The most important challenges facing the mobile industry

These employees will become increasingly dissatisfied as their smartphone or tablet is restricted by their company's network, consequently putting huge pressure on IT departments to act now by providing infrastructure to support any kind of device an employee may have, wherever that employee may be working, and all this while keeping data safe and secure.

The answer is not to simply beef-up Wi-Fi networks.

TRP: How can businesses overcome these challenges?

JS: With the use of mobile devices being encouraged within the workplace, data traffic will increase, which will put even greater pressure on the network. To overcome this, businesses must take greater responsibility and provide stronger indoor mobile network signals themselves.

There are two major alternatives for providing mobile service inside buildings and both involve working with the mobile service providers. One option is to use small cells such as picocells to deliver the wireless signal indoors.

However, picocells typically only support one mobile operator. Businesses are likely to want to provide mobile network access for customers of all mobile service providers, and to do so with picocells would mean installing individual picocells for each operator's frequencies.

The picocell also has a fixed amount of capacity and reach that is tied to the device location, which makes it difficult to provide uniform performance within a large enterprise.

A better solution is to use a broadband, multi-operator distributed antenna system (DAS), which provides mobile service by distributing multiple wireless signals through a series of ceiling or wall-mounted antennas located throughout the organisation.

DAS can deliver service for all major operators through a single infrastructure and set of antennas, providing a much more efficient way to deliver mobile service. What's more, every antenna broadcasts the same frequencies, so there are no interference concerns."

TRP: What considerations do businesses need to take into account when looking for a solution for in-building coverage and capacity?

JS: In-building coverage and capacity are two fundamental challenges for businesses seeking to deliver high-performance mobile services within their offices. In order to deal with these issues, companies will need to make three considerations.

Firstly, the network infrastructure must be simple and cost-effective to deploy; if it's not, service providers won't install it or the speed of the network rollout will be unacceptable to users.

Existing buildings are particularly problematic since there is a lot of infrastructure to work around, and such installations can disrupt normal business operations.

Secondly, the infrastructure should easily scale to cover new areas, support higher capacity, and adapt to future implementations of wireless standards such as LTE Advanced. The in-building wireless solution should, like a fibre optic network, handle whatever applications will be required today and in the future.

Lastly, the solution should support multiple mobile operator services. While enterprises may have a corporate purchase agreement with a particular mobile operator, the in-building system must provide service for contractors, visitors, and others in the building that use other services. The solution should also accommodate network changes as spectrum is acquired or divested."

TRP: Why can't businesses just rely on the Wi-Fi network to take on the increasing wireless demand?

JS: Pushing wireless users onto the Wi-Fi network may seem like a great solution, since the Wi-Fi network is already in place. However, there are several different types of users, and Wi-Fi administrators will not be able to serve them all.

For example, security concerns prohibit visitors, as well as contractors accessing the Wi-Fi network, and even employees, as they may not be able to get the bandwidth they need in a congested Wi-Fi network.

TRP: What are the advantages of small cells?

JS: Small cell architecture is playing an important role in 4G network deployments by filling in coverage and capacity holes in the macro network. As more and more devices are being used in the network, naturally building smaller cell sites is one strategy for network architecture.

Indeed, small cells are inexpensive and can be deployed in a matter of days or weeks, so operators can take advantage of a 'build as you grow' strategy. Another benefit of using small cells is efficient use of spectrum. Spectrum is limited, and small cells make it much more critical to re-use frequency efficiently.

They also make it easier to scale services. It's easier to deploy small base stations, so it's easy to add more of them as capacity demands increase – something UK operators are starting to struggle with."

TRP: Are there any downsides to using small cells?

JS: Today's small cells are only really designed to provide single service coverage and capacity over a relatively small area, therefore they are not always the most practical solution.

If the area is small enough to be served by a picocell or femtocell, such as a residence or small shop, these units are an ideal solution for coverage and capacity.

However, if the area cannot be covered by just one small cell, several problems can arise when deploying multiple cells to achieve the desired coverage and capacity.

So, they may be appropriate for residential use or in small retail venues, however they are not necessarily the right tool for larger shopping venues, office buildings or sporting arenas.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.