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Advice Before You Jump Into A DAS Project

By Seth Buechley
September 25th, 2014

JUMP_INWhat would I need to know and do if I had no experience with Distributed Antenna Systems(DAS), but was given the problem of fixing cellular coverage in my own sports venue?

My answer, in short, would be; (1) Get Educated, (2) Be Realistic, and (3) Decide Who You Will Trust.

Get Educated

DAS is now a mainstream solution for solving indoor and high-capacity public venue wireless performance issues. There are several specialized industry conferences where you can get familiar with high-level trends and meet the vendor ecosystem that forms the DAS industry. Reading Mobile Sport Report indicates you’re on the right path.

The DAS industry association, known as the HetNet Forum, is also good place to start. Most importantly, talk to those that have gone before you. I like to say that “the first person to uncharted waters should make the charts.” Many of the highest profile sports venues have had years of experience with DAS systems that have evolved and in some cases been ripped-and-replaced over the years.

Use your sports industry network and attend events like SEAT 2015 to ask the tough questions about lessons learned. Never rely on the positive press releases from participating carriers as the whole story. Dig deep for the pain points and the “if you had it to do over again…” truths that come from painful mistakes.

Be Realistic

What financial and timeline promises will you make to your stakeholders? Even though you control the venue, there are a lot of moving parts that are completely unknown on the front end of a DAS project. Most NCAA Division I schools can expect to have a DAS constructed in their football stadium at no cost to them. If we’re talking about a NCAA basketball arena for no cost, the numbers probably drop by 50 percent. And, only the rare world-class venue should expect to generate meaningful rent or profit from their DAS. A DAS without a firm commitment from the wireless operators to fund or join the DAS won’t help your cause, so make sure to use your organization’s influence to arrange high-level meetings with the wireless operators to get plugged into their budget cycles and align your stated schedule with what they can truly deliver on.

DAS deployments for sports venues are major projects that involve new construction, permits, license agreements with participating carriers, system integrators and consensus across multiple stakeholders in your own organization including facilities, athletics, venue ownership and team ownership. It is almost unheard of for a venue owner to complete a project within a single year.

BIG_CATCHDo yourself a career-enhancing favor and double your initial timeline estimates before going public with a target date on enhancing coverage in your existing stadium. If your sports venue is new construction you’re in good shape – deadlines have a miraculous way of making people make it happen.

Assessing your own internal assets and obstacles will also help set a realistic schedule. For instance, do you have available environmentally controlled (think Data Center) carrier head-end equipment space? If not, how long will it take you to find space or build it out? Another key area where realism is required is in the area of Wi-Fi. Carriers are currently cold on paying for adding Wi-Fi to your venue for the simple reason that Wi-Fi moves subscribers off a network they control (licensed spectrum) and moves them onto a free network (unlicensed spectrum) they have much less control over.

Additionally, owning the Wi-Fi network usually comes with an obligation to replace 802.11X  Access Points at a pace rivaling the fashion industry. Keep in mind that a carrier who invests properly in a DAS should have sufficient capacity to handle the traffic in that venue for a few years.

One of the biggest sticking points we have seen lately occurs when a venue demands a wireless carrier fund a Wi-Fi network in order to win the DAS deployment. If Wi-Fi is a must have for your venue, you’re best off working with a Third Party Owner (3PO) who can build your DAS and Wi-Fi network for you and manage the interaction with carriers on your behalf. Several 3PO firms have gained tremendous experience deploying, and more importantly, monetizing Wi-Fi in major public venues.

Decide Who You Will Trust.

The DAS industry is growing exponentially and has many new entrants claiming that they have “built” a DAS. Do your homework on the scale, credibility, and relationships of the members of your DAS team.

Whether you self-perform using a DAS Integrator as your expert, select a 3PO to handle the whole project, or rely on a carrier to “drive the bus,” make sure you’re putting your project and reputation in the hands of a partner with motivation and the wherewithal to execute. Working with leading DAS industry players brings a built-in sense of obligation to meet deadlines and work through challenges since there are national ramifications when commitments aren’t kept. Stated simply, major DAS OEMs, System Integrators, and 3POs can’t afford to drop the ball on your project because bad news travels fast and reputation is everything.

In your research, you’ll discover that technology is evolving quickly and keeping an eye on what’s coming around the corner will be a key factor in avoiding having to replace or rebuild your DAS earlier than planned. By taking the time to get educated, keeping the project expectations realistic, and finding yourself a proven industry partner to trust you’ll be well on your way to completing a successful DAS deployment and keeping your sports fans safe and happy.

(Note: this article by SOLiD president Seth Buechley recently appeared in the Stadium Tech Report from Mobile Sports Report in which SOLiD is a sponsor)

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