Indoor deployments to be key as 5G bridges wireless and wireline

Just as the term "mobile" generally refers to on-the-go connectivity, discussions about 5G often focus on faster and more reliable services for users as they move from place to place. But speakers at the Wireless Infrastructure Show this week reminded me not to dismiss the importance of indoor usage as carriers prepare to enter the 5G era.

"When Wi-Fi started to be deployed, very soon it became clear that venues are the key battleground," said Hillol Roy of IBB Consulting during a panel I moderated discussing carrier deployments of 5G. "It's hard to cover venues like hockey or basketball stadiums completely using macrosites" due to both spectrum propagation issues and the high concentration of users.

Deployments of 5G will partially mirror Wi-Fi deployments because they will often leverage high-band spectrum. Those airwaves offer superior capacity, but they don't provide nearly as much regional coverage as low- or mid-band spectrum can offer. So operators are expected to lean heavily on small cells to bring 5G to as many users as possible.

"That means the venue owner will have to play an active role in this ecosystem, sometimes providing power, sometimes providing backhaul and mounting rights," Roy continued. So venue owners will become "key stakeholders" in the world of 5G, he said.

Of course, sports arenas and concert halls aren't the only indoor locations where 5G will have an impact. Next-generation mobile networks and technologies will affect a broad range of markets and businesses both inside and out-of-doors, said Hossam Hmimy, Ericsson's head of mobile networks and technology strategy.

"When it comes to 5G, we have to think about it a little bit differently," Hmimy said. "This will start to open up different businesses and different use cases; it will make a transformation for different industries into additional areas…. If we start to get the connectivity of 5G, it doesn't have to be outdoors, it could be inside the building, inside the factory, inside the hospital. This kind of connectivity and management of the network will help different industries, different verticals to transform. So with that, we can start to see a lot of things happening."

And one of those things is likely to be a kind of confluence -- or even a collision -- between mobile operators and cable operators. Just as 5G could provide ultra-fast mobile connectivity inside businesses and hospitals, cable operators could integrate 5G technologies with their fixed-line offerings, blurring the lines between wireline and wireless services.

And that kind of offering could pave the way for companies like Charter Communications and Comcast to leverage their MVNO deals with Verizon, essentially using their own networks to provide "mobile" services near the home and falling back to more traditional carrier networks when necessary.

"We need to think about 5G as not only as an extension of mobile broadband -- even though it is an extension of mobile broadband -- but we have to think about it as it's going to provide much more than mobile broadband connectivity, outside and inside," Hmimy concluded.

So while 5G will offer some big technological advancements, it may also be much more transformative in terms of business models than any previous generational step. --Colin | @colin_gibbs