Demand for indoor connectivity driving the need for enhanced performance
To achieve expected indoor performance, both coverage and capacity must be enhanced in key venues through optimal network deployment scenarios.
So far, 5G mid-band time division duplex (TDD) has mostly been deployed at outdoor macro sites to provide coverage and capacity for mobile broadband and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services. However, the majority of traffic is generated indoors where people tend to spend most of their time; we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and up to 80 percent of our data is consumed there.1
The importance of indoor performance
With so much of our lives spent inside, it makes sense to focus on providing 5G performance at indoor venues, especially where there are high user concentrations. Indoor environments often have difficult propagation characteristics due to the fabric of buildings containing steel frames and solid walls. Venues typically facing these challenges include train stations, shopping malls, stadiums and airports.
To address these challenges, tailored 5G solutions for indoor deployments are preferred as they can deliver superior user experience.
A recent ConsumerLab study shows the correlation between network performance in key locations and service provider churn. The research found that users who encounter connectivity problems at event venues and airports are three times more likely to churn in the next six months.2 This highlights the need to invest in improving performance in key locations for today’s services to drive up customer satisfaction. It will also be fundamental for new and emerging services such as cloud gaming and XR that have demanding network performance requirements.
Indoor traffic behavior analysis
Understanding user behavior is important for selecting the best indoor solution to meet user experience and capacity needs. Mobile data usage patterns will be different across venue types depending on the services that users are running on the mobile network. Indoor venues typically have many users concentrated in a limited area, making capacity demands extremely high during peak times.
Figure 29: Relative average traffic per user for busy hour
In many cases, average traffic consumption is also significantly higher in the indoor venues compared to when being served by the outdoor network. Figure 29 shows the relative average traffic per user in indoor venues, normalized with outdoor dense urban traffic. The results show that in busy venues peak traffic per user is 1.5 times higher on average, with one airport in the sample seeing over three times higher traffic. This illustrates that not only is there a difference by venue type but often a large spread within the same venue type.
Further analysis of the traffic shows that the share of uplink traffic is significantly higher at many indoor venues, compared to the dense urban benchmark (see Figure 30). There is considerable variation in the share of uplink traffic at stadiums and hotels. Social media sharing from live events could explain the high uplink traffic in stadiums, as highlighted by a major sporting event within a stadium where 35 percent of traffic was uplink. Hotels are likely to have the biggest variation based on their venue, guests, and time of the week. The most-used services here range from uplink services such as uploading of work-related material, video calls and social media, compared to heavy downlink traffic from services like video streaming. Altogether, these results exemplify the need for a good understanding of traffic behavior when planning and deploying an indoor 5G solution.
Figure 30: Share of uplink traffic out of total traffic
Figure 31: Optus’ reported women’s football tournament network statistics, 2023
Over 0.75 million live spectators attended the games in total.
Over 29 TB of mobile data traffic was generated, of which 37 percent was over 5G and 25 percent was uplink.
4G and 5G reached over 99 percent accessibility during the tournament.
Figure 32: Percentage of venues with high radio-resource utilization (above 50 percent)
A key metric for measuring user experience is time-to-content. In a separate Ericsson Smartphone Lab study, results indicated a strong relationship between available downlink throughput and time-to-content.3 With a time-to-content scale we can derive the throughput that would be required to meet a certain target. This scale grades sites as:
- excellent (<1.5 s)
- good (1.5–2.5 s)
- fair (2.5–4.0 s)
- poor (>4.0 s)
Throughput results are graded as:
- excellent (>20 Mbps)
- good (10–20 Mbps)
- fair (5–10 Mbps)
- poor (<5 Mbps)
When we overlay this onto cell-edge performance across the key venues, shown in Figure 33, we can see that excellent performance is only realized in a small portion of office and stadium deployments, with airports being the worst performing venue type by far.
These high levels of utilization and relatively poor cell-edge performance for time-to-content highlight the need to improve indoor network performance. In a venue with 5G indoor small cells deployed there was double the throughput on average and three times better throughput at the cell edge. Adding 5G mid-band TDD provides a significant improvement in user performance.
Figure 33: Percentage of different categories of 4G downlink cell-edge throughput
Figure 34: 4G user experience shown as downlink and uplink throughput
In North America, data was retrieved from nine different venue types, with 30 samples of mobile traffic data taken per venue type, from across three different networks in Q1 2023.
1. Ericsson Blog, “5 ways indoor 5G will change your life (and mine)” (July 2023).
2. Ericsson ConsumerLab, 5G value: Turning performance into loyalty (October 2023).
3. Ericsson Mobility Report, “Time-to-content: benchmarking network performance” (November 2021).