Ericsson finds way to make inbuilding new again with location – Fierce Wireless

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  • Inbuilding coverage is as old as the hills

  • Everyone is looking for ways to monetize 5G

  • Enter location, which Ericsson says can be added to the inbuilding equation for monetization purposes

CONNECT (X) ATLANTA — One of the themes at Connect (X) this week revolved around the next phase of 5G: where investments will be made and where revenues will be had.

Ask Shane McClelland, VP of Emerging RAN Solutions at Ericsson North America, about that, and he’ll tell you: Inbuilding coverage is where it’s at. Or, if we want to tamp down on the hype a little here, it’s at least part of the equation.   

First, we should get one thing straight. Ericsson doesn’t do distributed antenna systems (DAS). Rather, it’s got a distributed radio/small cell system for inbuilding coverage, and it’s not the same as a DAS, McClelland said.

“It’s completely different from a DAS,” he said, noting there are no repeaters in Ericsson’s not-a-DAS solution.

Why not do DAS? “We view it as a legacy type of technology,” he said.

For years, one of the knocks to DAS has been that it costs too much, or as McClelland points out: a lot of requirements for floor space, power consumption, equipment and, as a result, a lot of heat that gets generated.

For the record, more than one wireless carrier or vendor executive will tell you that DAS is alive and well and not your grandparents’ type of DAS. (We know, because they have.)

Ericsson isn’t one of them. Rather, it touts its Radio Dot system, which isn’t new; it’s been deployed at hundreds of sites in the U.S.

Video conferencing similarities

McClelland notes that a lot of people have been working on cellular in-building solutions for decades. He likens it to the video conferencing market before Covid.   

“It was there. We had the tools. It worked. But no one wanted to use it. It was clunky,” he told Fierce on the sidelines of Connect (X). “You had the video room in the office. No one used it.”

Then along came Covid. “All of a sudden, everybody is on the screen. Now we don’t even want to get off the screen,” he said.

The in-building space is similar, he said, adding that it’s not necessarily going to take off like a rocket ship, but its time may be coming.

Hello, multiple stakeholders

The thing about inbuilding wireless is there’s typically more than one stakeholder involved: Mobile network operators, building owners, managers and tenants, to name a few. They each have different needs and wants.

“If you don’t tick the box on every one of those stakeholder groups, any one of those can block a deployment or say no,” he said.

From a mobile network operator perspective, they don’t necessarily make any more money off a subscriber who’s on an all-you-can-eat plan when they’re using their network inside a building. Their concern is: How do I underwrite that densification investment?

“It’s got to come with mass features and functionality that lay on top of that indoor infrastructure,” McClelland said.

Ericsson is banking that network operators and enterprises will see value in adding precise location on top of their inbuilding deployments. Granted, not everyone wants their location to be known – that’s why it’s going to require users to give their permission to share their locations.

But the advantages are clear for certain use cases, such as public safety. It’s long been a problem for first responders to figure out exactly which floor in a skyscraper people are on, for example, when they dial 911. Many companies, carriers and organizations are trying to solve for that, including Ericsson.

McClelland said Ericsson installed an indoor advanced positioning systems at its offices in Plano, Texas, and they’re able to find people within a meter of accuracy.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “This is where monetization comes in. Once you know where all the UEs are, you can use that for value-added services.”

Ericsson is in discussions with some likely suspects within the public safety space, but he’s not naming names. Besides public safety, neutral host providers – like the kind attending Connect (X) this week – are another potential customer, and they recognize the opportunity, he said.

Manufacturing facilities, college campuses, hospitals – they’re also candidates, same as with private wireless networks.

Citing ABI Research, Ericsson points out that 87% of enterprises have not yet deployed real time location systems technology within their businesses – a pretty good indication that there’s nowhere to go here but up. 

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