A recent report by the Ireland Commission for Communications Regulation finds that the use of modern building materials,windows, block materials and roofing can have an extraordinarily detrimental effect on the propagation of radio waves into buildings constructed using these materials, reducing indoor signal strength three to seven orders of magnitude (100 times to 1,000,000 times weaker signal).
The losses suffered by radio waves penetrating these materials is on the order of 20 decibels to 60 decibels.
The basic math is that a 3 dB reduction in signal is a loss of half. So 20 decibels of loss represents seven consecutive reductions of 50 percent. A loss of 60 dB is 20 consecutive reductions of half the signal strength.
The problem is that thermal insulation or windows with aluminium or metallic frames, designed to help reduce heat loss from inside, also reflect incoming radio signals.
That is why some believe new forms of supplying indoor mobile coverage are a significant business opportunity. The question is how big an opportunity neutral host indoor communications might be, and for whom in the ecosystem.
That might be especially in settings where enterprises and organizations decide to replace Wi-Fi with 5G as the local area network platform.
Enterprises might well be able to use 5G as a replacement for Wi-Fi, argues Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO. “5G will become the way businesses network,” he says. “Wi-Fi probably goes away.”
“We’re seeing a lot of demand from enterprise customers for blurring the line between what has historically been a wide area network, mobile, with a local area network, which has traditionally been wired,” said John Donovan, AT&T Communications CEO. Private 5G and 4G networks, indoor small cells and 5G network features all are combining to create new possibilities.
Industrial internet of things networks on the factory floor might well use private 5G instead of Wi-Fi. In other cases 5G small cells might be operated by integrators or public networks.
If one assumes outdoor space will be the place where mobile coverage is most valuable, indoor space will remain a more-contested arena where access options will be more diverse, where third parties will have a greater role, where the ability to support private network features at the indoor edge will open up new possibilities for end users, mobile operators and third parties.