about the metaverse, while over half say they are excited by it and would use it when it becomes accessible to them.

What’s more, 77% of consumers expect immersive experiences to impact how they interact with people, brands, and services; 7 out of 10 organisations, meanwhile, say that they believe immersive experiences will be a key differentiator in their markets, particularly in relation to the customer journey. 

It’s an exciting indication of the future of 5G. But, for these advanced opportunities to be successfully realised, Ainley explains that a number of key 5G developments still need to be made. 

The next wave of 5G market developments

According to Ainley, network slicing is set to be one of the biggest network developments of the near future. 

“I believe one of the most exciting market developments we’ll see over the next few years is the introduction of a new 5G feature called network slicing. It’s starting to become a bit of a buzz word in the telecoms industry, and for very good reason!”

Network slicing is a functionality where a single, end-to-end, physical network can be separated into several different virtual slices. Each slice is managed independently and tailored for bespoke business requirements. So, utilising this advancement, operators can finally meet the most demanding network requirements, such as connected ambulances or autonomous vehicles.

In fact, Ericsson’s research teams believe that network slicing represents a £150bn business opportunity for CSPs by 2030. 

To take full advantage of this emerging opportunity, Ainley stresses the importance of collaboration within the telecoms industry.

“The reason we’re talking about network slicing now is because it’s only possible on standalone 5G network infrastructure. So, as operators launch their standalone networks this year, we need to come together as an industry and deliver the next set of inspiring 5G opportunities.

“The UK needs to be at the forefront of this technology revolution to power our own economic growth in the future.”

The growth of the indoor coverage market

Another of the avenues where the largest growth is anticipated, in Ainley’s words, is that of indoor 5G. 

“Indoor 5G coverage will be one of the biggest emerging markets in the UK telecoms industry over the next 12 months. As consumers, over 80% of the data we use is inside – think about the number of times you’ve scrambled to get a connection in an office, airport, train station, shopping centre or sports stadium,” Ainley outlines. 

“The fact is that relatively minimal floor space in buildings is currently served by indoor 5G connectivity – Ericsson estimates it to be at just 10-15%. This makes for a huge addressable market; one that operators will be targeting this year.”

This is another area where 5G standalone networks will be a game changer: its lower frequency radio waves mean significantly better coverage can be delivered indoors. 

“But, because this market is so huge, and the full benefits of 5G standalone networks are still some way off, 5G needs to be complemented with targeted indoor solutions,” Ainley says. 

The currently fragmented in-building market primarily consists of Distributed Antenna Systems and small cells. As a result, the indoor technology decision-making process is typically difficult and time-consuming. Ainley explains that Ericsson’s additions to its indoor 5G portfolio have been designed to both support customers’ simplicity and monetisation goals, while offering a scalable solution suitable for any indoor environment or situation.

To these aims, Ericsson’s suite of indoor hardware and software are designed to boost indoor 5G capacity, making indoor 5G easier for communications service providers, enterprises, and neutral hosts to deploy, scale, and monetise. 

“Ericsson’s latest additions to its product portfolio includes a feature called 5G precise positioning which, on top of high-quality coverage, delivers location services such as asset tracking and tool positioning for operators and businesses,” Ainley explains. 

Through this single family of products – which have become part of the Ericsson Radio Dot System portfolio – Ericsson has devised a solution that cost-effectively covers any indoor scenario or business environment. Ainley and her team are, as a result, eagerly anticipating growth in this sphere.

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