Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) have emerged as the ideal choice to meet the increasing in-building wireless coverage demand and provide the expected quality of experience (QoE), said Mr. Ayman Raba, managing director & CEO at Kathrein Middle East, speaking to Telecom Review.

What is your view on global trends for indoor mobile network solutions?
Technology has evolved over time, and our ways of communicating with one another has too. In the past, mobile phones were a means of communicating with each other on the move (outdoors); however, now, it's well known globally that 80 percent of mobile activity takes place indoors and this is predicted to increase to above 90 percent in the next few years. The in-building wireless market is expected to grow to $16.71 billion by 2020.

There are some new key drivers which are not limited to voice; data usage is rising at an exponential rate and is being demanded and expected everywhere to satisfy the fundamental megatrends ahead of us, such as the explosion of data traffic, the internet of things (IoT), industry 4.0, mobile apps, artificial intelligence, alternate reality or the build-up of smart cities. With these changing trends in communication, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) have emerged as a choice to meet the in-building wireless coverage demand and provide the expected quality of experience (QoE).

On the other hand, if we look closely at Middle East, there are very interesting developments such as the tower sharing business that started to take-off, and similarly we expect the neutral host (i.e. shared in-building infrastructure hosted by a premises' owner) to start taking-off in the region. In some cases the shared in-building infrastructure is a key to balance both the mobile network operator (MNO) and premises' owner challenges. First, the MNO challenge of the need for coverage and capacity with the reality of ever-present cost pressures; and second, the challenge of the premises' owners who have become more focused on the need, and the value of providing excellent wireless service throughout their premises.

How do you see the adaptation of indoor digital solutions in the Middle East in the coming years?
The Middle East, especially GCC countries, are expected to experience high demand on digital DAS solutions in the coming few years. Global events taking place in the region such as EXPO 2020 and World Cup 2022 will produce a considerable growth in industries like hospitality, infrastructure and transportation. This consequently will increase the demand on the indoor coverage solutions for most of the new developments. As live examples, Dubai is aiming to double the number of hotels by 2020, while several transportation projects are taking place in majority of the Middle East, including metros, trains and new airports. Although this already started few years back, we see the smart digital DAS solutions gaining significant momentum as we speak.

Can you share an overview of Kathrein's offerings that cater to in-building connectivity solutions/DAS?
Kathrein has one of the richest portfolios of indoor solutions in the telecom industry. We are able to harness different indoor solutions among passive DAS, small cells, conventional DAS and digital smart DAS. Our solutions portfolio caters for smaller buildings with a passive DAS approach, up to very large buildings like stadiums, shopping malls, multi-blocks residential developments and airports via KBOW solution.

KBOW represents a new generation of smart active and flexible indoor solutions that redefine indoor mobile; it creates a unique ecosystem with seamless integration.

This solution will enable multi-operator, multi-technology capabilities. It is a vendor agnostic solution that makes it ideal for infrastructure sharing, which means there will be one installation for all network operators and for all technologies ranging from 2G to 4G that supports all LTE-Advanced features with future-proof architecture for 5G technology.

KBOW also features a centralized radio access network (C-RAN) environment - that means coverage and capacity can be extended to longer reach of a radius of 25km.

There's been a lot of talk about the potential of IoT. How do Kathrein's in-building solutions contribute to making IoT a reality?
Kathrein's motto is "passion to connect" and if you think about what that means, it is about simplifying the digital life, and we do that in two ways: technology and solutions, both of which are addressed in the area of IoT as well as building digitization.

When it comes to our technology, we offer a cutting edge RF identification portfolio (RFID). And recently, Kathrein complemented its IoT portfolio by acquiring noFilis, a leading German company that developed the most advanced software suite for IoT & AutoID, a platform called CrossTalk which can manage most IoT devices.

Some interesting global showcases here are Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen Group and Amazon.

Then when it comes to solutions we look beyond offering just an in-building system. Given Kathrein's technology competencies and innovation power, there is great potential to further innovate together with our customers driven by their business challenges or pain points.

For example, we could offer an end-to-end IoT solution using KBOW as a backbone of smart building or smart city offering additional value-added services, such as indoor navigation leveraging the already installed systems in the building, or we could think of the challenge in smart cities to manage the traffic, starting from effectively managing car parking up to the identification of vehicles using our leading RFID solutions, which make us an innovation partner of choice for customers and partners.

How do Kathrein's in-building fit-outs stand out from other competitors with similar offerings?
Kathrein in-building solutions evolved from a great deal of experience in network installations and operations. This is clearly reflected in the system's flexibility from a design perspective. As an example, our KBOW system relies on hybrid fiber cables that give the option to power the remote units RUs (Radiating element) locally or remotely.

Moreover, our RUs use a passive cooling technology which minimizes OPEX/service cutoff and leads to an outstanding mean time before failure (MTBF) rate. Another advanced and industry-leading feature is the integration of MIMO within the same RU. While most systems need two RUs to be installed side-to-side for MIMO, KBOW can serve MIMO requirements within the same RU for most of the supported technologies leading to more customer throughput, data revenue and customer satisfaction.

KBOW is very flexible as from an operations point of view, and configuration changes can be managed remotely (sometimes semi-automatically) without any demand for service personnel to visit the building. For example, user capacity can be switched to high peak areas at peak time, and can be moved floor to floor or building to building whenever required. The powerful dynamic capacity management is another added-value of the KBOW solution, throughout state-of-the-art unique industrial design.

Can you share some insights about 5G, such as the 5G antenna model Kathrein is working towards?
The essence of 5G is threefold: one is capacity to serve the ever-increasing need for massive data; the second one is "five nines" reliability coupled with hyper connectivity, connectivity anytime and anywhere; and the third one is low latency as we need to serve a wide range of critical-time applications which need better response times.

The conclusion is to develop a completely new radical architecture which is called sliced networks. Of course, Kathrein has the core capabilities to capitalize on when developing 5G solutions, as we have decades of RF (radio frequency) knowledge; furthermore, we have almost a hundred years of experience in the RF performance of various materials which avails a knowledgebase.

Our investment in 5G and in developing a 5G roadmap started five years ago when we started the initial basic research activities together with global leading research institutes, and then we started to engage in the standardization bodies since 5G is a broad topic, covering not only antenna technologies, but also new network architecture. New antenna requirements in 5G are expected to cover evolutional features like Massive MIMO, beamforming and mmWave.

Going from there, we jointly developed the design of prototypes to conduct the first testing in the lab, and then in the field using different prototypes of 5G antennas ranging from 5G dipole antennas to 5G ceramic and 5G glass antennas.