The future of indoor connectivity is 5G.

Luke Lucas, Sr. Manager – Engineering Business Development, T-Mobile

When people talk about connectivity today, they’re talking about silos. These silos are built around either the device they’re using, the location they’re in, or a combination both. When they’re outside, it's going to be cellular. When they’re inside, it's usually Wi-Fi, if they are using a mobile device like a smartphone, tablet or laptop; or Ethernet, if they are connecting a PC (although, of course, many PCs connect using Wi-Fi as well).

Where these signals come from—a cell tower, a fiber optic cable, or a run of coaxial cable—and how they work is of little importance to the end user. They just want to get things done. And they’re growing increasingly impatient with proprietary platforms that require them to constantly switch between competing standards and technologies just to get through their day.

Like the PC wars from the 2000s that ended up as a plug-and-play truce centered around USB, HDMI, and Bluetooth, people today are looking for a similar connectivity-focused agreement. They want the freedom to connect without having to switch between signal delivery platforms just because they are inside or outside or on a certain type of device.

With the continuing nationwide buildout of 5G, we believe that the future of indoor connectivity will center on this technology. Not because we are the first to light-up a nationwide 5G network*, but because it just makes sense.

As good as Wi-Fi is, it’s still an island. Once you leave a building with a Wi-Fi only device, not only do you leave behind the physical amenities of that space, you are being forced to break from your digital experiences as well. Once on the outside, you may or may not be able to recreate those experiences. For consumers, this may just be an inconvenience. But for businesspeople, this can be a productivity killer, leading to less-than-optimal experiences for employees and visiting VIPs.

Today, because the in-building cellular penetration rate is low (think single digits), these incongruencies are the accepted norm. Going forward, as 5G becomes ubiquitous and people acclimate to always-on, low-latency mobile broadband, we believe they will come to expect that same experience regardless of where they are.

We saw the same transition with Wi-Fi. It used to just be coffee shops where people went to get connected—and they would pay for the privilege. Today, public Wi-Fi is in many places, it's usually free, and often people just expect it to be there. They take it for granted. But, unlike cellular, you cannot take it with you once you leave.

Cellular already is the connection of choice.

Studies show that 80% of mobile traffic already begins and ends indoors. This means that people are already leveraging cellular when they’re indoors. This is why architects, engineers, and business managers agree that outfitting buildings of all types and uses with indoor cellular is more than just a nice-to-have—it’s the future.

If you think about it in more concrete terms, you wouldn't construct a building today without electricity, water, heating and air conditioning, or the internet. And not just any internet. You would build-in as much digital capacity as possible in order to future-proof the property's usability and desirability. Malls, office parks, hospitals, resorts, warehouses, retail, groceries... You name it, virtually any building can benefit from this type of future-proofing.

20 years ago, the internet was a "nice-to-have" for most people. Today, it’s on par with electricity, sanitation, and clean water. Likewise, smartphones went from cool-new-gadget to an indispensable tool of modern life in less than 10 years. These transformations will only accelerate as each new foundational technology spawns yet more innovation and the virtuous cycle continues.

Ideally, to make sure that people are getting the best possible experience from these successive waves of technology, property operators would operate their own indoor cellular networks just like they do with Wi-Fi today. This way they can help secure, manage, and monetize these elements any way they want.

A 5G product ecosystem will arise.

5G is the future of mobility and connectivity. Invariably, new products and services will be developed to take full advantage of all of the benefits it has to offer. Working towards increased security, mobility, and flexibility combined with high-speed with low-latency make for a winning combination by any measure.

A key benefit for Wi-Fi in this regard, even the newly emerging Wi-Fi 6 standard, is faster speeds and throughput so more devices can run simultaneously without degrading overall network performance. While this is great, it alone does not solve the mobility and security problems.

Humanity is also realizing that, during a pandemic, communication and collaboration are more important than ever—and disparate islands of connectivity make work and life more difficult. From frontline hospitals and research universities to enterprises and government organizations with distributed workforces, enabling Wi-Fi connectivity for all workers across the country is a tall order.

Adding a companion cellular network could be as easy as operating an existing Wi-Fi network. It will be many years before 5G has advanced enough to challenge Wi-Fi in all areas. These two technologies will exist side-by-side for some time, providing end-users with the experiences they prefer using the networks that they want.

Even so, we at T-Mobile believe the writing is on the wall. Once 5G is established as the predominant mobile networking technology for consumers, it may be a matter of time before Wi-Fi, like so many other technologies before it, is something that we talked about in the past tense.

To learn more about 5G and the future of indoor coverage, visit www.T-MobileBYOC.com.

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