A market study
In-building wireless networks, which have been providing capacity and coverage solutions since 3G and have continued to do so for 4G and 5G cellular networks inside buildings, are critical components of today’s wireless infrastructure. These systems use a variety of network architectures and spectrum bands to extend cellular service inside stadiums, commercial buildings, hotels, convention centers, hospitals, university campuses, airports, and other large buildings. Solutions are also available to improve coverage inside residential homes.
Wi-Fi and in-building cellular networks should be viewed as complementary to one another – each has different benefits and meets a specific set of needs. Wi-Fi technology was designed to provide data connectivity in small areas, which it does well. But Wi-Fi networks in buildings may be owned and operated by the tenants in the building or designed purely for use only by building employees and not guests or fans. Wi-Fi can also struggle to handle needed capacity in large venues. Further, Wi-Fi networks typically do not have the same security and manageability compared to LTE and 5G cellular networks.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” in-building wireless solution for enterprises as each business has its own connectivity requirements. One office building might have different needs from another – which would be different from a hotel, hospital, factory, retail store, restaurant or stadium. Just as all those different enterprises would have different connectivity needs, each type of manufacturing facility has unique requirements. In some cases, a full-fledged, neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) might be the best option. (Neutral host means that the DAS has multiple mobile operators on the system.) In others, a small-cell architecture using operator-owned spectrum may be required.
Enterprises and building owners and managers will need to address the cost of the network, how many operators need to be included on the network and the timeline for deployment, among other things, as part of their assessment.
Building and operating in-building wireless networks accounted for a total of $567 million in spending in 2022 in the United States. This includes spending on DAS, indoor small cells and private LTE/5G networks by enterprises but does not include any spending on Wi-Fi networks. Construction of in-building networks generated nearly $274 million in spending, while operating those networks generated $293 million in spending. A total of 747,400 indoor small-cell nodes were in operation at the end of 2022. This includes private CBRS networks, DAS, small cells, millimeter-wave (mmWave) and other licensed frequency bands – and comprises multiple nodes per system and per building. This number does not include indoor Wi-Fi access points for private or public networks.
In general, the outlook for the commercial building cellular IBW market is positive, even as COVID-19 has impacted the timeframe of new deployments and appears to have altered where people work – i.e., the work from home trend. That single change alone has had wide-ranging ramifications for the inbuilding space. As people return to the office, the need for improved in-building connectivity is becoming clear. Also, enterprises are expected to adopt private wireless networks to manage their own in-building connectivity.
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