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Ericsson aims to boost WiFi signals muffled by insulation

Energy efficiency is great, but insulation can block wireless signals. Ericsson hopes its software will help smartphones and smart meters alike.

Better insulated buildings may help reduce your energy demand, but they also create the unintended consequences of reducing mobile phone coverage indoors.

Communications giant Ericsson is unveiling its attempt to tackle the growing problem in the form of a new piece of software, which aims to boost mobile networks indoors, helping to improve businesses' productivity, make home-working easier, and pave the way for more connected devices such as smart meters.

The new Ericsson Networks Software 16A features a suite of LTE upgrades that promise to boost uploading performance by 200 percent for apps such as Instagram, Facebook or video conferencing and improve downloading performance by 30 percent.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, Sebastian Tolstoy, head of radio marketing and communications at Ericsson, explained that 90 percent of smartphone usage currently takes place indoors. But WiFi may not always be able to handle the growing number of connected devices found in the home and office.

He cited company research which had found only 30 percent of smartphone users find their coverage to be good enough.

"With energy efficient windows, radio signals may be blocked entirely so you may need to find new innovative solutions to address consumers' need of high capacity, high performing data connections and voice connections in these new types of buildings," he said.

The performance boosting software also could become increasingly important for Internet-connected devices such as smart meters located in basements where coverage is traditionally poor, he added.

The company predicts by 2020 there will be 26 billion connected devices on the planet, many of which could help to improve energy efficiency in the home and office. As well as smart meters, the technology promises to better support smart sensors that can be installed on roads to measure and help optimize traffic flows or waste bins to measure the level of waste.

However, the first 5G networks capable of fully supporting these devices are still five years away, so Ericsson and other ICT companies are working to overcome the challenges faced by "smart city" developers.

Today Ericsson also announced it had achieved a key goal of delivering a 10-year battery life for so-called Internet of Things devices. The breakthrough has been delivered through software that provides a number of new power-saving modes, including Extended Discontinuous Reception for GSM, that extends the sleep cycles for devices in inactive mode.

"While we're clearly working on the roadblocks to 5G, there remain a few roadblocks to getting there," added Tolstoy. "To get to 5G, operators will need to grow both the networks and their business."

There may still be plenty of technical hurdles to overcome for those network operators trying to deliver the 5G functionality that can enable the smart city vision. But Ericsson hopes today's announcements takes the industry another step closer to its shared smart city goals.

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