We had the pleasure last week to attend one of our favorite events – LTE North America.
This event stands out for us because it’s the Goldilocks of both content and stakeholders within the wireless ecosystem – not too broad and not too narrow; not too overwhelming and not too sparsely attended.
With topics such as HetNets, Small Cells, LTE, 5G, Network Optimization and Public-Safety, it’s always right up our alley.
We had the privilege to present before industry peers our observations on the evolutionary and revolutionary approaches that will be deployed to densify the network. As a manufacturer, it’s a topic we’re truly energized by.
(In fact, we’ll advance this topic further next week at Small Cells Americas.)
One of the key topics that stood out the most for us during the two days in Dallas was that it appears that our industry is mercifully moving away from the DAS versus Small Cells debate and beginning to engage in a pragmatic conversation to identify the right tool for the job rather than promoting an allegiance for a single technology.
Well, sort of…
Why are we even having this discussion?
Earlier this summer, we dubbed the current period in the wireless industry as the “decade of densification.”
(The wireless industry transforms itself roughly every 10 years; see a great infographic here)
Pat Diamond from Key2mobile – an early stage company working on improving urban capacity and connectivity in the licensed-spectrum space – observes that densification is about marrying up both coverage and capacity within the wireless network.
Or, as Paula Doublin from AT&T describes it: coverage is ensuring water fills the entire lake; capacity is ensuring how deep the water is in the lake.
Of course, densification is required both indoors and outdoors.
And those spaces are unique in size and physical characteristics as well as usage requirements and durations.
Time after time, presenters and delegates uttered the phrase, “A toolkit approach is needed to densify the network.”
Leave it to our friend Dr. Derek Peterson (CTO at Boingo) to break it down as he did during his afternoon talk on Day #1.
Everyone loves a good debate. And some within the wireless industry have pitted DAS against Small Cells.
Remember the claims that Small Cells would kill the DAS industry?
The problem is these kinds of discussions have made it increasingly difficult to discern the truth from the hype.
For instance, some say DAS is too expensive compared to Small Cells. We heard a presenter claim that Small Cells will be deployed at stadiums at 1/10 to 1/20 cost of DAS.
At the other end of the spectrum, another presenter suggested that small cells won’t have the capacity to support a single floor of users at a meeting facility.
As a rule of thumb, we believe DAS to be ideal for large venues (>500k square feet).
Small Cells are ideal for small buildings (<100k square feet).
But that’s just a starting point. And it leaves a big gap for densifying medium-sized enterprise venues.
You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to drive a nail for a picture hook, would you?
The industry discussion needs to progress to explore using the right tool for the job.
That’s what AT&T is doing based upon their series of commercials featuring the fictitious characters of Frank and Charlie highlighting a toolkit of strategies that include the macro network, DAS and Small Cells.
Here’s the thing… The toolkit is advancing and old assumptions may longer hold true.
For instance, at this year’s Small Cells World Summit, Stuart Carlaw (Chief Research Officer at ABI Research) observed that DAS is becoming economical for medium installations between 100k and 500k square feet.
However, the toolkit may also inform that multiple tools might be used. In Dallas, Boingo’s Dr. Peterson rhetorically asked, “Why not use all the tools in the toolkit?”
We believe there exist venues in which DAS and Small Cells should be deployed together. In this theoretical scenario, DAS may cover the majority of the public areas and small cells could be used to boost capacity for specific operators or applications where needed.
Advancing the Discussion
In our opinion, one of the most important discussions the wireless industry needs to have centers on the densification toolkit.
It’s no longer sufficient to say it’s a toolkit approach. Rather, we need to explore the “decision tree” which informs which tool or tools to use based upon the unique requirements.
To jumpstart the conversation, SOLiD is sponsoring a forthcoming paper to be published by our friend David Chambers at ThinkSmallCell.
Meanwhile, how do you view the decision tree? And how is it different for operators compared to the enterprise?