After thousands of miles, countless handshakes and dozens of informative meetings, we’re back from the end of the year “trade show circuit” as our friend Jim Parker calls it.
Here’s where we’ve been and what we heard…
With Citizens Bank Park as our backdrop in the City of Brotherly Love, two key themes emerged at this one-day event:
- Although emerging Small Cell technology will be appropriate for certain deployment applications, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) will remain the go-to strategy for enabling capacity for tens of thousands of fans at large stadiums and arenas. These large venues is where we expect to see key innovation trends to play out including scalable infrastructure and analytics as mentioned here and hoteling to address head-end space constraints as mentioned here.
- The requirement to support public-safety communications as well as commercial cellular is being driven and battle-tested in venues such as hospitals where doctors, nurses, first responders, staff and security as well as patients and visitors all need access to wireless communications.
Propelled by our thought leadership within the public-safety space, SOLiD was invited to participate in this inaugural event in New York City which served in part as a platform to promote the use of TETRA in Canada and the US.
TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) is the specification for two-way transceiver radio communication using LMR (Land Mobile Radios) that has been used in Europe for mission critical communications for emergency first responders much like P25 (Project 25) is the standard in North America.
We discovered that TETRA is being deployed within Utilities and Transport industries.
However, we observe that TETRA will likely not be deployed for public-safety in the US because federal grant money is already being directed to support deployment of P25 by municipalities.
Ultimately, the FirstNet initiative suggests that both P25 and TETRA will be replaced by LTE in the future (although it’s important to point out that although P25 was ratified by APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International) in 1989, many US agencies have still not migrated to it due to costs).
For in-building communications, we believe all of these public-safety standards are likely to exist simultaneously. Therefore a successful DAS platform must support the full spectrum of narrowband and wideband frequencies.
Analysts and Operators and Innovators, oh my! Hosted this year in Dallas, this conference tackles Devices, LTE, HetNets, Network Optimization, Public-Safety and more. Here’s the most interesting things we heard:
- Ken Rehbehn at Yankee Group: Has the small cell hype has outpaced reality? Key challenges facing widescale deployment of small cells include (1) the scarcity of real estate (i.e., street furniture); (2) lack of a process to ubiquitously roll it out and; (3) current inability to host multiple operators and services.
- Art King at SpiderCloud: Small Cells will be deployed by Wi-Fi installers, not DAS installers. To achieve widescale penetration, the design and deployment of small cells will need to be simplified to resemble an access point.
- Bill D’Agostino at FirstNet: Out of tragedy comes innovation. The key themes the wireless industry is addressing include (1) technology evolution; (2) regulatory innovation and; (3) spectrum acquisition and management. 2014 will be the year that FirstNet develops the plan to get to the plan to implement a public-safety grade network to achieve 100 percent coverage and connectivity.
- Gordon Mansfield at AT&T and Small Cell Forum (SOLiD is a member): It’s a toolkit approach for achieving network densification in urban areas. 80% mobile traffic takes place indoors and 39-61% offices have poor in-building coverage. DAS will be the key solution deployed in public venues and large buildings while Small Cells fill in the gaps indoors and outdoors. It is expected that operators will embrace the Small Cell approach because the model promises to be fast and have low costs.
- Iain Gillott at iGR: Gillott: The industry will need a new name for DAS as next generation solutions that possess a common all-fiber infrastructure emerge that increasingly resemble hybrid solutions that converge radio frequency (RF) and Internet protocol (IP) services and applications.
- Ken Sandfeld at SOLiD: Future antennas outdoors will be more efficient, do more and be better camouflaged to be more aesthetically pleasing. This trend will be paramount to address the concerns expressed above by Ken Rehbehn.
- Jeff Cohen at APCO: Pinpointing location is fast-becoming a key need for first responders inside buildings. While being able to communicate indoors the critical requirement today, locating the right floor and position of an e911 call is the in-building Holy Grail. Next generation DAS will be able to triangulate to identify location but solutions are still needed for today’s DAS.
We returned to a chilly Dallas after a quick pit-stop for Thanksgiving to join a vastly different group of participants than we encountered just two weeks prior at LTE North America.
As we observed earlier this year at the Small Cells World Summit in London, the industry has moved past wild claims that Small Cells are going to be the demise of DAS. However, the notion of 2013 as the “year of the small cell” is overzealous.
Most in the industry are still searching for small cell deployments in North America. Our friend Bryan Brooks at Pavlov Media has repeatedly shared he’d buy and deploy small cells at the college campus MDUs where his company provides triple-play services. And we’ve heard from wireless operators that their transport teams are not just under water but under sand when it comes to deploying small cells.
Translation: it’s gonna be a while.
Perhaps one the most informative panels was “How Coverage with Small Cells Can be a Game Changer for LTE and Beyond” because of the inclusion of both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson. The presenters – which included SOLiD’s Ken Sandfeld – agreed that small cells can deliver on the promise of delivering capacity and quality of service at a low cost, but that the accelerated rollout needs to be automated and deployment simplified like Wi-Fi access points. More importantly, the widescale deployment of small cells means that it will be incumbent upon ALU and Ericsson to work with DAS OEMs and other stakeholders in the ecosystem ( As we blogged, ALU’s Mike Schabel shared this same opinion earlier this year in London).
Another insightful presentation was delivered by Teresa McEneny from Cisco who highlighted location based services and analytics as big opportunities within the evolving in-building space and identified the barriers to widespread deployment of small cells to include power, support, backhaul, real estate, cost and need for multi-vendor HetNet. She also painted an interesting scenario: leveraging Cisco’s Wi-Fi sales channel to scale the deployment of indoor small cell solutions given these teams already possess the enterprise relationships.
For a great summary, check out David Chambers’ 2013 Small Cells Americas Event Report at ThinkSmallCell.com.
Okay, so it didn’t involve travel but some the industry’s public-safety wireless thought leaders (including SOLiD) participated on “virtual” panels moderated by Urgent Communications‘ Glenn Bischoff and Donny Jackson.
From an indoor perspective, Bischoff shared that it will be a great day should ubiquitous indoor public-safety communication become reality. Afterall, what good is a nationwide public-safety network (vision of FirstNet) if you can’t bring the signal indoors?
There are two key impediments to achieving this vision:
- Although municipal codes increasingly require that new construction venues of a certain size and having certain physical characteristics (such as underground parking) provide in-building public-safety communications – typically through DAS, many codes allow older structures to be grandfathered.
- There remains plenty of FUD that espouses the need to keep cellular & public-safety on separate infrastructure. Fact is convergence is both technologically and financially feasible – if not an ideal approach.
As a founding member of the Safer Buildings Coalition, SOLiD is optimistic in seeing a very large uptick trends in DAS systems that bring public-safety service into buildings.
Of the events you attended in the fourth quarter, which stood out as having the greatest impact from a thought leadership and networking standpoint?
Backhaul, DAS, Distributed Antenna System, FirstNet, In-Building Wireless, IWCE Virtual Show, LTE North America, Pennsylvania Wireless Association, Public Safety, Safer Buildings Coalition, Small Cells, Small Cells Americas, TETRA Congress Americas