Written by Mike Collado

Principal Consultant, Wireless 20/20

The wireless industry is undergoing evolutionary and revolutionary changes whose ramifications upon the in-building ecosystem conjure the proverb, “May you live in interesting times” – an adage that has the double-meaning of a blessing and a curse or, stated differently, opportunity and threat. These interesting times include megatrends such as 5G, as well as market-level trends like segment saturation.

To ensure successful outcomes and avoid myriad perils, organizations must focus the right groups on the right things at the right times.

This multi-part series examines five key trends and how they’ll impact the in-building wireless ecosystem in 2017 and beyond. Related, we will forecast when each trend will be felt by the industry and advise which key functional areas (R&D, marketing, sales) should be focused on it in 2017.

First up: 5G.

A Transformation as Important as the Industrial Revolution

5g-illustrationThe wireless industry undergoes technology and architecture changes in 10 year increments. The 1980s provided first generation mobile voice services; the 1990s, voice capacity and text services with 2G; the 2000s, rudimentary data services with 3G; and the 2010s, mobile internet and densification via heterogeneous networks with 4G.

5G will shape the 2020s, and represents a step-change that will deliver both fiber-like wireless speeds as well as slower access speeds to enable massive scaling of the internet of things (IoT) whose impact, per Steve Case in his book The Third Wave, will be pervasive: “Every industry leader in every economic sector is at risk of being disrupted.”

Earlier this year, Ric Prentiss, managing director at Raymond James & Associates, described 5G as an evolutionary technology during a Tower & Small Cell Summit roundtable moderated by my colleague, Berge Ayvazian, at CTIA’s Super Mobility. In contrast Günther Oettinger (commissioner for Digital Economy & Society at the European Commission) extolled 5G at Mobile World Congress as revolutionary for – among other things – its expected economic impact upon global markets. In certain ways, 5G is represents both; it improves upon the network as we know it vis-à-vis speed and quality of experience but, also, introduces new applications and new network paradigms.

5G Drives Next-Generation In-Building Wireless Network Innovation

Although there are currently more questions than answers regarding how the wireless industry will address 5G indoors, certain conclusions can be deduced:

  • 5G will create an inflection point for in-building wireless spending because the high frequency, narrow wavelengths required to transmit large amounts of bandwidth at extremely fast speeds will be more difficult to propagate into and throughout venues and buildings.
  • Massive MIMO with licensed and unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum will support a significantly denser array of antennas and radios inside venues.
  • Next-generation products will offer significant intelligence through software, virtualization and digital architecture to enable the network to respond dynamically to changing coverage and capacity requirements.
  • The technical use case for Ethernet and/or fiber infrastructure will emerge to support the 10x bandwidth increase which exceeds the physical limitations of copper coaxial cable infrastructure used in conventional in-building wireless networks.
  • Backhaul will become a significant business case “choke point” to overcome to realize the full potential of the promise of 5G indoors.

Timeframes and Stakeholder Focus

5g-timeframe-illustrationDespite current “sandboxes” and expected showcases at the 2018 and 2020 Olympics in South Korea and Japan, respectively, 5G is not going to have a strong impact upon the in-building wireless industry until five or more years from now.

Therefore, of the key functional areas within in-building ecosystem organizations, R&D (and, potentially, product marketing) should invest a minor amount of time studying the 5G market in 2017, including engaging wireless operators to glean which technologies they anticipate deploying indoors.

In summary, 5G is going to usher evolutionary and revolutionary change that can manifest as either opportunity or threat to participants within the in-building ecosystem depending on how they position themselves. Will your organization be prepared?

Next trend: Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)

Mike Collado helps companies win mindshare and capture marketshare. He is a Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20 and former Vice President of Marketing at SOLiD. He also serves as a strategic advisor for both industry and nonprofit organizations and is an author, blogger and frequent speaker at wireless industry events. Contact him at mike@mikecollado.net.