The Great Indoors

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  April 02, 2014

Seventy to 80 percent of mobile data is generated indoors. This is a refrain we’re hearing more and more lately from companies in the wireless infrastructure arena as they introduce new solutions to help service providers better address the in-building opportunity, which ABI Research (News - Alert) says will be worth $4 billion in 2018.

Just what technology and products best fill this void is the question. The answer, of course, depends upon whom you talk to.

Ericsson, a giant in cellular networking, continues to push its small cell story. The company last year introduced the Radio Dot System, a small and low-cost LTE (News - Alert) antenna/amp that interfaces with Category 5/6/7 cables. Then, in February, it announced Small Cell as a Service. Arun Bhikshesvaran, the company’s CMO told INTERNET TELEPHONY that these solutions make sense because modern buildings tend to have glass coatings and heat and light protection that inhibit good coverage from macro cellular networks, so this solution addresses all that.

Several companies, including TE Connectivity (News - Alert), consider distributed antennae systems (or DAS) as an ideal technology for in-building wireless. Some believe DAS is too expensive to be used for many deployments, but TE Connectivity has told INTERNET TELEPHONY that DAS is a good choice if you need to address high-density applications. (Indeed, DAS is the indoor wireless technology of choice at AT&T (News - Alert) Stadium where the Giants play in San Francisco.) DAS also can enable service providers to leverage all of their frequency assets.  

However, Axell Wireless at Mobile World Congress in February launched an in-building solution allowing mobile operators to allocate capacity to locations only where and when it is needed. The company is promoting the system as a more cost-effective way for mobile operators to handle the challenges of large-scale in-building coverage.

Axell says because they are “hard wired”, traditional DAS solutions tend to be more expensive, but that its new solution, called idDAS (intelligent digital DAS), allows mobile operators to dynamically allocate capacity around a facility and, in effect, provide a DAS system that can react to user demands.

Meanwhile, Taqua, another well-known network infrastructure provider that has recently come out with an in-building wireless coverage solution, is focused specifically on addressing voice over Wi-Fi.

Given that 80 percent of all mobile data traffic is streamed indoors, 39 to 61 percent of offices have noticeably poor in-building coverage, and 70 percent of data is carried by Wi-Fi today, it makes perfect sense to leverage Wi-Fi not only for data but also for voice, John Hoadley, CTO of wireless, and Frederick Reynolds, vice president of marketing, at Taqua said.

While major cellular carriers are involved in moving this model forward, it also makes sense with any company with a large network, like a cable TV company or even an outfit like Boingo Wireless, Reynolds said.

Based on the Taqua Virtual Mobile Core, this VoWiFi solution leverages the small cell technology Taqua got via its 2011 acquisition of Tatara Systems (News - Alert). The new solution includes two components, some software in the network that can run on an industry-standard server, and a client on the user’s smartphone. The in-network piece does SIP translations and essentially acts as a switch. The client piece, available initially only for Android devices, checks for Wi-Fi access points on which the user is registered and if it sees one it turns off the device’s cellular connection and instead sends all communications through the WiFi.

“This is all integrated with your existing device” and it’s not an over-the-top capability like Skype, explained Hoadley.

One of Taqua’s service provider partners worked with suppliers of Android devices to put the client on their phones so it’s available out of the box when consumers purchase the devices, he added. Hoadley declined to provide an indication as to when Android devices with the VoWiFi client would begin shipping or to disclose the identity of the service provider partner involved.

Taqua is also working with the Android ecosystem to deliver a downloadable client for older devices or endpoints that are distributed by other methods than cellular carriers, Hoadley added. In the second quarter Taqua will be in trials with a service provider outside the U.S. that is offering the VoWiFi capability based on downloadable clients. Taqua is also working to make available downloadable clients for iOS devices.

While the VoWiFi solution from Taqua can be viewed as an alternative to VoLTE, Taqua Virtual Mobile Core also supports some VoLTE applications, so service providers that leverage the solution can use it later for that purpose. However, Hoadley expects that its VoWiFi application will have a lifespan of a decade or more.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi