Remote working and indoor coverage: why MNOs need to pay attention

indoor-article

Through the epidemic remote working has taken on a much more prominent role, and indications are that remote working is going to stay with us even as the world slowly re-opens.

A recent EU policy brief suggestedthat home and remote working across the EU-27 was at 5.4% of employed persons in 2019. The report proceeded to point to early estimates that found that, in 2020, the percentage rapidly shot up to 40%. Overall, the report suggested the “teleworkable” proportion of workers is around 25%.

Exactly how many workers will work outside of the traditional office setting is hard to predict, but we are undoubtedly looking at a significant shift. In turn, workers are now much more reliant on connectivity outside the office environment to get their job done.

While working at home or in public indoor spaces such as coffee stores users will also often rely on their cellular provider to be productive and to stay connected – and that matters for MNOs.

Indoor mobile performance is gaining importance over Wi-Fi

From the perspective of MNOs, a shift to remote working may at first glance not matter that much – after all, one could reasonably assume that most of these workers will rely on Wi-Fi linked to a fixed-line connection. The reality is a bit more complicated and that has implications on how indoor coverage matters for your customers.

Thanks to today’s uncapped data plans more users are tempted to ditch fixed-line connections to rely only on their mobile provider for data. A recent Tefficient report hints at this as Finland – a market where unlimited data plans are increasingly commonplace – shows incredibly high data use.

One operator – DNA – logged on average 34.8GB of data usage, per SIM, per month. That is the second highest of all the operators in the survey. Finland’s two other operators are also near the top.

There are a few other scenarios worth considering. Your users may not work remotely from the same location every time, trying a new coffee store, for example. Users would therefore be reliant on your indoor coverage more often than expected, and in different locations.

What does it mean for MNOs?

Given the shifts to remote working and uncapped mobile plans more and more of your users may be relying on your network for everyday internet access, including the ability to get work done. Users will likely have an alternative option should mobile coverage fail but switching to a failover doesn’t make for a happy user.

As the mobile operator, you need to be aware of user expectations and user sentiment. Accessing work networks and staying productive is an issue that can quickly become emotive. It is not hard to see how frustrated a user may get if they are unable to complete work or access an online work environment because your network’s indoor coverage is letting them down.

It's all down to the user experience after all. We’ve all been in online meetings where half the participants cannot hear each other. More often than not the discussion ends up unbalanced as some contribute more than others – and other participants are left frustrated because they were out of the loop.

Again, while users could plan for this eventuality, they may well not do so – and simply blame the poor performance of your network for their poor experience. For that reason, MNOs must pay attention to the user experience indoors.

Besides, from an IT procurement perspective, why would C-level execs invest in unlimited data plans for employees if it does not allow them to work remotely? MNOs risk that companies will conclude that fixed lines are still the safer alternative.

Getting indoor coverage right

Measuring and monitoring indoor performance should be your first port of call – it provides you with the insight to address poor indoor performance.

However, measuring indoor performance is particularly complicated because “indoor” as a location is not a Boolean value; there is no simple “yes” or “no” as to whether the user is indoors. Rather, we see the notion of indoor and outdoor on a sliding scale in terms of “how far indoors” the user is.

The user might be simply in the living room next to large windows, in which case they could have a good mobile signal. Or, the user could well be further inside a building, in an inner yard surrounded by tall buildings, a basement, or high up in a skyscraper. Thus, for proper indoor coverage planning, we need to understand how far the user’s location is from clear skies and from the outside environment where radio coverage typically is at its best.

At Netradar we have extensive experience in helping MNOs boost indoor coverage – backed by our powerful crowdsourced analytics tools which mirror the real user experience. For example, our indoor analytics tool can automatically map data session performance into one of five zones on an indoor, outdoor scale. It allows operators to rapidly assess the user experience in a given location. Indeed, the Netradar anomaly detector can automatically identify the top 50 indoor locations with poor and missing indoor coverage.

With Netradar’s data, MNOs can pinpoint indoor performance issues to a very fine level – including specific buildings, and specific floors in buildings. It allows MNOs to understand where and when home workers are experiencing poor network performance – and to target these issues for remediation.

What can network operators do with this data? Granular network performance data allows MNOs to tweak networks very finely for maximum coverage – while doing so in a cost-effective manner.

Yes, 5G is complicating matters, particularly where short-range mmWave frequencies are used, but accurate data can help operators plan network tweaks such as rolling out distributed antenna systems (DAS) or small cell solutions. Tweaks in terms of antenna locations and direction may also help – all based on real, on-the-ground performance data as reported by users.

Of course, other alternatives include indoor boosters and Wi-Fi calling – but though effective, these tools are a last resort as the associated user experience just isn’t ideal.

Netradar – key to monitoring indoor network performance

Indoor coverage is not just about home working. MNOs will also serve business premises better by monitoring indoor coverage – particularly given the growing prevalence of IoT, Industry 4.0, and other enterprise mobile applications.

With more and more business users now relying on your network for indoor coverage, a consistent user experience is more important than ever. Netradar’s analytics provides a powerful tool to help MNOs monitor indoor performance, allowing your network to alleviate indoor performance problems before users get frustrated.

The Netradar indoor monitoring capability delivers a simple operational workflow. MNOs simply use the anomaly detector to identify the indoor locations with the worst performance, feeding the results into a work log. Optionally, measurement teams can be sent to the identified locations to take real-life measurements.

Next, the operator plans and implements fixes to poor indoor performance. As a final step, the operator goes back to Netradar to verify that the problem has been resolved – and verifies this against network statistics.

Indoor network performance matters

Indoor is critical, not only for remote workers but also for businesses, like shopping malls, arenas and the like. And the more we move to 5G and higher frequencies, the more the indoor signal coverage becomes more challenging.

Moreover, many governments are moving towards mobile cellular networks to run the communications of first responders and safety personnel, and they need perfect coverage anywhere and everywhere, otherwise lives may be at risk.

In short, indoor coverage really matters – and Netradar’s unique indoor performance toolset is positioned to help MNO’s maximise indoor performance.

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