Tough competition and the battle for network supremacy are two drivers that will push the market for in-building cellular networks north of $1 B by the end of the decade, according to a new study by research firm ABI. However, limiting further growth in this market are two other factors, perhaps equally as strong: operator control and deployment costs. The most cost-efficient in-building wireless networks sometimes require an operator to give up control of the infrastructure, in a so-called “neutral-host” model.

Wireless carriers initially balked at the early demands of neutral host providers and began to consider alternative solutions by deploying their own in-building networks. High deployment costs — primarily labor costs — have made the decision to deploy carrier-owned in-building networks a hard sell. Further complicating the matter was the difficulty in calculating the operators’ return on investment after deployment. Recently, however, success for the neutral host model has lured operators back to this thinking, as exemplified by InnerWireless’s deployment within New York’s Rockefeller Center Concourse.

According to the study, operators will still deploy carrier-owned infrastructure within larger buildings, like conference centers and sports arenas, but will consider sharing infrastructure in smaller buildings. Building owners are also helping to drive the demand in this segment, as cellular and even Wi-Fi coverage are selling points.

The ABI study, “In-building Wireless Networks: Extending Cellular Networks Through Picocells, Active, Passive and Hybrid Deployments,” examines the global market for in-building wireless networks. The study presents forecasts for equipment and labor markets.

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