As a company, we’re a pretty active participant in the “industry discussion” that manifests as conferences (a/k/a the trade show circuit as my friend Jim Parker affectionally refers to it), associations, workgroups and social media.
It’s a great way – in addition to frequent conversations with customers and the consumption of reports – to identify major trends which include “significant changes in technology, distribution, product innovation, markets, and consumer and social developments around the world that might shake up not only the business but the entire industry” according to Verne Harnish in his excellent book Scaling Up.
Over the last month and a half, I’ve observed that the discussion has taken on a heightened tenor around “silver bullets” and future network solutions for enabling communications inside buildings.
Everyone loves a good debate.
Remember the prognostication that Small Cells were going to kill DAS? Guess what… With LTE-U and the VoWiFi, there are now murmurs of pitting WiFi against Small Cells and DAS.
We’ve long advocated for a toolkit approach whereby you pick the right tool or tools. As Dr. Derek Peterson (Boingo) rhetorically asked last year at LTE North America, “Why not use all the tools in the toolkit?”
In a recent LinkedIn discussion that addresses the always-changing “year of the small cell” prediction, John Celentano correctly puts things into perspective: “Small cells are not homogeneous where one size fits all. On the contrary, as you point out, the configuration used is very application-dependent. At the same time, small cell deployments are not a zero-sum game, that is, if one configuration wins then another loses. We need all of the above to make it work as intended. And that’s why it will take time and money to realize widespread small (cell) deployments.”
Based on what’s currently in the toolkit, Joe Madden (Mobile Experts) suggests that a combination of DAS and WiFi is ideal for in-building densification.
On a panel earlier this month at the NEDAS NYC Spring In-Building Wireless Summit entitled “DAS & WiFi- A Symbiotic Relationship”, I had the pleasure to join Jeff Bonja (Corning), Bill DelGrego (ExteNet) and Chintan Fafadia (PCTEL) to explore Joe’s thesis as well as other toolkit trends. Check out the video archive here.
What’s perhaps ultimately driving the “versus” narrative is the quest for a single solution – a silver bullet.
This topic came up during a panel session this week at the ACUTA Annual Conference where I presented with Vladan Jevremovic (iBwave) and Rick Soto (Crown Castle) among college and university technical leaders who are responsible for ensuring coverage and capacity for wireless users categorized by Tracy Ford (HetNet Forum) as “mobile addicts” in reference to a report from Flurry Analytics (see below). Check out our presentation slides here.
(Interestingly, the preceding ACUTA panel – led by Walt Magnussen (Texas A&M University) who presented almost as many times as Miranda Lambert was nominated at the 2015 ACM Awards and explored campus public-safety communications solutions – also encountered the aspiration of a silver bullet)
Alas, there is no silver bullet. Yet.
(And if you subscribe to the toolkit approach strategy, perhaps there should not be)
But that doesn’t mean there’s not significant change coming.
The wireless industry is innovating and advancing at an alarming pace. Which explains conference themes such as NEDAS‘ recent “Peering into the Future” and panels such as HetNetForum‘s “The Wireless Technology Roadmap: A Trip into the Future.”
The impending juggernaut of course is 5G.
Related are advances in WiFi (802.11ac; 802.11ad: 802.11ah; and 802.11p) and LTE (Unlicensed and Direct) technologies and the strategies to harness them including VoIP, VoLTE and VoWiFi.
(LTE-D which allows smartphones to communicate with other mobile devices could be an industry game-changer)
And then there’s C-RAN which, while a nascent architecture, promises long term cost savings and ease for service providers to upgrade or add additional capacity to their network. See our interview with Monica Paolini (Senza Fili) here.
For the in-building space, I believe that the lines are going to begin to blur between DAS and Small Cells. IOW, DAS is going to get digital and more intelligent while small cells are going to find a compelling way to support multiple operators and services.
I envision both evolutionary and revolutionary trends in DAS innovation.
To me, evolution is about improvements. For example, the progression from feather pens to fountain pens to ballpoint pens. In DAS, the evolutionary step is digital with the predominant feature of turning analog RF into bits with the benefits of making the difficult things easier (including designing, building, joining, optimizing, monitoring and managing the network) and automating interference identification and cancelation.
Revolution is about step-change. Using the previous example, the typewriter was revolutionary in a world of styluses. Future DAS – if we in fact call it DAS – begins to look like a potential silver bullet based on a converged, single-platform, nearly infinitely-scalable fiber infrastructure with support for RF and IP services including commercial cellular and public safety, WiFi, HD-CCTV cameras and building automation with virtualized intelligence to step up or down and route capacity to where it is needed within the network.
A Common Thread
The trade show circuit has a way to reminding us to “keep it real” (as my friend and colleague Ken Sandfeld says).
At ACUTA, I overheard a discussion where an attendee inquired about the benefits of the many features she was hearing about.
So in that spirit, here’s what I believe are the key benefits any innovation within the wireless industry needs to deliver:
- Reduced TCO (CAPEX and OPEX lifetime savings)
- Flexibility (to add services and mitigate the rip-and-replace cycle)
- Intelligence (performance optimization, operational efficiency and analytics)
Next week Team SOLiD will be attending and presenting at PCIA’s Wireless Infrastructure Show where we’ll continue to explore the densification toolkit including the benefits and features of what’s in it today as well as the coming evolutionary and revolutionary innovations.
What trends and themes are you witnessing?
ACUTA, Convergence, DAS, Distributed Antenna System, In-Building Wireless, NEDAS, Small Cells, The Wireless Infrastructure Show, WiFi