The Good Stuff


09/13/2022

What Is an Indoor Cellular Network?

By Team Boingo
  • Article
  • 5 min read

A cellular network is a wireless communication system that relies upon stationary base transceivers to disseminate internet signals across areas of land via “cells.” Cells accumulate to cover vast amounts of land so that devices can access the network over differing signal frequencies without interruption, even if the user is moving through multiple cells.

The radio-based cellular systems are incredibly useful to society and nearly ubiquitous, but they do have certain limitations. Radio frequency (RF) signals that come from outdoor macro carrier towers can have challenges delivering coverage indoors. The signals can be repelled by building materials such as concrete, glass, steel, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified construction materials. Weak coverage and dead zones are problematic in today’s digital era, especially for large venues and enterprises like airports, transit hubs, stadiums, hospitals, retail, office buildings, and manufacturing facilities. While Wi-Fi can be available, these businesses require strong cellular service throughout their property to connect customers and operations.

Cellular networks and Wi-Fi can get confused. Although both networks facilitate internet connections and data exchange, they are not the same. Wi-Fi affords open access and uses unlicensed radio waves to provide high-speed internet access to enabled devices. Cellular networks offer more controlled access and rely on licensed carrier -operated frequency spectrum to provide internet access to enabled devices.

 

INDOOR CELLULAR NETWORKS FOR LARGE VENUES

An indoor cellular network is a signal boosting solution for large buildings and enterprise campuses. There are a few options for indoor cellular design and specifications. Indoor Distributed Antenna Systems (iDAS), Small Cell networks, and private networks can establish indoor cellular coverage. The systems can operate exclusively, side by side, or in tandem to improve capacity, extend coverage, and meet IoT (Internet of Things) needs of connected spaces.

 

HOW DOES AN INDOOR CELLULAR NETWORK WORK?

Indoor cellular networks work in a few different ways depending on the chosen technologies and confiscation specifications. While some of the specific goals will vary, in general, indoor cellular networks are intended to boost signals, reduce interference, reduce latency, and enhance security. Because there are many options for indoor cellular networks, it is ideal for organizations to partner with an expert network provider who can design, install, manage, and maintain an optimal indoor cellular network solution like DAS and small cells.

DAS works through a system of antennas that transmit signals to and from a carrier’s base station. DAS improves connectivity, eliminates dead and drop zones, and boosts capacity of carrier systems. DAS can be used indoors, outdoors, or both. iDAS is available in a variety of configurations, using different materials and technologies. While iDAS can be beneficially deployed in small spaces, it is the ideal connective technology for large, complex spaces with high capacity demands like airports, stadiums, arenas, and convention centers.

Small cell networks are miniature radio access points outputs within a relatively small area. While many small cells can be installed to boost the network bandwidth across a large area, each small cell only serves a limited range. The profile of these devices is discreet so they can be installed with minimal interruption to the architecture and interior design of a space. Through small cell technologies, 5G wireless service can be enhanced in indoor spaces such as large office towers, factories, airports, venues and more.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in a newer spectrum solution in the U.S. that can deliver private, Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and 5G coverage. CBRS operates on a radio spectrum and can measurably improve capacity, security, bandwidth and connectivity. This system was previously only available for government and military use within the United States. Now there are the following three access tiers: Incumbent, Priority Access License (PAL), and General Authorized Access (GAA). Across these tiers, service is organized using a Spectrum Access System (SAS) that holds a database of all CBRS base stations and corresponding assignments. The sharing rules support public access and also protect private and incumbent users from interference.

A private indoor cellular network is a local area network (LAN) that can leverage CBRS to create a dedicated mobile network, for selected users, within a specific geographic area. Private indoor cellular networks can support advanced use cases and are behind many IoT deployments like connected security cameras, sensors used for predictive maintenance and equipment asset tracking. The hosting organization maintains full control and management of the network. The data is secure, the latency can be minimized, and the network can be optimized to prioritize specific users and devices.

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN INDOOR CELLULAR NETWORK?

There are many benefits of an indoor cellular network. An indoor cellular network connects businesses, providing seamless wireless coverage that can power 5G, boost carrier coverage, can be controlled by the hosting enterprise, can be remotely monitored and managed, and is scalable. Indoor cellular networks are increasingly necessary because the new construction materials that meet the LEED standards can repel outdoor carrier signals. Wireless drop and dead zones are prevalent inside buildings, and specific solutions are needed to amplify signals indoors.

 

WHICH ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD USE AN INDOOR CELLULAR NETWORK?

Many organizations should use an indoor cellular network. The wireless data demands of the 5G era impact nearly every organization. Healthcare centers and hospitals, sports and entertainment venues, transportation hubs, military bases, factories, manufacturing plants, office buildings, retail, and emerging enterprises can all benefit from indoor network technologies.

 

FEMTOCELLS, PICOCELLS, AND MICROCELLS

While many indoor cellular network designs are applicable in small spaces, small environments can notably benefit from small cell technologies, particularly femtocells. As the smallest classification of small cells, femtocells are low-power base stations that convert internet connections into reliable cellular signals. Devices need to be registered with the femtocell to utilize the cellular signal, and each femtocell can serve several devices at a time. Small cell technologies are also available as picocells (mid-range) and microcells (large range).

 

DAS TECHNOLOGIES FOR LARGE SPACES

While many indoor cellular network designs are applicable and can be layered to serve large spaces, large environments can notably benefit from DAS technologies. The iDAS signal distribution strategy is highly customizable, discrete and scalable. There are different types of iDAS solutions such as passive, active, off-air, Base Transceiver Station (BTS) DAS, and small cell DAS. The design and intensity of the donor signal typically determines the type of DAS technology that is implemented indoors.

 

SINGLE MOBILE NETWORK OPERATOR SOLUTIONS

Single mobile network operator (MNO) solutions involve telecommunications providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile that own radio spectrum licenses and are responsible for the associated service infrastructure. An MNO maintains base stations, creates networks of devices and software, and provides cellular service to subscribed users who are within the designated coverage areas. Radio frequency signals from outdoor carrier macro cells can be weaker or spotty indoors. Because of this MNOs can rely on small cells and DAS to boost their own signals indoors.

 

NEUTRALLY HOSTED MULTI-OPERATOR SOLUTIONS (NEUTRAL HOST NETWORKS)

A neutrally hosted, multi-operator solution takes cellular signals broadcast by carriers and networks such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile and amplifies them inside a building or complex. In addition to amplifying the signal of multiple carriers, neutral host networks share infrastructure and equipment. This strategy reduces the cost and simplifies the potential complexities of indoor cellular connectivity. MNOs, subscribers, and enterprises all benefit from the implementation of neutral host network solutions for indoor cellular.

 

HOW MUCH DOES INDOOR CELLULAR COST TO INSTALL AND MAINTAIN?

The cost to install and maintain an indoor cellular system varies. The cost is influenced by the size, qualities and requirements of the space. An expert provider can design quality indoor cellular solutions that are cost-effective. When an enterprise partners with a trustworthy and experienced provider, the benefits of an indoor cellular solution can outweigh the costs and even create new revenue-generating opportunities for the business.

 

HOW AN INDOOR CELLULAR NETWORK IS WORTH THE INVESTMENT

Strong mobile connections are now required in every setting, making an indoor cellular network worth the investment. An indoor cellular network allows organizations to operate smoothly, securely, and efficiently in the digital age. An indoor cellular network also prepares organizations for the future.

 

DOES YOUR BUSINESS NEED AN INDOOR CELLULAR SOLUTION?

Boingo Wireless is the largest provider of indoor DAS solutions in the U.S. and continues to power digital transformation with its small cells and private network offerings. For over 20 years, Boingo has created a vast ecosystem of network technologies that impact billions of people every year. Airports, sports and entertainment venues, military bases and more rely on Boingo for their connectivity needs. Learn more about Boingo’s indoor cellular solutions and get in touch to see how we can help transform your connectivity.