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Improved Coverage: IBS trends, opportunities and challenges

December 09, 2013

A growing telecom subscriber base and increasing uptake of data services have led to a heavy traffic load on telecom networks. Operators struggling with the limited spectrum allotted to them are increasingly adopting in-building solutions (IBS) to provide seamless connectivity to users while indoors. Industry experts share their views on the challenges faced by operators in deploying such solutions and emerging market trends…


What opportunities do you foresee in the IBS market in India? What are the emerging trends and opportunities in this segment?

Pankaj Agrawal

Given the low quantum of spectrum allocated to service providers in the 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands, operators are finding it difficult to maintain a uniform quality of service (QoS) across a circle. Thus, in a bid to overcome poor QoS and deliver seamless connectivity to users, operators are extending wireless connectivity within customer premises by deploying IBS. Going forward, with the increasing uptake of 3G services and only 5 MHz of spectrum (in the 2100 MHz band) available to operators for offering these services, the industry is likely to witness widespread IBS deployments.

 Kunal Bajaj

With a growing subscriber base, telecom networks are getting congested, which leads to disturbance in the network while making calls or accessing data. Therefore, with a view to offer subscribers an enhanced consumer experience and seamless connectivity, several operators are investing significantly in deploying IBS solutions within the customer premises.

 Kumar Chakravarthy

Currently, wireless service providers are facing several challenges with regard to rapidly changing technologies and customer expectations. With the growing demand for anywhere connectivity, IBS has gained momentum in the Indian wireless industry. IBS allows service providers to reduce churn by providing seamless connectivity to premium customers. Operators use distributed antenna systems (DAS)/IBS to address issues related to poor wireless reception in indoor environments.

 What are the key growth drivers for the market?

Pankaj Agrawal

The need for providing 24x7 connectivity and ensuring a satisfactory customer experience are the two key drivers for the IBS market in India. In a competitive market, QoS is an important service differentiator. Therefore, operators are focusing on providing subscribers an enhanced consumer experience through in-building coverage.

 Kunal Bajaj

Increasing data uptake is the key growth driver for the IBS market in the country. In order to provide on-the-move connectivity, operators have to invest in technologies that enable them to deliver seamless services. Technological advancements will also contribute to the emergence of innovative and new indoor coverage solutions.

 Kumar Chakravarthy

As 3G becomes a reality and wireless internet a norm, dedicated in-building communications infrastructure will be required in premises for using data-intensive applications.

 What is the cost of implementing these solutions? What are the key factors that impact IBS costs and benefits?

Pankaj Agrawal

Implementing an IBS project is a capital-intensive exercise. By and large, operators adopt a capex-based model for such projects as it does not impact their earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. Site rentals and power supply costs are the two main components that need to be considered while deploying IBS.

In order to reduce implementation costs, service providers are opting for bilateral agreements with each other.

Service providers are also looking at ways to monetise the infrastructure created to offer extended coverage through IBS. Developing a tenancy model is critical for encouraging the large-scale deployment of IBS. Besides, in most cases, infrastructure providers or third-party developers bear the costs for setting up the infrastructure required for offering IBS, which is then leased out to other service providers.

 Kunal Bajaj

The cost of providing IBS would depend on the type of environment in which such solutions are to be implemented. Factors such as the complexity of buildings and number of operators sharing a network would impact the investments required for deploying IBS. Rolling out IBS is an expensive exercise. The costs involved could be significant depending on the specific wiring and electronics equipment being used along with base stations on a premises. In fact, the biggest cost component in deploying IBS is the large labour force required for providing coverage throughout a building.

 Kumar Chakravarthy

The cost of implementing these solutions depends on the size and nature of the solution being deployed (passive or active). The solution type is further related to the size and kind of structure as well as the expected traffic at the site.

IBS systems offer several benefits for both service providers and consumers:

•   Better coverage and QoS: Wireless devices often encounter difficulties in maintaining a reliable connection inside buildings. Large buildings made of metal and concrete form radio frequency-resistant structures, where the penetration losses are too high to maintain a reliable link to outdoor macro cell sites. This is also true for mature wireless networks that generally have a high density of macro sites.

The installation of a DAS in such environments results in increased coverage, improved call clarity and higher data throughput. Wireless service providers benefit by accomplishing two key revenue objectives: increased customer satisfaction, resulting in decreased churn and increased in-building minutes of usage; and fewer blocked, dropped and missed calls for end-users.

•   Increased capacity: The installation of an IBS host DAS provides operators the opportunity to offload call volumes from the existing macro cell network. DAS replaces the need for additional base stations or towers that may only end up being partially utilised. In addition, offloading subscribers from the macro network to the self-contained DAS eliminates any resectoring or cell splitting of the surrounding macro cells.

•   Capital cost reduction: Equipment, labour and maintenance costs for deploying IBS are very high and operators find it difficult to justify the return on investment for such systems except for very top-tier venues. By utilising an in-building host model, multiple carriers are able to share the cost and ensure subscriber satisfaction by increasing the MoUs on their system.

•   Speed-to-market for service providers: With the launch of 3G services, number portability mandates and increased customer churn, operators need to rapidly expand and improve their network coverage. Well-designed IBS DAS networks are an efficient resource for operators to meet customer needs as well as investor requirements.

 What are the issues and challenges faced by operators in setting up these systems?

Pankaj Agrawal

One of the biggest challenges involved in launching an IBS project is coordinating with multiple agencies and obtaining right-of-way (RoW) clearances. In addition, service providers need to work out the economics of projects with the developers of new and upcoming buildings or the cooperative societies and welfare associations of existing apartments.

 Kunal Bajaj

Getting access to buildings for extending IBS is one of the key challenges faced by service providers. Working out a commercially beneficial agreement with real estate developers and building (cooperative societies and associations) owners is another major challenge. Securing approvals for RoW is also a key issue. Moreover, ensuring that the site chosen for deploying IBS has round-the-clock power supply and enough space for setting up diesel generator sets is a complicated process.

 Kumar Chakravarthy

Even the presence of a small number of customers in a building will require operators to service them. This results in a disproportionate spend on providing coverage as compared to the revenue derived from the site. Further, providing coverage in the buildings’ common spaces such as basements, elevators and entrance lobbies does not make economic sense for operators. Therefore, these areas are either left uncovered or are connected at a disproportionately high cost.

 What is the future outlook for the IBS market in India? What are the emerging technology trends in this space?

Pankaj Agrawal

Going forward, service providers are expected to face challenges regarding coverage owing to limited spectrum availability. Therefore, operators will consider extending coverage to affected service areas by establishing more macro sites with towers or by deploying IBS. In places where towers can be set up easily, operators will prefer providing services through macro sites. At security-sensitive areas such as airports they will have to deploy IBS for providing seamless connectivity to users.

 Kunal Bajaj

IBS is going to become an integral part of DAS technology. Going forward, service providers are likely to opt for centralised flexible base stations to steer capacity towards areas that require more capacity. Technologies such as micro base stations will drive the deployment of IBS. In addition, the growing adoption of multiple-input, multiple-output antennas will contribute to increased coverage through IBS.

 Kumar Chakravarthy

With the proliferation of larger and taller buildings (which use a lot of glass and concrete in their structures), macro networks will become insufficient to provide the necessary coverage inside these premises, as the material used in construction does not allow the penetration of mobile signals. Further, as building structures become larger in size, they will house more people and operators’ outdoor sites may not be sufficient to serve this large customer base. Emerging technologies such as femtocells, which are being used increasingly, have still not gained favour with Indian operators.


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