In an increasingly digitalised world sha­ped by social distancing, wireless ca­pa­bi­lities have transcended the notion of con­ve­ni­ence and moved indoors. Accor­d­ing to industry reports, 80 per cent of call and data sessions are initiated indoors.

To cater to the growing data traffic, in-building solutions (IBS) have emerged as a reliable tool. Such solutions offer high quality mobile communication in indoor en­­vironments such as offices, shopping malls, hospitals, stadiums and airports. IBS provides indoor coverage using a series of hubs/equipment, distributing the signal to multiple antennas. It optimises indoor net­­works in the best possible way to avoid call drops. Signals from a micro base tra­ns­ceiver station (BTS) site are distributed th­rough coaxial lines and distributed antenna systems (DAS). Further, IBS can be us­ed as an agile, next-generation operations support system while assisting in artificial intelligence/machine learning-led cybersecurity networks.

Catering to increased data appetite through FTTH connections

The need for significant optical fibre cable capacity in the last mile has only multiplied in recent years due to the increased usage of bandwidth-intensive applications. Fur­ther, as fixed and mobile services are beco­ming increasingly converged, the need to deliver fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) or fi­bre-to-anything (FTTx) is becoming even more apparent. One of the key benefits of FTTH is that it can provide unlimited bandwidth with a long reach. The development of technology and video applications such as video streaming, internet pro­tocol (IP) television, high quality vi­deoconferen­cing, smart home techno­logy, IP video home surveillance and games is gradually permeating into people’s daily lives, leading to further expansion of the demand for bandwidth.

The demand for new home broadband connections based on FTTx technologies has witnessed a surge in India too, especially after the onset of the pandemic. Also, with 5G gaining significant traction, there is a need for higher bandwidth and network speeds. FTTx comprises low-latency, high-bandwidth fibre networks that can fulfil all these requirements. In addition, it also helps in achieving high capacity and consistent indoor connectivity, while enabling long distance signal transmission.

Role of small cells

As countries step into the 5G era, they are increasingly looking to explore the various use cases of small cells to smoothen the path towards 5G implementation. Glo­ba­lly, policymakers and regulatory bodies in the telecom domain are looking to devise policy frameworks that ease the deployment of small cells, thus facilitating seamless service delivery through 5G networks. With en­han­ced mobile broadband and ma­ssive ma­chine-type communication ca­pabilities bui­lt in, 5G small cells can connect a large nu­m­ber of devices on a single private network, meeting capacity deman­ds for wireless connectivity. Unlike Wi-Fi access points, 5G small cells are built on 3GPP mobile technology, ensuring seamless hand-offs bet­ween small cells with no connectivity loss. Put another way, small cells are low-power radio access BTSs with small form factors, easily mountable on light poles and street furnitu­re. However, the rate of small cell deployment in India is currently extremely low compared to global markets, due to the lack of appropriate locations for deployment. Hence, the government is considering the use of street furniture for the installation of small cells.

In a major move, the Telecom Regula­tory Authority of India (TRAI) recently released its recommendations on the “Use of Street Furniture for Small Cell and Aerial Fibre Deployment.” The regulator recommended that all central government entities should earmark dedicated spaces in their existing and planned buildings for installing digital connectivity infrastructure, including small and macro cells. In its recommendations, TRAI noted that DoT should issue advisory guidelines to states mandating controlling administrative au­th­o­rities that own traffic lights to share these assets with telecom firms and Ca­te­gory I infrastructure providers for deployment of small cells.

DAS as a critical enabler

The simple principle behind a DAS is that of placing antennas strategically throughout a building so that cellular signals can be distributed where needed. The signals may come from outdoors, in which case an external antenna receives and sends the signals to internal antennas; or from an on-site carrier-provided BTS. As a result, a DAS can increase the cellular capacity of a building and allow wireless signals to reach end-user devices. DASs ultimately eliminates cellular connectivity problems by enhancing cellular signals, and they do so through the installation of antennas both inside and outside buildings. When antennas are installed outside a building, they are typically placed on the roof or near a window to bring the signal inside the building.

Cell phone coverage can also be an issue in heavily populated facilities or ven­ues, where thousands of people may be at­t­empting to access the phone network at once. Sports stadiums and convention centres are just a couple of the types of facilities that could benefit from more reliable cell coverage, improving fan and attendee experience. In buildings or ven­ues with poor cell service, a DAS can serve as a valuable addition.

Signal boosters as amplifiers

Just as the name suggests, signal boosters amplify the signals coming out of your cell phone. They help achieve a stronger connection and stable network between the pa­rties engaged on a call. The core elements of mobile a signal booster, namely, exterior antenna, interior antenna and amplifier, usually constitute a repeater system that, in turn, amplifies all the signals coming from the cell phone device. People often use signal boosters for better reception and stronger connections, especially in places where signals are compromised.

Cell phone boosters use coaxial wires to circumvent all signal-blocking materials in your house, business space or vehicle, allo­wing for a stronger cellular connection. Uti­lising bidirectional amplifiers or repea­ter systems, signal boosters capture, amplify and repeat external wireless signals inside buildings. Signal boosters can boost all frequencies broadcasted by one or more carriers simultaneously, making them ideal for improving coverage in specific locations such as small office/home office units, small commercial buildings, parking garages and other structures with limited space and poor or non-existent coverage. Known to be low cost, signal boosters are not part of any mobile operator’s network, nor do they require a wired broadband link to function. A signal booster works with an outside an­tenna that receives the signal from the local cell tower; an amplifier that simply takes the existing signal and boosts it up for use inside the building; and an inside antenna, usually mounted on a ceiling, that retransmits the boosted signal accordingly.

Summing up

Indoor connectivity has started playing a crucial role in the 5G era. Recognising its importance, telcos have started consistently working on strengthening their indoor coverage. For instance, Vodafone Idea Li­mited (Vi) recently enhanced the 4G ex­perience for its customers in the National Capital Region on the back of several network initiatives, enabling a better indoor experience and faster speeds. Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel augmented its mobile network in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh to deliver an enhanced indoor network experience for its customers, by deploying 5 MHz in the 900 MHz spectrum band for high speed data services.

Going forward, IBS technology will support digital multiservice networks su­ch as internet of things, artificial reality/virtual reality and related applications. Wi-Fi 6 is expected to be complemented by 60 GHz wireless local area network, which is poised to be the “next-generation Wi-Fi”. Smart connected schools, smart traffic management, smart surveillance, e-health, intranet and extranet services all involve the use of IBS to a great extent. As we en­ter a new world of connected devices such as autonomous cars and smart buildings, services provided by network carriers must consistently deliver stronger signals for be­tter service, reliable connections, faster data and always-on dependability