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The importance of reliable indoor mobile coverage during COVID-19

As the world entered 2020, came along the novel coronavirus driving the demand for Internet services and reaching its peak as never before. Slowly and gradually, it became the ‘New Normal’ way of communication such as doing business with people remotely, online video consultations with patients, streaming videos, and socializing virtually via video conferencing for entertainment, etc. These activities created a thrust on the network infrastructure globally and resulted in a greater need for reliable indoor mobile coverage in any residential/commercial / mixed-use buildings. 

Telecom regulators and operators experienced rise in the network traffic and took several measures accordingly to support customers. For instance, FCC, the US regulator allotted T-Mobile with an additional 31MHz of spectrum in 600MHz band, which is not only a spectrum for wide-area coverage but also convenient for reliable indoor coverage. Telecom regulators during COVID-19 are working with mobile operators and made sure customers are provided with mobile connectivity and supporting them in case of delay in payments of phone bill. For example, customers can enjoy uninterrupted network services in countries such as Spain, Peru, Portugal, Romania even in case of non-payment of availed services.

Verizon reported 800Mn wireless calls on an average each weekday for the week. Telecom Italia reported a surge in mobile network and fixed network traffic in Italy by 10% and 70% respectively within two weeks due to people staying indoors during COVID-19. Spain based five largest operators experienced a 40% rise in overall IP traffic, a 50% increase in mobile voice traffic and a 25% rise in mobile traffic ever since the outbreak started.

Changes in network traffic pattern amid COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis brought in severe changes in network patterns exposing weaknesses in the fixed and mobile network reliability. What is the real cause behind this pattern alteration in network traffic? Here are some of the reasons below:

  • Workforce shifting to residential network from corporate network due to stay-at-home orders
  • Spike in network usage across different locations
  • Surge in the voice traffic volume
  • Rise in video conferencing/communication, gaming, streaming traffic. For example, video streaming has spiked by at least 12% amid lockdown

Telecommunications sector building the connectivity

Being the sole connectivity provider for fulfilling any professional and personal needs, telecommunications is playing their role efficiently in keeping everyone connected throughout the crisis. Uninterrupted voice calling and network coverage has become the urgent requirement in hospitals and care institutions. Quick responding communications to patients, in-house interactions within the field teams is critical for healthcare workers to work properly in this chaotic situation. Hence, uninterrupted mobile coverage is imperative to pave the way for safety critical communications inside the premises like hospitals. Telecom operators are customizing their offerings and devising new ways that could enable connectivity without interruption and serve their requirements in the pandemic.

Imparting indoor mobile coverage in hospitals and warehouses

With indoor cellular coverage, care professionals are directly giving advises to patients through online mode by using gadgets like smartphones and tablets. Moreover, these devices are present in the wards enabling patients to be connected with their families and loved ones virtually. Clinical and operational processes need frequent review and interaction within their team on an urgent basis to support huge number of continuously growing COVID-19 patients. Following the social distancing norms, the operations and clinical team communicate regarding the required amenities or changes in process to provide safe patient care via video conferencing, email, messaging, etc. and all these activities are executed within the premises with a good indoor network signal. On the other hand, indoor mobile coverage permits instore personnel to cooperate with distribution center teams and keep a check on the stock. Further, strong network signal bolsters online applications for making payment and restoration of vending machines, minimizing the need for staff in the lockdown situation.

Temporary hospitals in need for seamless network connection

The rise in coronavirus cases led the government to refurbish many buildings into temporary care homes initially designed for different purpose. Indoor connectivity with mobile or Wi-Fi connections is very critical in such places to communicate with patients as well as other clinical staff. Additionally, having a Wi-Fi connection in government-based hospitals is very useful in these uncertain times with 24X7 network connectivity in every corner of the building. Many hospitals started the care initiative by enabling patient visit virtually as an initial point of contact between a doctor and a patient before they are brought into the hospital. This resulted in minimizing number of visits of a patient in the hospital. However, to execute this initiative in a proper manner and provide care facilities to patients, demand for indoor voice and data services in hospitals spiked to a great height. In response to this issue, some mobile network providers are offering indoor signal boosters to users struggling to get good signal inside premises. Customers having poor indoor service can get benefitted from it. They are constantly working to meet the demand for excellent network coverage inside buildings taking into consideration that mobile phone signals are a bit weaker due to presence of brick and mortar, metal, iron, glass that shields the signals from entering inside the building.

Solving network issues by taking the outside network indoors

Initial statistics reveal that nearly about 50% – 70% traffic is produced inside considering the lockdown scenario. As most of the traffic is being generated indoors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it becomes extremely important for the telecom operators to strengthen internal network coverage. This will enable users with full network connectivity and continue their work process without disturbance cause due to poor network connection. Operators are performing cell tower monitoring of high ARPU customer locations like hospitals, warehouses, or buildings in residential areas. Setting up Remote Test Points (RTP) on these indoor locations built with small cells, DAS or Cloud RAN, operators receive real-time notifications on degradation of voice and data services and make amendments as and when required.

Conclusion

Mobile connectivity has been a crucial factor for communication in the modern world. Nevertheless, the enormous surge in its demand in the times of Corona and services being offered during these uncertainties, is making it more valuable value than ever. Thus, provision of seamless indoor mobile coverage by any network provider becomes key for any facility being repurposed to support staff struggling to control the spread of COVID-19 irrespective of the location. MNOs are rigorously working on to strengthen indoor mobile coverage within care institutions/hospitals, warehouses, etc. and sail through the crisis.

Guest Post by Raj Vignesh

References:

https://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/articles/importance-reliable-indoor-mobile-coverage-post-covid19

https://healthbusinessuk.net/features/reliable-indoor-mobile-coverage-during-lockdown

https://www.analysysmason.com/research/content/comments/covid19-robustness-networks-rdnt0/

https://purple.ai/blogs/how-brigham-womens-hospital-responded-to-the-threat-of-covid-19/

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/misy/2016/4816325/

https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/covid-19/understanding-covid-19-impact-on-the-telecom-sector.html

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/improving-indoor-coverage

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markbeech/2020/03/25/covid-19-pushes-up-internet-use-70-streaming-more-than-12-first-figures-reveal/#73ccbcb73104

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