GSMA predicts that the number of Internet of Things (IoT) connections will triple by 2025, whilst the mobile data usage will grow five-fold by 2024 encouraged by increased smartphone usage and availability of high-speed networks.
With 80% of data consumption inside buildings, the connectivity is gradually transforming to the ‘Fourth Utility’ after water, electricity and gas. According to a survey by CommScope, 95% of IT executives believe that in-building cellular performance has a direct impact on business and 87% of facilities managers consider wireless coverage essential.
Modern building materials such as treated glass, steel frames and metalized insulation reduce the penetration of cellular technologies operated on licence spectrum bands. It is hard enough for today’s Wireless Technologies to go through building walls and it will be even harder for new technologies such as 5G that operate at higher frequencies, to provide indoor coverage from an outdoor antenna. 5G mmWave frequency bands will have challenges even through standard plaster walls, let alone the high-tech building materials used for modern construction.
OFCOM’s Connected Nations report published in December 2018 shows that one quarter of UK home and businesses do not have 4G coverage by none of the mobile operators.
In a recent statement, OFCOM announced the decision to allow static mobile phone repeaters in order to enhance cellular indoor coverage. Those repeaters may solve temporarily some of the issues for home/ small office cellular coverage, however they will not necessarily meet commercial buildings bandwidth requirements for the future connectivity scenarios.
Traditionally, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are used to provide indoor cellular coverage for primarily commercial high-profile buildings such as football stadiums, stations, shopping malls and airports.
In most of the cases, those in-building solutions are installed when the demand for cellular data is increasing by the building tenants. The installation of those solutions retrospectively introduces disruption.
The proliferation of IoT sensors within a building’s four walls and the requirement to connect those sensors to the outside world drive the requirement for smart buildings by design.
Similar to the way power sockets, light switches, light points, gas points are planned during the design phase, the connectivity of indoor solutions to support IoT sensors and cellular connectivity as well as other technologies (eg WiFI) should be considered during the initial planning phase of a building.
Back to the notion of utility: it is rare to have a situation whereby water supply and pipes are installed retrospectively after few years the building is built. Why should this be the case for infrastructure to enable in-building connectivity?
In preparation for the requirements for a digital future, new owners and existing landlords should focus on future proofing the buildings by ensuring connectivity infrastructure is planned (or audited if it already exists) to ensure it meets requirements. Availability of connectivity infrastructure for in-building coverage ought to be recognised as a value add for landlords.
To future proof a building and large construction, some of the key areas summarised below:
• Setting goals
• Design, installation and audit
• Treat connectivity as a Utility
• Capability requirements such as (1) Cybersecurity requirements; (2) Availability of technologies to support service requirements; (3) Data architectures; (4) Fibre availability
• New revenue models : Technology will become a source of revenue for landlords, and availability of connectivity will increase the value of the building. It will offer an opportunity to building owners to monetise their investment through rents, selling capacity back to carriers and even consider offering own services to tenant