After successful trials in September, Verizon Business and Corning have begun installing Verizon’s 5G mmWave small cell service in Verizon retail locations and in WeWork flexible office space locations.
“We are trying to enable a cost-effective way to get 5G deployed inside an enterprise,” said Michael O’Day, vice president of Corning Optical Communications. “We are creating a cell inside a building that covers 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, depending on the density of users.”
Corning’s indoor 5G solution features a fully integrated baseband unit – radios and antennas – which uses Corning’s composite cable (fiber for data transmission and copper for power) instead of a coaxial cable used for DAS or a CAT 5 cable used for Wi-Fi. The integrated baseband unit fits into a 1u 19-inch rack, which is typically situated on-prem, but the software could be located in a centralized location. The controller works in two different directions, integrating back into the Verizon core network and forward connecting to multiple radio nodes.
Verizon’s 5G network is currently based on higher frequencies in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, known as the millimeter-wave band. These bands are known for wide channels, high speeds, low latency and short propagation. Integrators will be on a learning curve to deploy millimeter-wave technology indoors, because of the different propagation characteristics.
“You have to be smart about where you place the radios to maximize the coverage based on knowing the location of the walls, doors and windows, and there will be more radio nodes because the millimeter waves don’t penetrate through walls very well,” O’Day said. “Engineering and designing 5G inside a building is difficult, so our architecture makes it easy to put radios in the spots where people need the most bandwidth.”
He envisions future in-building wireless networks designed with a mix of 5G small cells and 4G LTE small cells to provide optimized coverage and capacity.
Every carrier has licensed frequencies in a variety of bands that it has acquired over the years and has a different strategy based on those spectrum holdings. Corning will enable those operators to deploy indoor 5G systems over a variety of spectrum bands.
“I think you are going to see a lot of 5G delivered over C band in buildings, because it gives you the ability to provide more bandwidth that is more affordable and because it may not require as much densification,” O’Day said.
John Madden, chied analyst at Mobile Experts, said the Corning system is one of several technologies with which Verizon is experimenting for indoor 5G coverage.
“I consider this next year as a time of experimentation for indoor 5G technologies to see which ones are most effective and most economical, and then we will see those ramp up,” Madden said. “I think this Corning announcement is pretty promising, because it is a decent product that is worth watching.”
Some buildings may receive their 5G signal through an over-the-air repeater, because of the low cost and ease compared with pulling fiber through a building, Madden added.
“The Corning system gets you high capacity and low latency, and a repeater is more for residential, light industrial applications,” he said. “Different buildings will need different solutions.”
The agreement with WeWork is a sign of just how important indoor wireless has become to land new tenants in the office building market, which has become even more competitive with the work-from-home trend.
Although the key standard for ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC) (3GPP Release 17) won’t be finalized in June of 2021, industry connections and long-term data allow Mobile Experts to confidently anticipate strong pre-investment in Private 5G networks ahead of the standard’s completion.
“Companies like Volkswagen, Toyota, Siemens, and ABB are investing in private 5G networks and expect to control robots using 5G URLLC in their factories despite the fact that standards may force some changes. They’ll be deploying radios anyway, so we foresee a strong market picking up around 2023,” Madden said.
Present investments are a long-term market bet, but as premium tariff opportunities arise, operators will investigate this market in the next five years and solid revenue opportunities will materialize in the long term, according to the new Mobile Experts report.
The global small cell 5G network market was valued $521 million in 2019 and is anticipated to grow with at a rate of more than 31.2 percent during the forecast period 2020-2027, according to Market Insight Reports.
Stalking the Elusive Middleprise
The target market of Verizon’s 5G mmWave service will be office buildings with 100 thousand to 500 thousand square feet, also known as middleprise, which heretofore was seen as too small for carrier-funded systems and unnecessary by office building owners.
“The model for an enterprise customer,” O’Day said, “could be a six-story, 220,000-square-foot building that has a variety of users, perhaps a corporate headquarters, mixed use office space, like WeWork.”
Corning’s indoor cell site is designed to provide Verizon’s 5G mmWave service inside facilities such as hospitals, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, schools, ports, commercial office space, retail stores and any indoor environment where large amounts of data traffic must be managed and optimized. The launch of these indoor cell sites will not only extend the footprint of Verizon’s 5G network, but also will eventually enable private networks with mobile edge compute (MEC) capabilities, according to Verizon Business.
Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business, said: “By combining access to our 5G Ultra Wideband service indoors with a private MEC platform and a private core that helps to run the operations of the network, an enterprise will be able to have a secure, ultra-reliable, high-speed, low-latency private 5G solution.”
Having all three components (5G Ultra Wideband service indoors, private MEC, private network core) of the private 5G network in a single facility will increase speed and efficiency by eliminating the need for data to cross through multiple routers and across large geographies. It will also eliminate the need to share core resources with the macro network and offer the flexibility to develop specific capabilities customized to the private network owner.
A private 5G network will accelerate enterprise automation and digitization efforts, enhance how customers interact in a retail environment, support sensors and alerts in all aspects of an operation and provide real-time, on-site video analysis. With Verizon’s mmWave bandwidth and reliability, it will offer the scalability to manage massive numbers of devices along with advanced capabilities such as edge artificial intelligence, computer vision and other emerging technologies.