SOLiD remains firmly in public safety space, but with a clear focus on product development

Ken Sandfeld

Posted on May 22, 2020
Hard-hit industry will emerge strong from COVID-19 crisis, Sandfeld predicts
By Mikkel Schultz, Senior Editor

With the departure of some of SOLiD's in-building public safety-focused team late last year, some in the industry wondered if the company was leaving the sector. But SOLiD is, and plans to remain, very much in that space. SOLiD is focused on a strategy of building the best public-safety products possible, SOLiD President Ken Sandfeld explains in an interview with Safer Buildings Coalition. Mr. Sandfeld also talked about market trends, public safety broadband, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the industry, and how SOLiD is weathering the storm.

SBC: Mr. Sandfeld: Is SOLiD still in, and staying in, the in-building public safety space?
Sandfeld: "Yes. In fact, we released a new 2W, modular ALLIANCE Public Safety Remote in Q3 of 2019 that supports all of the 150, 450, 700, 800, and 900 MHz bands and has ingress protection and alarming capabilities to meet today's codes.  We also continue to make a PS Repeater Class A/B repeater called RESPONDER."  

SBC: Can you understand why some in the industry thought that SOLiD might be leaving the space?
Sandfeld: "Well, people develop their own rumors. The bottom line is that we parted ways with some pretty high-profile individuals from my organization whom you could call SOLID's 'Public Safety Gurus.'… We're just going to focus on building products that we know meet the standards and provide service to our customers. … We have our strengths, and we're focusing on that. I mean, we make an excellent DAS, we make a pretty good repeater as well, but we know where our sweet spots are, and so we're going to continue to listen to the codes, we're going to listen to our customers, and we're going to continue to enhance our Public Safety product."

SBC: How will SOLiD participate in the in-building public safety space in the future?
"SOLiD is best positioned to bundle our Commercial Band DAS with PS DAS and then add to that our PS Repeater and in the future our CBRS solution and O-RAN Radios." 

In-building market is strong, and will continue to grow
The in-building market is strong, and Sandfeld expects the upward trend to continue over the next several years. 

SBC: How big is the in-building market?
Sandfeld: "For a few years, the analysts have been calling it the $1B+ market. If you add everything together – DAS, Small Cells, Public Safety, BTS, Commercial Repeaters, et cetera – this probably still rings true. With 5G and Private Networks on CBRS getting added to this mix it will only get stronger. We expect the in-building market to continue at about 16% CAGR in the USA."

SBC: How is market revenue split carrier vs. enterprise? How is that trending? 
Sandfeld: "The majority of the revenue volume is ultimately sourced through the carriers. However, the last few years have been weighted more heavily on the enterprise side – so about 60/40. The trend is toward enterprise spend due to enterprise looking to solve for cellular on their own and the carriers having less money to spend on the 'Middleprise.’"  

SBC: What is your outlook overall for the in-building industry for 2021 and beyond?
Sandfeld: "Public Safety is set for strong growth as the segment matures, and In-building is set for its strongest growth ever in the next 3-5 years. It's a very exciting time for the industry."

Codes should be rigid and attainable for vendors

SBC: What are your thoughts on in-building public safety codes and how they're enforced?
Sandfeld: "As I see it, there is still a lot of confusion in the USA on the codes for Public Safety DAS equipment. Customers all across the country continue to struggle with the rules. Hopefully, the continued definition of the code will reduce the burden on the building owners. Costs need to come down, and you can only do that with rigid standards that vendors can meet. It's okay to have rigid standards, but those rigid standard needs to be something everyone can meet. All the vendors should be able to build a product that meets the code." 

New technologies and SOLiD's product roadmap

CBRS and 5G are poised to change the in-building market significantly. We asked Mr. Sandfeld how the new technologies will impact the industry.

SBC: What impact will CBRS have on the in-building market? 
Sandfeld: "Regulatory delays hurt the US in terms of early 5G deployment compared to the rest of the world - 3500 MHz 5G is standard practice elsewhere. But initial private network deployments are succeeding. The standard is evolving for it to support 5G as well as 4G, and rural areas are benefiting from WISPs. CBRS will broaden the enterprise market for sure, but right now there is much confusion being created by new entrants trying to capture market share for enterprise. For example, telling enterprise that they will have full multi-operator support instantly through roaming and that they could potentially collect revenue from the carriers is a fallacy. The major headwind for CBRS is ROI for private use cases and multi-operator support." 

SBC: What impact will 5G have on the in-building market? 
Sandfeld: "5G will spur new investment to upgrade legacy systems, and future applications built on 5G capabilities will increase the demand for reliable indoor coverage. The confusion over mmWave as 5G will pass as most 5G for the next several years will be delivered in sub-6GHz spectrum.  However, in the longer term, mmWave and mid-band spectrum, such as the C-Band, will drive the deployment of additional infrastructure indoors. For this reason, SOLiD has chosen to focus on mmWave in the early days with our RocketWAVE 5G repeater offering."

SBC: How will commercial licensed cellular change?
Sandfeld: "At SOLiD we see a transition to Fiber2Antenna as well as fully integrated high capacity O-RAN signal sources over the next three years.  

SBC: How has SOLiD adjusted its product roadmap?
Sandfeld: "We continue to invest in expanding our ALLIANCE product line with the release of a Fiber2Antenna remote, the edgeROU [SOLiD's compact active 5G antenna], and to expand the support of ALLIANCE for 5G including >100 MHz channels, and support for CBRS. We launched the NEW ALLIANCE PS 2W remote that meets UL2524.  One year ago, we led the industry by announcing and demonstrating the SURF O-RAN architecture to prepare for both in-building and outdoor MACRO 5G deployments. We are getting close to the launch of our RocketWAVE 5G repeaters to help operators extend their mmWave investments to cover more people and places."

The COVID-19 crisis

With much of the world at a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SOLiD, like everyone else in the space, has been forced to deal with drastic changes in supply, production, and demand. 

SBC: How has the pandemic impacted SOLiD's manner of working, and what has been the overall impact to your upstream and downstream supply chains?
Sandfeld: "The global supply chain situation is very difficult right now. Getting parts globally has become more challenging for sure, and shipping times and costs have increased. It's basically stretching out all the timelines in the industry. It's a real hardship – lead times for parts are tripling. Those challenges will affect revenue for everyone in this space. No one is immune to this. SOLiD has worked hard in previous years to diversify our parts suppliers and build multiple factory locations in different countries to prepare for such a situation."

SBC: Where do you think the industry will be a year from now?
Sandfeld: "I think we will be stronger overall despite the economic and health setbacks. Wireless communications are just not optional. The First Responders didn't stop working, right? They still had to go to work. The cellular phones needed to still work, so cellular providers didn't lose customers. The carriers are right in the middle of 5G, so I think all those things are going to cause Public Safety to continue to grow. So, I think if we're going to have this conversation a year from now, I believe it's going to be positive. I've been in this industry over 20 years, and people in the industry are all telling me that they are actually very busy, that they're quoting more than ever, and that as soon as things loosen up and they can get out a little bit more. They actually see more projects piling up."

SBC: How will the crisis affect different sectors?
Sandfeld: What we don't know is how deep and how long the financial impacts will affect different sectors. For example, if the hotel sector slows down because they're short on cash, maybe the hospitals get funding that allow them to improve their communication networks. So one balances the other out. In higher education, universities may be doubling down on their communication networks and their infrastructure, and I see that happening big time on these campuses. Those are things I think are all going to happen during this crisis."

SBC: Will there be any long-term lessons learned from this?
Sandfeld: "I think I think a lot of things that are happening here will be long-term lessons learned, and I believe our industry is going to be there to solve those things and come up with new solutions and ways of doing things. And I don't think this is a temporary thing; I think it's a new normal. … Overall, I think our industry is going to thrive in in the situation because this industry is all about solving communication problems -- and those problems are opportunity, so we're adapting quickly to it. And obviously, at the same time, we have to balance that with safety for our people, which at this point is a struggle for everyone to figure out."