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DAS, Small Cells & WiFi Are Key Themes During the 2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show

By Mike Collado
October 4th, 2012

2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show

SOLiD spent a productive and meeting-filled week in sunny – er, rainy and VERY muggy – Orlando, Florida at the 2012 Wireless Infrastructure Show where it seemed as though Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), Small Cells, Backhaul and WiFi were on the lips of nearly every presenter and attendee. What a difference a year makes.

This well-attended event drew stakeholders from the wireless operators, DAS manufacturers, integrators and backhaul solutions providers as well as other infrastructure providers and professional services firms.

The first day general session keynote served as the backdrop for the introduction of Jonathan Adelstein as President & CEO of PCIA while the second day’s keynote, headlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, attracted a packed house.

Lastly, it must be said that the DAS Community is a dedicated bunch of individuals – in spite of the Monday Night Football Party held by the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum (WWLF), the DAS Forum Breakfast and Annual Meeting scheduled at a ambitiously early 7 am the following morning was filled!

DAS: A Success Story 15 Years in the Making

It was observed during the DAS Forum‘s Annual Meeting how “hot” the DAS market is. But it’s important to understand how much it’s evolved (read our series of posts here):

  • Early adopters included shopping malls, casinos and airports. Today, Healthcare, Education, Sports Venues and Corporate Campuses drive the majority of DAS deployments.
  • DAS was originally conceived to enable voice coverage. Today, DAS is about the delivery of data capacity in a market where, according to Cisco’s Bob Friday, mobile data will grow by a rate of 26 times between now and 2015.
  • First-generation passive DAS network technology has been replaced by fiber-efficient, high-power active DAS systems.
  • Neutral-host DAS platforms have become so prevalent that RF Engineers just entering the industry are often surprised when they encounter single-carrier systems.
  • Public-safety is rapidly becoming a requirement to support local fire codes. As a founding member of the Safer Buildings Coalition, SOLiD believes that any DAS installed should accommodate public-safety communication services.

 Just What is a Small Cell?

Ask 10 people what is a small cell and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

The purpose is simple – small cells complement the macro network in providing capacity offload, better coverage and improved end user experience.

You put the cell site closer to the user to achieve system efficiency. This translates into a better user experience which is delivered from a lower power, lower cost site.

The confusion around the definition gets compounded by names such as femtocell, picocell, metrocell and microcell.

So what is a small cell?

We believe it’s anything less than 20 watts. It has a low height (versus a tower). It’s networked and self-optimizing. And the backhaul cannot be over-the-top to ensure quality of service.

What do you think?

Backhaul Gets Its Due

Backhaul Panel Discussion

Earlier this year, Iain Gillot at iGR blogged that mobile backhaul is the elephant in the room. His point was that while the industry had been talking about small cells ad nauseum, there was little discussion about how to move traffic to and from the small cell to the cell tower?

It’s been well established that the bandwidth explosion is going to last.

SOLiD had the privilege to join a diverse panel of experts that included dark and lit fiber providers, integrated solutions providers and backhaul equipment manufacturers to tackle the topic.

What emerged was that just like the broad set of tools to move the cell closer to where the users are, there needs to be multiple solutions in the toolbox for backhauling.

Ultimately the right answer is about weighing cost versus performance.

SOLiD believes that – in spite of the marketing buzz from microwave backhaul solution providers – that fiber is the most compelling approach for its scalability and cost-effectiveness.

Analysts including iGR’s Iain Gillot, Yankee Group’s Jennifer Pigg and ABI’s Aditya Kaul tell us that fiber is today preferred by mobile operators for backhaul provided it is available at the cell location. (See below analysis from iGR).

SOLiD’s INFINTY ACCESS solution multiplexes 16 channels of high-capacity broadband per strand of fiber. But what’s unique is the cost of the tunable laser that drives this technology: it costs a fraction of similar tunable lasers. We expect that as small cells begin to be deployed in greater numbers, fiber solutions like SOLiD’s will be similarly deployed.

Collision & Convergence

Question: What’s the cheapest way to gain licensed spectrum?

Answer: Offloading traffic onto unlicensed spectrum vis a vis WiFi.

It used to be that voice and data lived in separate worlds. However, Cisco’s Bob Friday showed in his presentation how the iPhone has ushered in (if not forced) the collision of the two.

Indeed, mobile operators are using every trick in the book to squeeze capacity out of their networks.

In addition to small cells and outdoor DAS, WiFi is a compelling method to “offload” traffic which AT&T has been doing in locations such as Starbuck’s.

One of the biggest pain points for capacity is at sports venues where on Game Day, a network can come to a grinding halt by 80,000 rabid fans texting, tweeting and uploading photos and video at the same time after a key play. As AT&T’s Chad Townes discussed this week, WiFi is very attractive to offload capacity and save Radio Access Network (RAN) spectrum.

Although many DAS manufacturers likely wished for WiFi to go away, it’s clear that WiFi is another tool to choose from in the solutions bag.

As the first DAS OEM to converge commercial cellular and public-safety on the same platform, SOLiD embraces what appears to be an evolution trend towards a mash-up of DAS / Small Cells / WiFi / Backhaul.

We suspect that’s what the interesting case studies at the 2013 Wireless Infrastructure Show will address.

Tell us below in the comments what stood out for you at the show.


Courtesy of iGR


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