How 5G Indoor Solutions Can Help Your Triple Bottom Line and Boost Sustainability
By Colin Bowdery Chief Architect – Indoor 5G RAN Solutions
Originally published by Ericsson
Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility, Climate Action, and Digital Inclusion are phrases gaining a growing importance not just in the corridors of D.C. but also in the mindshare of corporate executives. As business leaders work to navigate the complexities of today’s world they are faced with decisions that relate to the longer-term future of our global society – how can we bring about societal change and increase profitability without harming our planet?
It was during my MBA studies at the Kelley School of Business that I was first introduced to the concept of the Triple Bottom Line. This is a simple yet powerful tool that extends the traditional view of a firm’s success into three dimensions: People, Profit, and Planet. This framework allows us to qualify the impact of our choices beyond that of economic profit (the most common business metric) and make better business decisions that lead to better outcomes. Since being introduced to this concept, I have considered technology investments in a new way; one that could benefit the people and planet as well as yield economic profit for adopters.
Let’s unpack the triple Bottom Line a little more for those not so familiar with it:
Profit: Let’s face it, businesses exist to make money. It is the lifeblood that excites investors, shareholders, employees, and business leaders. The more profitable the firm, the better they are seen as performing. It is no surprise that profit has been a key performance metric since the dawn of time and has yielded financial decision metrics for managers such as Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR).
People: Many of today’s firms do not simply focus on economic profit but also have an active program to bring societal benefit to those they employ, those in the local community, or even humanity as a whole. According to Harvard Business School’s Matt Gavin, there are four strategies that business can adopt, ranging from the promotion of ethical business practices, partnering with non-profit organizations, encouraging employee volunteering, and inspiring action through their corporate voice.
Planet: A focus on making a positive impact on the planet drives the third leg of the triple bottom line. This is where firms focus on sustainability targets such as reducing their CO2 emissions, switching to renewable energy sources, procuring materials from renewable and responsible sources,, engaging in an e-waste program or reducing the output of pollutants into the environment.
All of this is great but how can 5G progress each of these components? Let’s take a look at a typical 5G Indoor deployment within an office building and assess it using the TBL Framework.
With the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), office environments increasingly need coverage solutions that serve more than one network operator. These systems are called Multi-Operator (MO) or Neutral Host (NH). The main choices to provide this type of 5G service within an office environment include:
Outdoor To Indoor (O2I): With this approach, CSP’s utilize their existing outdoor public network to reach 5G consumers indoors. Where this approach works, it will be the common choice by CSPs looking to maximize low- and mid-band coverage whilst minimizing capex. This approach is frequently used with previous Gs but the longer-term benefit is uncertain, especially as we head towards 6G and high-band (mmWave) 5G deployments.
I will assume for now that enterprises opting to utilize this model do not truly wish to bring 5G into their Digital Transformation agenda nor provide 5G services to their tenants or employees. Hence, the impact to the enterprises TBL is zero – there is no real benefit, no real cost, no tangible profit, and no net effect to their sustainability agendas. The same option is readily and easily available to their competitors, resulting in no competitive advantage. Overall, one could argue that this is not a good approach for an enterprise operating in a competitive landscape.
Active-Distributed Antenna Systems (A-DAS): Building owners, CSPs and REITs have been deploying shared antenna systems throughout buildings for decades. These systems are largely technology agnostic and operate by allowing the CSP’s to deploy their network assets directly inside the building. Doing this has historically produced an economically viable solution for larger spaces albeit at the cost of complexity and inflexibility. This is often the highest cost option.
Uncoordinated Small Cells: Previous G’s have seen some success with the deployment of Indoor small cells. Often referred to as Femtocells, these solutions offer standalone – all-in-one – devices similar to WiFi Access Points. This low power, low-capacity device can be placed in buildings where coverage is needed and uses standard enterprise structure cabling to connect them to the internet or a CSPs cell site router. They are typically low cost (similar price to WiFi) and have limited capabilities. They do not scale well for larger deployments but do offer a low-cost solution for smaller buildings.
Distributed Radio Systems: Distributed Radio Systems are a hybrid of A-DAS and Femtocell architectures. They offer a good blend of flexibility and scalability without the inefficiencies of DAS or the limitations of Femtocells. They can utilize enterprise structured cabling for both data and power as well as enable the support for features and functions common in the outdoor macro network.
Based on these architectural options, a CTO, Building Manager, or IT manager may simply pick the cheapest solution between Distributed Radio, DAS, and Small Cells that meets their technical needs. In most larger buildings we can down-select to Distributed Radio and A-DAS architectures.
When comparing the designs of A-DAS to Distributed Radio System we start to see clear differences. Not only in the simplicity of DRS over A-DAS, but also the supportable 5G feature-sets and power consumption.
In an office building recently assessed by the Ericsson’s Indoor Product team, an A-DAS approach had a power consumption of 12,475W compared to a DRS approach (using Ericsson RDS) which required only 3,811W. This is a power saving of 8,664W or 70%! This energy saving is due to a combination of the implementation efficiency of the DRS system as well as the reduced hardware requirements versus an A-DAS solution. One can also appreciate that requiring less hardware is also a benefit to the solutions carbon footprint through reduced manufacturing needs.
Such energy savings directly contribute towards a firm’s “Planet” objectives as well as drive down the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) for the “Profit” objectives. Given today’s energy uncertainty, this cannot be ignored. Obviously, the exact power saving will vary from building to building but it is not insignificant.
We can directly map this impact of the architectural choice to the TBL framework:
Planet: RDS provides an energy saving of 75,896 kWh per year corresponding to a reduction of 53.8 Metric Tons of CO2 
Profit: Besides the cost-efficiency gains of RDS versus A-DAS solutions, RDS also provides an annual energy saving of 75,896 kWh. At an average rate of 13.28 cents per kWh this saves $10,079 per year or $50,395 on the 5-Year TCO. Such a saving de-risks a firm’s investment from the current impacts of energy-uncertainty.
People: Enterprises experiencing this significant sustainability saving can leverage their platform to encourage others to do the same – to quote Chip and Dan Heath, they are “Bright Spots” and should be used as role models. If we all adopt a sustainability mindset and evangelize our success stories we can actively contribute to the vision of Net-Zero by 2050 which benefits society as a whole. Additionally, RDS brings the capabilities of 5G to the enterprise facilitating an environment that can benefit the business, its customers, and employees alike.
The Triple Bottom Line is an important tool for assessing the impact 5G brings to your business. By augmenting the analysis of solution sets beyond economic profit one can make compelling cases for the benefit of the shareholders, the community, and the planet.
My hope is that firms looking to invest in their 5G Digital Transformation strategies will utilize this framework to drive better business and societal outcomes.
 "Whats next for indoor networks?", Ericsson, https://www.ericsson.com/4ad81e/assets/local/small-cells/doc/whats-next-for-indoor-networks.pdf
 Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard”, 2010