Episode 2 of 6: Evolution of Multi-Carrier DAS
The goals of wireless operators and venue owners don’t always align. Increasingly, venues are giving voice to their preference for how wireless services will be delivered inside the buildings they own.
Casinos and shopping malls generate more revenue the longer patrons remain inside their buildings. Since casinos and malls cannot dictate which wireless provider their patrons use, the systems deployed in these venues pioneered the multi-carrier (shared) DAS models over a decade ago. Since that time we’ve seen a steady increase in venues making a choice to deploy a shared DAS infrastructure that supports all operators.
Without regard to funding models, which can vary greatly, there are some common themes driving venues towards shared DAS infrastructure.
The Data-Driven Life
In days past the remedy for poor indoor coverage was simple – a land line. When the mobile handset didn’t work, offices had desk phones and public venues still had payphones. In today’s world, advanced wireless services are being consumed with the eyes more than the ears. Voice has become an afterthought. Without email and mobile data access most professionals aren’t able to do their work or remain connected to their life.
Individually Liable Handsets
People prefer a single communication device. Carrying two phones is a hassle and it’s easier for companies to reimburse an employee for a personal phone than issue a company-owned phone. Furthermore, people like to use their smartphone for personal connectivity without running afoul of corporate IT rules. With this trend towards reimbursement for personal phone use, building owners have an even greater motivation to provide wireless services from all operators.
Public Safety Compliance/Best Practice
In response to the events of 9/11 and ongoing security concerns, two leading standards organizations in the U.S., the IFC and the NFPA, have set forth building codes requiring 2-way radio coverage for first responders inside structures. National codes sit on a shelf serving only as a guide until they are adopted by a state, county, or city. Once adopted, they become enforceable law. Public safety coverage is now a requirement in dozens of cities across the US with more adopting codes each year. Though public safety frequencies generally fall below the spectrum holdings of commercial carriers (150 – 800 MHz), a recent study of SOLiD deployments showed that over 75% of venues who deployed a SOLiD DAS also chose to include public safety or 2-way radio on a converged system. In many cases public safety coverage is the initial reason building owners decide to pursue a DAS. Adding commercial wireless services brings a welcomed secondary benefit to help offset the cost of deployment. If the 700 MHz D-block is allocated for the public safety community, we will see an ever bigger push for in-building public safety coverage and interoperability.
Building owners may not be wireless experts, but they are learning fast. After experiences with carriers who focused only on their own coverage, owners have grown frustrated with three or four parallel DAS systems that get maintained, accessed, and upgraded at different times. Carriers must keep in mind that a DAS is not like a cell tower located on the back 40 of a farm to serve an adjacent interstate. DAS lives in the venue’s living room. When given the choice, owners want one system to deliver advanced commercial wireless services, public safety communication, and in many cases private 2-way radio. They also want that system managed by an expert with experience monitoring and maintaining a multi-carrier DAS rather than a carrier that may be inexperienced with such tasks, unwilling to cooperate with competing carriers, or overly sensitive to seeing or sharing competitive network intelligence.
With the evolution of wireless technology, some early DAS systems have reached end-of-life. Either the original manufacturer is defunct, or the DAS can’t support UMTS or LTE upgrades. Furthermore, the FCC has expressed its goal of auctioning another 500 MHz of spectrum into the market. All of this, plus a 4G LTE migration that prefers MiMo, means that a building owner only wants to invest in DAS solutions with the inherent scalability to meet their wireless needs as far out as experts can predict. Even systems built several years ago with relatively modern technologies were often designed to deliver coverage rather than capacity. Some of these system designs are being exposed as woefully inadequate to meet today’s data requirements.
Now that Verizon and AT&T have moved to tiered-date pricing, one could argue carriers may actually be generating revenue through indoor DAS. When voice-centric bucket plans ruled, DAS was often treated by the carriers as a last resort that drained capital and network resources. If carriers are perceived as generating revenue via DAS, then buildings owners will expect carriers to share the cost of a DAS. Increasingly, enterprise building owners are questioning why they need to dedicate so much time and money to delivers wireless services to carrier customers.
In summary, building owners have learned that DAS systems and the carrier relationships that come with the DAS can be quite complex. Educated building owners will use their control and unique perspective to ensure they get the shared DAS system they deserve on economic terms that they can live with.
Seth Buechley is the President of SOLiD Technologies, a global leader in distributed RF and optical networking solutions. Visit SOLiD at DAS Congress 2011 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.solid.com for more information.
This article originally appeared on AGL Bulletin.