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Draft BEREC and RSPG joint report on Facilitating mobile connectivity in “challenge areas”

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Draft BEREC and RSPG joint report on Facilitating mobile connectivity in “challenge areas”


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1.      Indoor coverage.

1.1.   Indoor coverage issues.

1.2.   Studies and measurements to have a better understanding of indoor mobile coverage.

1.3.   Deployment of dedicated indoor solutions to address indoor coverage.

1.3.1.  Wi-Fi

1.3.2.  Repeaters.

1.3.3.  Smallcells and Femtocells.

1.3.4.  Distributed Antenna Systems.

1.3.5.  Construction regulation.

1.3.6.  Private GSM/LTE networks.

2.      Ensuring mobile connectivity in road and rail transport

2.1.   Difficulties and constraints whilst travelling.

2.2.   Solutions to facilitate mobile connectivity in transportation means.

3.      Extending coverage within non-profitable areas.

3.1.   Non-profitable area issues.

3.2.   Dedicated solutions to address non profitable areas.

3.2.1.  Placing coverage license obligations on operators.

3.2.2.  Leading a concerted approach between involved stakeholders (public authorities, operators, local authorities)

3.2.3.  Promoting infrastructure- and network-sharing.

4.      Other challenge areas.

4.1.   Protected areas such as national parks and historical sites.

4.1.1.  Main issue: constraints on construction.

4.1.2.  Observed practices to address this challenge.

4.2.   Areas where some but not all operators are present

4.3.   Areas with coverage but very low quality of service.

4.3.1.  Reasons for poor quality of service.

4.3.2.  Observed practices to enhance quality of service.

5.      Limitations of solutions.

5.1.   Limitations in Indoor Coverage Solutions.

5.2.   Limitations on Solutions for Coverage When Travelling.

5.3.   Limitations on Remote Area Solutions.

6.      Conclusion.

7.      Abbreviations.

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Many countries face difficulties meeting the increasing demand from users and local authorities for a mobile connectivity available in rural areas and in constrained areas such as indoor locations, subways, tunnels, hot spots, etc.

The Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) has previously considered coverage issues in a report and more recently in a workshop[1][1], but the technical and policy solutions to coverage challenges are fast-evolving and their implementation raises issues within both BEREC and RSPG competencies.

The main forthcoming objective of Europe 2020 is to become smart, sustainable and inclusive. European strategy seeks to ensure that by 2020 all Europeans should have access to much higher Internet speeds of above 30 Mbps and at least 50% or more of European households subscribe to internet access above 100 Mbps.

This joint BEREC-RSPG report aims at compiling a comprehensive and comparative assessment of initiatives to facilitate mobile connectivity in what could be described as ‘challenge areas’, where mobile connectivity is limited or non-existent.

In this report, the following challenge areas have been identified:

  • In transportation means;

  • In non-profitable areas;

  • In other areas such as protected areas, “grey” areas, low quality of service areas.

This report describes the difficulties encountered in the identified challenge areas and will focus on the solutions and  observed practices that have been implemented in EU member states to tackle the obstacles to mobile connectivity. Amongst other topics, this report addresses digital planning obligations or public/private initiatives, white area[2] coverage, rural area coverage, constrained areas, indoor, and transportation etc.

For each identified challenge area, the report focuses on technical solutions implemented or considered by EU member states. It also gathers regulatory or any legal measures that have been adopted in this regard. Forward-looking solutions are also studied, in the light of what is taking place in different markets.

This Report can be used by policy makers as a knowledge base for methods of enhancing mobile connectivity in challenge areas.

Finally, at the end of this Report, examples of limitation or drawbacks to some described solutions are discussed but the Report does not describe the limitations of each solution.. Policy-makers and NRAs will need to consider any limitations when proposing these as solutions to connectivity problems.


[1] See Report RSPG11-393 on improving broadband coverage: rspg-spectrum.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/rspg11_393_report_imp_broad_cov.pdf and also RSPG workshop on coverage held on 8th November 2016.

[2] Areas in which there is no mobile broadband infrastructure and it is unlikely to be developed in the near future.

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Today, consumers require more and more reliability from their mobile services. In 2013, the communications regulator in the UK, Ofcom, showed in a survey that the ability to make and receive calls was even more important than cost[3]. In particular, indoor coverage is becoming an increasingly important component of mobile service needs: indoor at work, as well as indoor at home, has become an essential issue that mobile network operators cannot ignore. In this section, BEREC and RSPG first give a description of mobile indoor coverage issues, then focus on studies and measurements performed in Europe to have a better understanding of indoor mobile coverage and, finally concentrate on dedicated indoor solutions in EU member states to improve indoor coverage.

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Ensuring reliable indoor coverage in buildings is a challenge facing any mobile network operator or infrastructure provider. There is a significant difference when comparing outdoor and indoor coverage, for instance:

  • in the UK, in premises voice coverage was 89% in 2016, compared with 97% coverage outside the premises, while in premises data coverage was 80%, as opposed to 93 % outside premises[1];

  • in the Netherlands: in 2016, KPN’s 4G mobile coverage was 98.4% outside the building whereas it was 96% indoors; Tele2’s 4G mobile outdoor coverage was 76.3%, compared with 67% inside the buildings[2].

  • In Sweden (October 2016), 4G mobile networks (allowing 10 Mbit/s data) covered approximately 69%[3] of areas outside buildings (excluding the 450 MHz band) compared with 44%[4] inside the buildings. Similarly, voice coverage[5] was 85% outside and 71% inside buildings.


[1] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0035/95876/CN-Report-2016.pdf (Note that these coverage figures are based on an assumed average penetration loss of 10 dB to a good quality outdoor signal. This is then taken to provide a reasonable level of indoor coverage in a good amount of building floor space).

[2] www.4gdekking.nl

[3] Contains a margin for the body's impact on the antenna properties and attenuation of radio signals, such as when the terminal is held in the hand, to the head or near the body.

[4] Contains a +8 dB margin compared with the outdoor coverage

[5] 2G and 3G mobile networks

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These differences reflect the service degradation experienced by users located inside the buildings, since the signals pass through materials on their way into a building, and can have to cross one or several walls.

This signal degradation is highly complex to predict due to the variability of the propagation environments and the unforeseeable nature of the signal loss. Indeed, the signal loss depends on the building form, on the building materials and on the receiver terminal characteristics.

For instance, modern buildings, that are designed to minimise heat loss by using certain types of insulation, often tend to increase the signal loss. Older buildings, particularly in rural areas with thick stone walls, can also represent a significant challenge.

Those characteristics have a large impact on signal strength and signal quality indoor.

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Figure 1 – Measuring the effects of construction materials on indoor coverage

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Figure 2 Measuring the effects of construction materials on indoor coverage[9]

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However, despite the technical difficulties in providing satisfactory indoor mobile coverage, consumers expect to have instant access to the mobile network regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor. The challenge is to deliver fast and seamless connectivity to indoor users. Some studies have suggested that around 80% of all mobile usage traffic is indoor[1]. Data consumption in indoor environments is predicted to increase to above 90% in the next few years[2]. Although indoor coverage, quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) differ from case to case, it becomes more and more appropriate to evaluate and manage indoor mobile coverage in order to facilitate mobile connectivity inside the buildings.

The new EU framework for energy efficient buildings[3] may have inadvertently contributed to indoor coverage problems. Modern energy efficient buildings or windows may attenuate radio signas up to 40 dB, when conventional building attenuation is 15 – 20 dB. Coverage problems are discovered in both new and renovated buildings. The problem occurs especially in new energy efficient houses or apartment buildings and older concrete apartment buildings, when new metal foiled energy efficient windows are installed.

Solving connectivity problems caused by construction technology with radio technical solutions is not always efficient or even possible. Enabling indoor coverage from outdoor base stations should also be in the interest of the construction industry. Mobile telephony and mobile connectivity is expected in homes and offices. In countries like Finland, where the wired telephone network is widely dismantled, mobile phone coverage is also a matter of safety.

Whilst indoor coverage remains a challenge in Europe, some countries have already taken measures to address mobile coverage inside of buildings.


[1] In North America. Source : https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/small-cell-solutions/smallcells-infographic.pdf

[2] Source: Ofcom, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/63006/final_report.pdf (2013)

[3] On 30 November 2016 the Commission proposed an update to the Energy Efficiency Directive 2012/27/EU including a new 30% energy efficiency target for 2030, and measures to update the Directive to make sure the new target is met.

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The enormous variability of building forms and materials might inspire a certain pessimism as to the possibility of providing any quantitative guidance on building loss. The situation is not, however, as bleak as it may appear and methods are arising little by little in some EU member states to set up standards defining indoor mobile coverage.

For example, in the UK, Ofcom has led studies, measures and calculations comparing indoor and outdoor signal levels in order to find an average of “building entry loss” that can result in a better prediction of mobile coverage inside the buildings.

The UK NRA continues to review its approach to establishing the likely signal loss experienced indoors. At present, despite large variations in losses in different buildings, Ofcom estimates between 10 and 18 dB of loss can represent reasonable average values for frequencies between 800 to 2600 MHz and for the vast majority of existing UK housing stock. From a regulatory perspective, a coverage obligation is in place on a single UK operator to provide a signal capable of supporting an at least 2 Mbps mobile service inside at least 98% of UK Households by the end of 2017.

In Romania, ANCOM decided to place indoor coverage obligations on all licenses: a 95% probability of indoor reception is required. To verify the compliance with this requirement, ANCOM leads outdoor field measurements and then adds a correction factor to the results in order to obtain the indoor signal. Regarding the indoor coverage, the correction factor relating to the indoor propagation attenuation is stipulated in the licenses as follows:

  • 6 dB for radio signals in the frequency ranges 800 MHz and 900 MHz, and 8 dB for radio signals in the frequency ranges 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz for coverage in rural areas and coverage on national and European roads, as well as on highways;

  • 12 dB for radio signals in the frequency ranges 800 MHz and 900 MHz, and 16 dB for radio signals in the frequency ranges 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz for mobile coverage in urban areas.

In Austria, the coverage obligation of the Multiband-Auction 2013 includes also indoor coverage requirements (for data services in the 800 MHz band for dedicated communities) with an extra attenuation of 20 dB considering building loss.[1]

In France, there is no indoor requirement placed on licenses; however in order to reflect users’ experience (concerning voice and SMS services) Arcep has defined a correction factor to the outdoor strength field measurements[2]. Mobile operators have to publish mobile coverage maps with several levels of coverage:

  • “Satisfying coverage”: a certain strength field level is measured. It corresponds to the case where mobile coverage is generally available outside of buildings;

  • “Good coverage”: a correction factor of -10 dB has been applied in order to reflect the locations where the coverage is available most of the time outside of buildings and sometimes inside of the buildings;

  • “Very good coverage”: a correction factor of -20 dB has been applied in order to reflect the locations where the coverage is available outside of buildings and most of the time inside of the buildings.

In Sweden there are no particular indoor requirements in the licenses. However, the operators have an agreement with the NRA how to present their coverage on their coverage maps. The signal is measured or predicted outdoors and a margin of 16 dB penetration loss applied. Very good coverage is defined as an area where one probably can both make phone calls and use mobile broadband outside and inside. Indoor coverage depends on the walls, windows and doors and where in the building one is.


[1] Source: RTR, https://www.rtr.at/en/tk/multibandauktion_AU/27890_2013-03-26_F1_11_Tender_Document_Multiband_Auction_2013.pdf

[2]Source: Arcep, https://www.arcep.fr/uploads/tx_gsavis/16-1678.pdf

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A number of measures are underway to facilitate mobile indoor connectivity in several EU member states. These measures consist of promoting the deployment of dedicated indoor solutions including Wi-Fi, repeaters, femtocells and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS).

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